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January 14, 2010

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Eggs and bacon, please, with a side order of guilt

“If you don’t get it, I’m going to squish it,” my wife Kara said last week, pointing at the stink bug that was quietly minding its own business on the living room wall. 

Kara takes advantage of my delicate sensibilities, knowing that she won’t have to stand up to remove a bug from the room if she threatens to kill it. This is especially true of the gadfly, the unfortunate insect that, although perfectly harmless, suffers the affliction of looking like a mosquito that could suck a Big Gulp dry. 

“Aaaaah! A giant mosquito! I’m going to squish it before it turns me into a raisin!” Kara will say, forcing me to intercede on the innocent bug’s behalf. I don’t have nearly the same soft spot for stink bugs, the non-native pests that have recently staged an invasion rivaling that of The Beatles (but without the boyish charm), though I still couldn’t just sit there while the stink bug met its fate in Kara’s Paper Towel of Doom.

“Okay, okay,” I said, rescuing the bug by flinging it out the front door, where it would probably freeze to death, shivering and wishing that someone would come along and squish it with a paper towel.

Later that afternoon, as I noshed on a ham sandwich for lunch, I wondered why I felt compelled to save stink bugs, but had no problem eating pigs, which are clearly cuter and much more likely to land talking roles in movies. 

My buddy Johnny, who once shared a diet indistinguishable from that of a hyena, had just days earlier defied decades of precedent by telling me not to order any pepperoni on his half of the pizza.

“I’ve been a vegetarian for about a month,” he said, and he could have knocked me over with a bean sprout. He was the last person in the world I’d have pictured giving up an entire category of food on principle, especially tasty, bacony food. One day, he apparently just decided to quit cold pork chop. I can understand that a pig would thank Johnny for not ordering a spiral-cut ham, but would a pig really mind if you just took a few little harmless pieces of pepperoni? He probably wouldn’t even notice.

With more of my friends and family becoming vegetarians, pescatarians (vegetarians who think fish are vegetables) and flexitarians (vegetarians who’ll eat meat at your house), I’m wondering if I might someday reach a point where my guilt at eating meat will outweigh my lifelong distaste for food that was not mentioned in the song “Old MacDonald.” Unfortunately, the only vegetable I really enjoy eating is the onion, preferably deep-fried and in ring form.

Some of my guilt for being an animal-loving near-carnivore is alleviated by being a waste-not-atarian. I am a dues-paying member of the Clean Plate Club, which fortunately doesn’t interfere with my membership in the Put Your Dirty Dishes in the Sink and Pretend That You Didn’t Notice That the Dishwasher Needs Emptying Club.

All things being equal, I’d prefer, as I expect most people would, not to be eaten by a cannibal. But if I ever find myself served up, head on an ivory platter, apple in mouth, bald spot glistening with a nice orange chipotle glaze, I’d be pretty miffed if the cannibal pushed back from the table halfway through the meal and said, “Well, I guess my eyes were bigger than my stomach. Maybe I shouldn’t have filled up on potatoes. Anyway, I hope he doesn’t clog the garbage disposal.”

So maybe someday I’ll show up at Johnny’s place to join him for a plain pizza and a clean conscience. At the very least, that would give Kara a few minutes to squish all of our stink bugs. 

Ed. Note: Because this column thankfully does not mention Mike Todd’s son — for the first time since Mike even thought about having a son as a high school sophomore — and because this column is about food, I am going to show my gratitude my nominating Mike for the Palate-zer Prize. He is the most deserving candidate I know of with the last name Todd.


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