Latte Nation

Gluten for Punishment

Don't ever dine with an organic vegetarian.

By 6.24.14

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We recently had dinner with another couple at a very fine restaurant. My friend’s wife, whom I'll call Alice, is a delightful and very intelligent woman, but also an uncompromising health fanatic, a virtual nutrition Nazi. As a result, placing our dinner order turned into an excruciatingly tedious ordeal.

“Good evening. My name is Jennifer, and I’ll be your server this evening.” She flashed a welcoming (don’t-forget-that-generous-tip) smile and added, “May I get you a cocktail or a glass of wine to start?” 

We ordered two martinis and a Pinot Grigio. Alice demurred and announced, “I don’t drink alcohol; what kind of fruit juice do you have?” Our server/waitperson/waitress wrinkled her brow: “Why, I don’t know. I’ll have to ask the bartender.”

“The appetizers are listed on your menu,” she continued. “I highly recommend the foie gras, it is really exceptional. And, we have two specials tonight that are not on your menu, the blue point oysters and simply delicious Maryland crab cakes—they’re our house specialty. I’ll be back in a minute with your drinks.” 

Alice glanced at the menu and commented on the appetizer specials, “You know that foie gras is just loaded with fat—the really bad kind. One bite and your LDL will shoot up 20 points.” Her husband tried to gloss over the health bulletin, “But it’s so good, honey, I’ll share an order with you.” She shot back, “No, Sweetie, I don’t want to die of a massive coronary at age 57…and, I don’t want you to either.”

I announced that I planned to order the oysters and offered to share them with the table. “No thanks,” responded Alice, wrinkling her nose in disgust. “You know raw oysters are extremely dangerous…you can get Hepatitis C from them. Why do you think they have that dire warning about raw oysters on the menu? You could get sick and die from eating them.” We collectively rolled our eyes in dismay at her unsolicited, killjoy, health advisory. 

The chill that had fallen over our table was thawed briefly by the delivery of our drinks. Our waiter told Alice the bartender had orange, apple, and cranberry juice. Alice quickly asked, “Are the juices organic?”

I sighed and took a deep sip of my Stoly on the rocks and glanced at Alice’s husband, who had wolfed down half of his martini to relieve his growing anxiety over his wife’s dietary obsessions.

Jennifer took our appetizer orders, then turned to Alice and asked, “Have you decided on something to start?” Alice paused, glancing at the menu once again. “Do you have any organic vegetables or tofu? I didn’t see anything like that listed on the menu.” Our waitress Jen paused, and then offered, “Well, they’re not exactly a specialty of the house, but I suppose we could get you some cold celery and onion dip.” Alice frowned, “If the celery is organic, I’ll have that…but hold the dip. Just loaded with trans-fat, you know.” Our server shrugged, “I’ll be right back with your appetizers.”

Alice apologized, “Sorry to be picky, but I just read a report by Harvard medical researchers that organic vegetarians live four to five years longer on average. I’m just trying to use common sense in my dietary habits—no dairy, no red meat, no fat, no sodium, and I’m cutting back on my carbohydrates too.” Our table fell silent. I muttered to myself, “Now won’t this be a jolly fun gustatory delight?!”

Our waitress returned, arms loaded with a plate of blue points, an order of crab cakes, the foie gras, and a plate of raw celery garnished with sprigs of parsley. As she delivered the plate of celery, she turned to Alice and said, “I’m so sorry, the juice isn’t organic. Can I get you something else?” Alice grimaced, “I’ll be content with water, thanks.”

Our server continued, “Now, in addition to the wonderful selections on the menu, the chef has selected several entrée specials for tonight.” Jen paused for dramatic effect, then continued, “He’s offering a wonderful Chilean sea bass with caper sauce…it’s fabulous! Also, an Atlantic swordfish special prepared with a tomato and pepper sauce—delightfully spicy! And, finally, prime filet mignon au poivre—like you’ve never had it before!”

She glanced around the table to judge our reactions—which were mixed—three of us beaming in anticipation, with Alice suffering extreme entrée anxiety. 

“Now, can I freshen your drinks while you consider your entrée orders?” We asked for another round—“Make mine a double”—and Alice for a refill on her water, “With a little more ice, please.” I wondered whether they were serving organic H²O.

“What a wonderful menu!” I offered. “And, those specials! I just don’t know how to choose.” Nods of agreement around the table. I held my breath in anticipation of her expert commentary.

“Well,” Alice warned, “I assume you know that both the sea bass and sword fish are endangered right now. They’ve been over-fished and several more responsible restaurants are not even offering them on the menu. And you know that American beef livestock are just loaded with growth hormones like zeranol that can cause breast cancer.”

Alice’s husband shot her a glance and laughed in a vain effort to lighten the conversation, “But, you sure can’t beat a grilled steak, slightly charred on the outside and pink on the inside. It’s a real, all-American treat!” Once again nods of agreement with Alice dissenting, “But, hey, aren’t you worried about ‘mad cow’ disease? And, what about the extremely high risk of salmonella in rare beef? It’s all so scary!”

Our table fell silent once again. As Alice continued to scan the entrée selections on the menu, searching for a heart-healthy, organic, vegetarian oasis amidst the broad array of dangerous culinary offerings, I could just imagine her silent deliberation over the entrées:

• Stuffed pork chops? No! High risk of trichinosis.

• Sautéed calves liver? Absolutely not! No animal organs.

• Sweetbreads? Ditto!

• Angel hair pasta with tomato cream sauce? No. Total carbo overload with pure fat topping.

• Prime rib au jus? Not a chance!! Are you kidding me?

Alice spurned the wide variety of delicious warm rolls and butter—too many carbs, too much fat and, of course, she was on a gluten-free and dairy-free diet. And, she politely declined the garnish tray—clearly not organic.

Jen arrived shortly to take our entrée orders. Three of us ordered the seafood specials (further exacerbating the sea bass and swordfish crisis), together with a bottle of Pinot Grigio and a fine Australian Zinfandel (two small steps closer to cirrhosis of the liver).

Alice ordered another round of celery, hold the parsley garnish. I smiled and thought to myself, somehow she must have divined that the parsley wasn’t organic.

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About the Author

Gerald D. Skoning is a Chicago lawyer who specializes in labor and employment law.