The Vegetarian

“What would you do if you found out that plants had an intelligence?” I asked.

He looked up from his salad, an oily piece of lettuce stuck to his lower lip. He slurped it in and took a big gulp of water from his omnipresent four-liter jug. He had one of the most impressive physiques I’d ever had the pleasure of witnessing first-hand, and he’d built every swollen and tightly defined muscle without the aid of animal protein. He was a strict vegetarian and I’d chosen that morning to challenge him.

“I guess it would depend on the level of intelligence. I can’t very well starve now, can I?” he asked, arching a bushy auburn eyebrow.

“Any intelligence, really. Rudimentary. Primal.”

“The brains of the thing aren’t the reason I don’t eat meat if that’s what you’re getting at. If I discover tomorrow that my kale has an alien sentience and feels pain when I chew it up, I’ll be a little disappointed, but I’ll find a way to deal with it. A stalk of kale has never pleaded for its life when the harvester approached it. It only needs sunshine and water to reach a mature enough state for consumption. Meat-bearing creatures need love and attention—or at the very least a certain amount of care and protection—before you can slaughter and process them.

“Don’t get me started on the processing, either,” he continued, wiping his mouth with the tablecloth. “My food goes into my gut in more or less the same state it came out of the ground. How much energy do we spend turning a live animal into something fit for consumption?

“There’s more to it than whether or not I think the thing I’m noshing on is capable of critical thought.”

I nodded. “It’s impressive, you know. The amount of physical strength you’ve managed to derive just from plants.”

“Energy is energy,” he said. “You need some amounts of the building blocks; protein and carbs and other shit I’m not going to bore you with. Fortunately, you can get all that from plants. You just need to be smart about it. Eating and building like I do requires a modicum of scientific thought. That’s another reason I do it. The feeling of superiority is real.” He flexed and grinned.

“I don’t know if I could do it,” I said. “I like the taste of meat too much.”

“No one’s asking you to,” he said, “but do you really like the taste of meat? The actual fibrous strands of protein and fat that make up a piece of steak, hamburger, or chicken, are those what do it for you? Or is it the searing of it? The cooking? The spices, sauces, and sides that go along with a slab of meat, are those what really make it palatable? I’d never claim to love the taste of a certain piece of lettuce or a raw bean. It’s the dressings and preparations that bring out the flavors. To claim a love for the raw material is a little foolish, I think.”

I had to consider it. I’d never eaten a raw piece of flesh in my life. I’d even shied away from sushi in the few rare occasions that someone had offered. When presented with the reality of meat I couldn’t say I found it appetizing at all. But a crisp orange carrot, or a ripe piece of fruit? Sure.

“Got you thinking, eh?” he said, and stood up. Just one of his massive thighs was almost as thick as my waist. “If you need help setting up a diet, let me know, but right now I’ve got somewhere else I need to be.” He dropped a handful of bills on the table and left.

I stared at my hamburger for a long time.

2014.10.29 – 2023.06.20

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