Confessions of a Vegan

How I learned to stop worrying and love eggplant stuffed with soy cheese.

One of the most popular YouTube clips shows an adorable little boy sitting in a high chair with a plate in front of him, when it suddenly dawns on him that what his mother has served him was once an animal, that had to die in order to become food.

“I don’t like that it has to die to be food,” the boy says. “It’s an animal. We need to take care of animals, right?”

His mother, off-camera, agrees, and urges him to eat the rice and potatoes. “Why are you crying?” he asks his mother, who replies that she’s crying because she is so moved by what he said.

“I said something good?” asks the toddler, who is so cute I just want to eat him up.

Even before I saw the clip, which was aired a few times on the “Orly & Guy” show – two years ago actually, after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, “Eating Animals” – I made up my mind to become a vegetarian, considering the immorality of raising animals as industrial products purely for the sake of killing them and turning them into food for humans. Afterward, I saw a few documentaries, from which I learned visually about the horrifying manner in which the animals destined to become food are kept. I saw how they crush chicks in a grinder and how they breed hens so fat with such swollen breasts that their legs can’t carry them − and all for the glory of the hormone-and-antibiotic-filled schnitzel on the plate.

I also saw a movie in which several scientists − including an Israeli who has been working in America for many years − explained not only how the breeding of animals for food creates a vast amount of greenhouse gases that are destroying the planet, but how abstaining from eating animals is incredibly beneficial to the health, and attest to their own greatly improved health since they became vegans.

If all that weren’t enough, on my last visit to Berlin I became hooked on Rachel Talshir’s book “The Secret Method” – at first because it’s so well written, and then because of the ideas in it. “It’s an excellent book,” I told my son’s girlfriend. “You gave it to me when you said there was no chance you would read it, since you only like nonorganic food and are addicted mainly to empty calories.” But before long, the ideas from the book solidified into a plan to become, first, what Talshir calls a “half-vegetarian” (a vegetarian in the making, with the aspiration of avoiding, as much as possible, any food that was once alive, be it the occasional juicy steak or, in my case, Vietnamese food in Berlin), and then to become a full vegetarian, and eventually a vegan.

It bothered me a bit that this decision seemed to coincide perfectly with the current Tel Aviv trend of avoiding yeast and gluten, as if everyone has suddenly come down with celiac disease (if there’s anything I really love it’s gluten, especially when it appears in bread, cakes and pasta); to opt for soy milk because of lactose intolerance – another thing that seems to have taken over the entire city; and eating pre- or post-sprouted Ethiopian tehina, which costs three times as much as Camel tehina, whose taste is wholly satisfying, if you ask me. Not to mention that the idea of starting to consume veggie shakes that, in addition to fruit, also contain celery, parsley and all kinds of herbs, or what Talshir calls a “reshek” − a fruit and green-veggie concoction that’s a cross between a shake and a paste − didn’t exactly thrill me.

Still, for nearly a week I was a vegan (except for all those cups of cappuccino with cow’s milk in them). Since I had also quit smoking, started walking more and had actually somehow lost a little weight without even meaning to (for the first time in my life), people started saying I looked better than usual, which I immediately chalked up to my new healthier lifestyle.

And there was one recipe on all the vegan sites that I enjoyed no end − ice cream made of frozen bananas and organic (of course!) peanut butter and carob powder. Fattening as hell, but so yummy and “healthy” I insisted to my son, who just rolled his eyes.

On the seventh day of my veganism, I passed by a stand set up near Gan Meir by the Anonymous Foundation − fine folks who are so concerned about animals that they’re ready to kill any humans who don’t feel the same. At the stand I tasted a “summer roll” − a food I got hooked on at Vietnamese restaurants in Berlin, where it also contained a little shrimp and a generous amount of peanut butter (nonorganic, apparently), in addition to all sorts of julienned vegetables tightly wrapped in rice paper. I abstained from the “chocolate” mousse made from carobs, thinking of the ice cream awaiting me at home, but I really enjoyed their stuffed eggplant rolls. The girl making them said they were filled with soy cheese. I immediately asked her how to make it. Aside from having to buy soy milk, I learned I would also need to buy a cloth diaper to use to strain the mixture after you boil the soy milk together with lemon “like you do with labaneh – but don’t make labaneh, because labaneh is made from animal’s milk,” the girl explained to me.

I rushed out to buy two cartons of soy milk, and then from there to the pharmacy. I went to the diaper section, but all I found were the disposable kind. Disappointed, I turned to a saleswoman − at least 10 years my senior, but going for a young look with makeup that included turquoise mascara and eyeliner and a complicated manicure featuring stickers and fake diamonds. I asked her where the cloth diapers were. She studied me for a moment and then asked, “For you? Because if it’s for you we have some wonderful disposable adult diapers.”

“Not for me,” I told her. “I can still control my bladder, thank you. I need cloth diapers to make soy cheese.”

“Sure, whatever you say,” said the saleswoman, who obviously wasn’t buying it.

Avi Ofer