Time was, people thought they could tell a vegetarian just by looking at her: thin, pale and other adjectives for malnourished. From what I’ve seen and heard the past 10 days, nothing could be further from the truth. Unless they’re wearing some sort of scarlet letter – or would that be green? – there’s no way to distinguish a veg from anyone else.
I bring this up because of what happened two days ago. A couple times a month, I like to go hang out at Barnes & Noble or Borders. I don’t take my laptop because the goal is staying unplugged. Sunday, I was at B&N for about seven hours straight. I usually stay only about four hours, but Sunday I had a lot on my mind and was in need of a serious “brain dump” – jotting down all my ideas in my not-so-blank book. I also read a whole book while there, and ordered another that I’ll buy when it comes in. Because I’m such a regular there, I tried to con the manager into giving me one of those huge, book-cover art pieces hanging in a back office, but he wasn’t buying it. (I’ll try again in a few days . . .)
Anyway, there I was, sipping coffee, reading and writing at a table cluttered with pens, highlighters, bottled water, my cell phone and several books, one of which was Being Vegetarian for Dummies. If you’re familiar with the Dummies line, you know the books are bright yellow. If you live in North Carolina, you know people will start a conversation with you anytime, anywhere, about anything. I also believe there’s something “open” about my personality that attracts talkative people – mostly nut cases, but that’s a story for another day.
That yellow book kinda stood out to anyone scoping my tabletop, and that’s exactly what two middle-aged ladies were doing as they stood about four feet away, chatting animatedly about someone’s memoir. That’s where I was seated, right next to the biography section. I wasn’t listening directly because I was focused on writing, but I did notice when the chatter abruptly ceased, yet the ladies hadn’t moved out of my periphery. I looked up; and they were both staring at me with these really tight smiles. Not natural smiles, but “we are so busted” smiles.
I stared back for a few seconds, then raised my eyebrows. They accepted the invitation and came closer as one pointed to the yellow book and asked, “Is that your book? Are you a vegetarian?” I said not really, but was transitioning and strongly considering it. The speaker turned to her companion and said to me, “We were wondering because we have a friend who’s been like that for years, and she’s just so skinny!”
They both thought that was quite funny. I figured out this is about weight. What stunned them into silence a minute ago was seeing an overweight person with a book on vegetarianism. Whatever. I get it. If I were them, I’d probably make some assumptions, too – I’d just be cooler about it. These ladies were kinda loud, the store was crowded, and I sensed it was only a matter of time before they’d start in about their fat Cousin Becky’s bout with diabetes, or something. I broke eye contact, they told me to “have a blessed day” and off they went, whispering. I turned the Dummies book over.
I didn’t get around to the book before leaving, but as I was reshelving it, I spotted a fit and friendly looking B&N staffer nearby, so I asked for his help in finding books on transitioning from omnivore to vegetarian. He took me to the cookbooks section, saying that’s really all there is on the topic. Then he pulled out a very large, thick cookbook, saying it was likely the best one out there, with lots of tips, tricks and advice throughout. I didn’t bother looking at it I knew it was far outside of my budget, but I did ask him how he knew it was good book to have.
“Because I’m a vegetarian,” he said.
Assumption is the mother of the screw-up. ~ Angelo Donghia
Leslie J. Ansley is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur who blogs daily for TheRoot. She lives in Raleigh, NC.