My short, happy life as a vegetarian
- Yes, man can survive on veggie burgers and iced mead.
Writing about the new Cafe Gratitude and its affirmation-heavy, hippie-dippy vibe brought back all kinds of memories for me about the cute little macrobiotic restaurant in Indianapolis where I worked as a waiter in the early 1980s. It was a combination folky art gallery and dining room operated – like Cafe Gratitude – by a husband-and-wife team: he was the chef; she was the manager. I vaguely remember getting the job as a server because I knew someone who already worked there. She had told me that the job was so incredibly laid-back and nonstressful that it would seem like a vacation compared with the uptight, rigid, humorless corporate chain-restaurant job I had recently quit. (A job where my sanity was sorely tested by the requirement to sing the peppy, hand-clapping “Happy Birthday” song way too many times; I had started hiding in the bathroom to avoid the grim duty.)
I’m not surprised the owners of the macrobiotic restaurant hired me – I had lots of restaurant experience – but I’m surprised they kept me on. I stumbled into the place bleary-eyed and hung-over for most of my lunch shifts during my first few months, took way too many smoking breaks, never took the task of setting up the salad bar “in an artistic manner” very seriously, and kept hiding the cassette tape of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” when I couldn’t stand hearing it on an endless loop. An ideal employee, I wasn’t.
And if patrons asked me specific questions about a macrobiotic diet or about the brilliant man, Michio Kushi, who introduced the concept to the West, I wouldn’t know what to say. I may have been serving bowls of brown rice, cups of bancha tea, coriander-scented tempeh burgers and bowls of miso soup to my customers – but you don’t think I actually ate that stuff, do you?
But after a very short time, I became a convert. The food at this restaurant was very good and not very expensive, and I was, of course, always broke. Before I knew it, I had stopped eating meat completely and all dairy products, too. The chef taught me how to make tempeh burgers, veggie burgers and all the house-made dressings on our salad bar.