David Shapiro
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By David Shapiro

Saturday, November 27, 1999

Confessions of a
liberal vegetarian

WE had Thanksgiving out this year for the first time in decades, but it made no difference to me. I had the same fare as always -- salad, potatoes, cranberries, string beans and a little pumpkin pie.

Such is the lot of a vegetarian on Turkey Day. Somebody makes a product called a Tofurkey, but it doesn't appeal -- especially after the disturbing news about the consequences of gorging on tofu.

My colleague Emil Guillermo, a more radical vegetarian, always writes this time each year about our terrible cruelty to turkeys.

But I'm not that kind of vegetarian. I love our furry, feathered and finned friends, but have no philosophical objection to eating them. Turkeys, in particular, are so dumb that I doubt they know the difference after their heads are removed.

Nor am I a vegetarian purely for health reasons. This body of mine is no temple. It's more like an old rumpus room run down from neglect.

I followed my wife Maggie onto a vegan diet a few years ago when she was advised to avoid foods that flared up her arthritis. I went along for moral support. Also, I had been on several courses of the steroid prednisone for a medical condition of my own and was starting to look like the Michelin man. I needed to drop pounds.

The diet didn't help Maggie's arthritis so she returned to the meat dishes she loved. But it suited me and I stuck with it.

For a couple of years, I was a strict vegan -- no animal products of any kind. But lately I've been letting the dairy slide a little with a "don't ask, don't tell" policy on foodstuffs where the dairy isn't visible, such as Thanksgiving mashed potatoes, pizza and Ted's whipped cream pies.

But I've held the line on meat, fowl or fish. The thought of eating animal flesh actually turns my stomach. When I found out a frozen vegetable pasta meal I had eaten contained a few drops of beef broth, I retched for days.

This probably stems from my first tour as a vegetarian as a student at Hilo College, when I was more religious about it.

It started when my friend Jim watched a praying mantis consume an earwig while he enjoyed his morning bacon and eggs. "I hated the cruelty," Jim said. "Then I realized I was eating a little pig and two chickens that never got a chance to be born."

IT was enough for both of us to swear off meat -- me for a couple of years and Jim for even longer. It was tough being a vegetarian in those days. Health food stores were scarce and it meant a lot of french fries, grilled cheese sandwiches and jelly donuts.

It ended for me when a bunch of students were picketing a county Democratic Party picnic at Wailoa State Park to demand expanding the two-year program at Hilo College into a four-year university.

We marched around the pavilion in the broiling sun for a few hours while the Democrats grilled themselves up some T-bone steaks. We were easy pickings when the Democrats co-opted our protest by inviting us in to eat. I was so hungry that I betrayed my friend the earwig and took a steak.

It's not for nothing that those cagey Democrats have held power for more than 40 years. And they did get around to expanding Hilo College to the University of Hawaii-Hilo.

David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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