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Accidental vegetarian

Sustainable dinner. I accidentally went vegetarian once, for about six months. It happened when I was a sophomore at Florida Presbyterian College. I say accidentally because it was a matter of happenstance, not an idealistic stance about meat being murder or saving the planet, yawn. Given my very limited options, the vegetarian chow was better, as in more delicious, not healthier or more environmentally just. At FPC I had to eat in the cafeteria. The food was paid for and besides, the college was in the suburbs. There were no nearby eateries, which was probably a good thing. If there had been a Wienerschnitzel nearby I would've spent my allowance on my beloved chili cheese dog with onions, and that's not sustainable. For gastric and other reasons.

Wolfies. Sometimes I'd get ride to Wolfies, a New York deli style restaurant about four miles up South 34th Street, the main north-south drag in our part of town. They made an overstuffed reuben, delicious and greasy as hell. Acting on a tip from a Jewish girl I had a crush on I once ordered it with pastrami instead of corned beef. I never went back. To corned beef, that is. I went back to Wolfies every chance I got, which wasn't often enough to cause gastric distress.

None of your hippie crap. I got a visit from an old friend from Mel High, one of the six or seven of us. He wanted to drive into Tampa to visit cigar factories in Ybor City. I got excited about a Cuban sandwich but he was going through a vegetarian phase (this was before mine). So I suggested we take along a picnic with supplies from Wolfies and could eat over there in some park. So we swung by Wolfies. I liked to get a loaf of their fresh baked bread, still warm, and a hunk of muenster. I'd sit on the beach with some girl I had a crush on. We'd tear off hunks of fresh bread and eat it with hunks of cheese and dabs of Reine De Dijon Whole Grain Mustard; heavenly. So when they asked if we wanted it sliced I said no. But he was buying and he scoffed at my hippie crap. We got the bread and cheese sliced. It was almost as good. Well, not really. No mustard. You gotta have that mustard.

Traffic on the bridge. He was driving a little Fiat which he proclaimed had racing car suspension and steering. He asked me to drive as he'd just driven across the state. We set out across the Howard Frankland Bridge. It was indeed tight and twitchy, hard to keep between the lines with my lazy steering habits. But what I remember most about that drive was the music. He asked what I'd been listening to (ELP, Yes, Spirit, Jefferson Airplane, Abbey Road).

He nodded tolerantly. He said he had an album he wanted me to hear. He'd copied it onto a cassette, and his little Fiat had great stereo. We set off across Tampa Bay with me driving and he cranked up The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, which had just come out. OMFG. No wonder I was having a hard time keeping it between the lines.

Mogambo. Wolfies was also big on ice cream: shakes, malts, and every kind of sundae. Their ultimate ice cream concoction was The Mogambo Extravaganza: something like 30 scoops and every topping, every add-on in the book, including some I'd never heard of. A mountain of fat and sugar served on a big round platter. They had a standing offer: if you ate the whole thing, you got it for free. As far as I know, none of my friends ever tried. But I did see the sad remains slowly melting on some fool's platter a few times.

Almost cool. OK back to FPC. Don't let the name fool you: my school was no ingrown bible-thumping church institution. It was one of the two most progressive colleges in Florida at the time. Only New College in Sarasota was cooler, dammit. But by 1971 I'd already burned out on pot and psychedelic pills; they threatened my mental integrity. I'd settled instead into an alcoholic haze which would last me till 2016.

A slice of heaven. The cafeteria food was institutional. The entree server, the one you encountered first as you slid your tray along the three polished steel tubes, greeted each student identically: And yours? That's what we called him, And Yours. A balding fat guy dressed in white, with a white paper hat. Mystery meat was the worst entree: a piece of ground or cubed meat product profoundly smothered in thick beige gravy that tasted slightly disturbing. Like, what was that flavor? It made overbaked chicken look like a slice of heaven.

Natural foods. So when a student convinced the authorities to let him put together a natural foods line, it was a nobrainer. However, you had to do one or the other, no mixing. So I became a vegetarian. There was good stuff in the natural foods line. Fresh whole fruit, a salad bar, nut butters (not just peanut), tahini, granola, and and… I can't remember too much else. Oh yeah yogurt, and whole-wheat bread. I lived on peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I would substitute almond butter or tahini for variety, but the peanut butter was Deaf Smith crunchy; hard to resist. I also ate granola with fruit and yogurt or milk. Salad occasionally. But the entrees were unimaginative. Like squash cut in half and steamed. Just that, no sauce or seasoning. You could put salad dressing on them. Blue cheese dressing makes anything taste better. Or at least blue cheesier. The tang of penicillium mold was welcome relief from the blandeur of plain steamed squash.

Murder. One day a wag had taped up a poster at the entrance to the natural foods line. It was beautifully done decorative art, Leaf by Niggle style in elaborate curlicues, an intricate garden scene. So intricate the words were hard to make out at first, a productive use of obscuring by decoration. It was a brilliant slogan: Just because they can't run away doesn't mean they don't see you coming. I'm good with that. We live by murder. Only primary producers are innocent of that.

Sizzlin'. I stuck with my vegetarian diet for four months. I wasn't thinking about quitting. I felt fine, no different. But one day my sister Peggy stopped by and offered to take me out to supper anywhere I wanted. I didn't hesitate an instant: Sizzlin'! I drowned my vegetarianism in a big juicy t-bone. I was ravenous. Now I trust what my body loves, what I have an appetite for. That's Leela talking, so I better listen.

Eckerd Drug College. I went through a lot of changes during my time at FPC, and not just me: even the name of my school changed. I was actually a member of the first graduating class of Eckerd College, named for drugstore magnate Jack Eckerd. Word on the street was naming rights for a small college ran Jack about $7M. T-shirts proclaiming Eckerd Drug College in the familiar Eckerd Drug logo appeared almost immediately.

I still love meat. As for me, I fell in love repeatedly. I quit smoking pot and dedicated myself to alcohol. I quit smoking cigarettes. But I didn't quit meat.