Introducing “Beefeaters Anonymous,” Joey Sweeney’s Weeklong #PhillyVegPledge Weblog

Hello, old friend! Welcome back to Phoodie! We’ve been dormant for a minute, but join us this week as our publisher Joey Sweeney takes part in the #PhillyVegPledge and shares his experiences, observations and recipes.

beefanonsun

Part I: Sunday

My grandfather drove a truck for Diamond Beef Co., and as such, indoctrinated us all into his own particularities regarding the consumption of meat. Later in life, he also owned a Fishtown bar called The Shrimp Boat, which would open at 8am; the place still stands under the name The Starboard Side. (It quite proudly refuses to be gentrified.) Taken altogether, it feels fair to say that much of Paul Tuno’s attitudes towards hospitality (everyone is welcome, always), meat (abhor fat at the table, but use everything) and fish (he was, as you may guess, something of a shrimp obsessive) have filtered straight into the present day both for myself and the rest of our clan.

Paul knew how to butcher, Paul knew how to have a good time, Paul didn’t suffer fools. He shouted at the TV news, he’d laugh at a dirty joke until he wheezed, he was a sentimental bastard who’d cry at a perfect tune. He spent the last twenty years of his life shirtless and in a pair of denim cutoffs, and yet his hair was impeccably slicked back every time I saw him. There are times, sitting at the kitchen table, when I feel like I might be more like him than anyone else who raised me. I often consider adopting his signature eccentricity (other than the decades of shirtless jorts wardrobe): Drinking Milwaukee’s Best in a small beer glass with table pepper sprinkled on top. It kept the head that way.

All of this by way of saying that there were no vegetarians in my family. There was no moral objection to this (or any other lifestyle or religion, that I can recall) in the main of our thinking, but meat was so tied up with who we were, and how we got together, that it simply wasn’t something anyone would ever consider. My grandmother’s pasta fagiole, made with pork bone, simmering for hours; her signature roast beef, the cut and marbling always just so; the Easter ham. Even as a teenager in the ’80s enormously under the spell of Morrrissey, I could never quite cotton to vegetarianism, though its vogue would rise steadily throughout my lifetime. Morrissey says lots of things, I remember thinking. It’s not like you have to do any of them.

On the other hand, I have gotten older. I have treated my body like I’ll be able to swap it out for a new one. Today, for brunch, I had bacon. Just bacon. And not a little bit of bacon. Like a half pound of bacon. And a Coke. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat plenty of other things — quite a few of them healthy, even, and I certainly do not object to many, many meat-free dishes — but basically, I live my life like the guest of honor at a children’s birthday party. I eat whatever I want, whenever I want. But the center cannot hold. A persistent belly holds my figure at bay. My face bears the pudge of excess. A bottle of unopened blood pressure meds has sat on my sink threateningly for months now. Even my colon, I imagine, thinks I’m an asshole at this point.


Getting my #PhillyVegPledge menus together! Gonna be a fun week.

A photo posted by Joey Sweeney (@jojosweeney) on

So when Greenlimbs and the Humane League of Philadelphia asked me to participate with other, uh, Philadelphians of Note, in this year’s #PhillyVegPledge — a week of meat-free diet — I had no right whatsoever saying no. If I may interpret their motives, the VegPleg is less about evangelism on behalf of lentils and far more about paying attention to what one consumes as a matter of ethics and personal health. Forget about Morrissey’s old saws about animal cruelty — far more compelling are the infographics illustrating how much natural resources are taken up producing one cow’s worth of consumable cow. As we begin to feel the actual effects of global warming and continue to pretend like the supply of simple drinking water itself isn’t gonna be a huge issue within our own respective life spans, the vegetarians and the vegans have the moral high ground now more than ever.

But I will spare the niceties about this: No one likes them. Have you ever been in a conversation with a group of chefs about vegans? It is hate magic. Non-carnivores in our society bear the same historical burden of many who have come before whose moral position was correct but whose likability suffered from any number social gaffes, misunderstandings and just plain bad luck. This is regrettable, but, in a meat-based society, understandable, too. I mention it because in mere hours, I too will be a vegetarian, however temporarily. I have to have my eyes open to the ways I will be treated. And I have to know where I stand.

And where I stand is this: As I prepare my menu for the week ahead — no meat, no fish, but some dairy — I will lean towards types of cuisine I enjoy and know bits about already, but with a keen eye towards picking up some new tricks. I will not complain, ever. Should I find myself in a restaurant where a vegetarian meal is difficult to obtain, I won’t be a bitch about it: No special requests, and again, no complaining. Perhaps most notably, I will abstain entirely from the Fake Meat Pretend Food that, I believe, has been the biggest threat to vegetarian credibility over the past few decades by way of its withering deference. I will not eat a fucking Not Dog. No veggie burgers for me, thank you. In fact, no product bearing a soy or seitan pun shall enter my body. Not because I hate puns, but because of a longstanding disdain for assimilation among my fellow freaks. We don’t need these fascist groove foods. And lastly, no fucking pizza, and no macaroni and cheese. Because the unimaginative vegetarians who subsist on these are the worst kinds of vegetarians there are.

Instead, there shall be noodle dishes bearing traces of the Sichuan and Vietnamese, delights from the Mediterranean and Middle East, hearty Mexican dishes, New American Cuisine, plenty of stuff on the grill, and some things that I’ll just make up as I go along. I’ll play off the strength of my household’s skill set in the kitchen (I have a great cheat in that my fiancé is a fantastic cook who also was a vegetarian for 8 years), and I will endeavor with a sense of adventure.

But that won’t come until midnight on Sunday night. Until then, I’m going to sit here and eat a giant plate of sweet Italian sausage. See you on the other side, friends.

– Joey Sweeney

Join us for the rest of the week here at Phoodie.info, where each day, our fearless narrator will relay his week of eating like a responsible human being.


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