Patriotism, wrapped in bacon

by juli boggs

BBQ is an American tradition, just like beer and fireworks. Every American knows this, which is why we celebrate our Independence Day with this loud, meaty, drunk triumvirate. “We are loud, meaty, drunk people!” the popular saying goes, and I defy you to tell me otherwise. Even vegetarians, even vegans, even conscientious objectors are loud, meaty, drunk people on the third and Fourth of July. It is an established fact.

A vegan roommate of mine once spent every night for a month pounding gluten protein into rubbery wads which he would then marinate in an amalgam of liquid smoke and secret sauces to approximate the flavor and consistency of meat. What it tasted like was largely that of paper mache dipped in ash and it retained its original wad form no matter how hard you chewed.

On the other hand, a meat-eating friend once seriously proposed creating imitation vegetables entirely out of meat. While the beefmatoes, steaktatoes, and all-ham carrots were never realized beyond his proposition, I couldn’t help but think that he too was overcomplicating things.

I have been a vegetarian for 11 years now and have rarely spent money on meat approximations. When I get “the craving,” I go for it, and then I repent. It’s a morally imperfect cycle, but that’s the beauty of confession. I did not intend to eat meat when I wandered into the Hagan Park All American BBQ Cookdown amidst the many other All-American activities in Rancho Cordova this past Sunday, but I did. There, I said it. Let the healing begin.

Forgive me father, for I have eaten not one nor two but three samples of BBQ chicken from three separate vendors. With banners proclaiming such squeamish double entendres as “putting pigs in heat since 2005” I should have known these stalls held nothing but dietary transgressions.

While biting into the sweet saucy meat after a decade of fairly diligent abstinence I felt overwhelmed with grief knowing that I was financially supportive of their death, and that it tasted delicious. With every bite my guilt subsumed into a panicky craving “I must have all of the meat!” I thought. I checked to see that no one I knew was watching as I coyly stalked my next drumstick.

Even now with only a day of perspective I have trouble recognizing these actions as my own. My mother, the chickens, and most importantly all the vegetarians I’ve let down will probably never forgive me. They will revoke my Official Vegetarian card, and should I ever announce to a waitress that I don’t eat meat, they will beg to differ. It’s ham carrots from here on out.

Am I sorry? Hardly. Any traces of regret I may have had have been replaced by all the excitement a Google search for “things wrapped in bacon” now inspires. As for my vegetarianism, I’m considering a political alliance with “freeganism,” the dietary faction that eats all things tempting and delicious, so long as they are merely available. Yep, it’s going to be a great summer.

*Article as run in this week’s issue of the Sacramento News and Review.