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From 10 October 2004 Issue

ParkStRanger Goes Back to the Dentist
By Greg Lawson, ParkStRanger@aol.com 

This morning I had an appointment to get a new crown. My dentist, Dr. Rizk (pronounced "risk," don't laugh, I used to go to Dr. Payne) has hired a new assistant who is a very attractive young lady. I have to admit, I am beginning to think I may have some sort of fetish about attractive ladies putting their fingers in my mouth and causing me pain. Hey, being a vegan puts me on the outskirts of society anyway.

I was most disappointed when she told me that the nitrous oxide delivery system wasn't working. The Main Reason I keep going back is for the gas (and, of course, my dentist's lovely, pain-causing assistants with their plastic gloves, goggles and masks). Cheryl and I started a conversation and got to know each other a little bit. She told me that she was born in Wisconsin, but had lived in El Paso since she was a child. As we were waiting for the anesthetic to take effect, I finished reading an article in a Reader's Digest I had started in the waiting room, "Is Our Food Safe?"

"What are you reading?" Cheryl asked.
"An article about pathogens in meat," I replied. "I'm a vegan and I like to keep up with this kind of thing."
"I was a vegetarian for a while," she told me.
"Oh, really? Why did you become vegetarian?"
"When I was a kid, my parents bought a calf which they kept in the backyard for a few weeks. One day when I got home from school, the calf wasn't there. I asked my Mom where it was. She pointed at the freezer. I looked inside and there were a lot of packages of meat. I stopped eating animals for years."

"That can happen when you meet your meat." It flashed across my mind how a similar thing had happened to the Marquis de Sade, the French nobleman after whom the word "sadism" was coined. One night when he was a child, he was told at the dinner table that the meal he was eating was formerly his pet duck. For de Sade, that event helped shape the rest of his life of debauchery. For most of the rest of us, an event like that helps us develop a sense of compassion. For me, it was seeing my grandmother twist the head off a live chicken, and seeing the body run around the backyard for a minute before dying. "You say you were a vegetarian, have you gone back to eating meat?" I asked.

"Yes, but not beef, just chicken mostly, and I can't give up my cheese."
"I can understand that, you being from Wisconsin," I said.
"Yes, I guess it's in my blood." Yes, and unfortunately, the blood of the calves is still in her blood. I didn't tell her that in order to make cheese, cows are kept pregnant year after year, the offspring becoming veal. I thought that heavy information should wait until another time.
"There are several good soy cheeses on the market, and soy cream cheese tastes no different from dairy cream cheese."
"I have seen them around, I will have to try them," she said.

The dentist came in and started his business of drilling for the gold card in my wallet. When he was finished, he instructed Cheryl to make an impression for the new crown. As she prepared the impression material she asked, "So tell me, what's the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian?...Ok, bite down on this and don't open until I tell you it's ok."

Hmm, I thought for the next five minutes. This seems to be a pattern. People ask us about veganism, but then don't really want to hear the answer. Gluing my mouth shut with alginate was so far the most effective method I had ever encountered. But I was patient, after all, I was the patient. As soon as she took the hardened alginate from my mouth, my numbed lips struggled to form the words that for ethical reasons, vegans don't eat dairy products or eggs, that veganism really wasn't about sacrifice, but about substitutions. "You can buy everything from pastrami to chicken nuggets, from ice cream to sour cream all made from soy."

"Wow," she said. I didn't realize that." She commented that it must be hard to eat out, though. I agreed, but said that many places have vegan dishes and that the Vegetarian Society of El Paso has frequent potlucks, restaurant events and our bimonthly dinners with a vegan buffet prepared by one of the best hotels in El Paso, and of course, I suggested she join us for our vegetarian thanksgiving in November. She said she would think about it, but that her boyfriend was a big meateater. My heart sank. We had both enjoyed the probing and the poking, and when it was over, then she mentions a boyfriend. Nevertheless, I will invite her to our thanksgiving vegan buffet. Maybe her boyfriend won't want to go, but she will.

The point of this article is this: it's very important to engage in conversation about veganism with everyone we meet. In some people it will make a difference. Don't just wait for that special someone you connect with who is wearing goggles, gloves and a mask.

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