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Vegan the Beguine

by Mike Calahan

Some people look forward to the changing of the leaves, others to the smell of Spring in the air, some even the new lineups on adult pay-per-view. They can have it. As for myself, living in what is ostensibly a college town, I look forward to the crop of new faces that arrive, each year, to the University of California Santa Cruz. Is it that I enjoy seeing the eager student who has come to expand his/her realm of knowledge? Seeing the acorn-like stage of those who will go on to be great leaders? No, I’m much too cynical for that. I enjoy watching the personality types that are adopted to take over where the previous role player (having either graduated or dropped out to plan ahead for next year’s Burning Man festival) had left off. The faces themselves are inconsequential; the important thing is that the personality continue (like Darrins on Bewitched or the wealthy 50-year olds sought out by aspiring trophy wives).

Presumably, the biggest decision most university students face is in choosing a schedule of classes, but, for others, an even greater decision awaits: which personality should be adopted as their own. Indeed, there are so many to choose from and its important to weigh one’s options because, once decided, this will define that student’s college career. But where does one begin? Well, regardless of musical ability, he or she can join the Drum Circle circle (this goes hand in hand with the swaying dancers who grab at invisible stars as though they are pulling flowers from a garden and who are as equally out of touch with the rhythm as the drummers themselves). Not appealing enough? Well, for the more proactive student, they can become a Jack-Of-All Protests. The individual causes themselves are secondary and can be determined at a later date, the important thing is that the student be incredibly passionate about protesting, their heartfelt belief flowing from every pore. ‘Why are you protesting?’ -- ‘I gotta show the community what’s going on, to fight for my beliefs, because I gotta make a difference....at least, until I graduate and get a job at my dad’s accounting firm.’ --One benefit of this group is that it’s a large one and opens up endless avenues for social interaction and growth. ‘What are you protesting?’ -- ‘The overproduction of white bread. And you?’ -- ‘Oh, I’m burning books that advocate book burning.’ --’Awesome! Let’s protest together!’ --For the girls, there is always the ever faithful Goddess/Feminist group. These young ladies are easily recognizable by such arguments as, ‘Why do you slink back when I get in your face? Are you threatened by a woman with a voice, a strong woman?’ (or may it simply be a case of a strong woman with strong breath?) --‘Embrace the vagina! It's not evil, it's life! It's Mother Earth!’ (Which, if that is the case, I know what the majority of the male species, from the age of 12 and up, think about Mother Earth once every ten minutes...and very passionately, I might add!)

Still, my favorite personality type, and the one I look forward to the most, can be heard prefacing their restaurant or coffee house order with the question, “Is this vegan?” --These longtime devotees (up to as many as four weeks before school starts, in some cases) go to great lengths to let as many people as they can know that they are a proud vegan and, therefore, a far better person than that hypocrite vegetarian who ordered a Boca burger with cheese.

The vegan diet is a non carnivorous, nondairy diet that promotes a healthier, earth friendly lifestyle. My seemingly cold shouldered approach is not aimed at the diet itself, but only on those who adopt this simply because they are attending UCSC and feel there are certain rules you follow when you do so, (the same reason they stop showering or become pro-hemp). Had these same students been given a scholarship to, say, the University of the Ozarks, would they have become sincere enthusiasts of deep-fried squirrel jerky and be pro-Wrangler boot cut jeans?

Now, save those who truly believe in the benefit and ethics behind the vegan diet, many people I have known who claimed to be sworn vegans (a number which, to this date, totals two, sure, but a number that I feel is large enough for me to make an enormous generalization) never maintain this belief system after their university tenure. Their vegetarian friend turns them onto the the taste of real cheese (“Just one bite. Come on, trust me. You can’t get hooked your first time.”), then another friend might introduce them to fish and pretty soon they are on the downward spiral to pepperoni pizza and milkshakes.

“If a vegan is alone in the woods with a Twinkie, does it take a bite?”
--Confucius’ dumber cousin Darryl

The vegan student touts their moniker safely at school when among others that are like-minded. Winter vacation, however, finds the vegan at home with their family whom, when their child left, were to be missed with teary eyes, but who are now seen by those same eyes as murderers and ecological terrorists. What happened? All you can do, family, is ride this out the way you did your child’s Goth or Gangsta phase. At home, a vegan might feel alone and outnumbered, which can very often cause them to become vicious and angry. At the holiday dinner, for example, the young vegan will sulk in their seats over a plate of brown rice and chutney and gaze at the other family members with eyes that seem to contain all the rage of PETA. The family, although uncomfortable throughout dinner, should be aware that the rage their vegan is feeling is really an internal struggle stemming from their plaguing (yet, salivating) thought, “God, that turkey smells really good.”

Later that night, say three-ish, Father might arise to investigate that noise coming from the kitchen. A burglar? A serial killer hoping to claim victims 14-17? With a seven iron in hand, Father creeps downstairs only to find his vegan, their body sticking halfway out of the refrigerator, picking at the turkey remains. Smiling to himself, Father returns to bed never making his presence known to his child. Is he smiling at the fickleness of youth, the desperate search for identity that changes on a dime? Nope, Father knows that someday he can bring the moment up during an argument and really stick it to his kid.

In short, choose wisely when looking for one’s self in the faces of others because a wrong decision can mar one’s growth as an accepted and interchangeable member of any social herd. Ask around, take the time to research your options because adopting a personality is even more important than having one of your own. And in a town such as Santa Cruz where self-expression is highly regarded, individuality is great...as long as you’re doing it the same way as everyone else.

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