Lagusta’s Axiom, for future Wikipedia entries: It is reasonable to assume that, 90% of the time, any person representing a trend/theory/movement/revolution within the confines of the mainstream media is, by definition, the worst example of that trend/theory/movement/revolution. In simpler terms: anything getting press sucks. The larger theme that is getting the press might not suck, but the representative of that theme undoubtedly does, at least most of the time.
Peter Berley, therefore, sucks. He was on Leonard Lopate today discussing the locavore thing and (oh god, I’m going to say it) the “flexitarian” thing. The segment was billed as “Can vegetarians and meat-eaters sit down to a meal peacefully?” – the idea that meat-eaters could go one meal without meat apparently not having occurred to anyone.
To begin, perhaps I should tell you that I once punched Peter Berley.
I also have a deep distrust of the word “flexitarian,” and am no great fan of LenLo (though I called into his show last week and got on the radio talking about my 101 meals!), so the collision of all three on the radio this morning was something of a perfect storm of hilarious cooking-related outrage that left my voice raw from screaming at the radio.
Peter Berley used to teach classes at The Natural Gourmet, a cooking school in Manhattan I attended and also worked at for a time. He has become a minor chef of some renown in the NYC natural-foods cooking world. The staff at The Natural Gourmet couldn’t stand Peter Berley because of his gigantic ego, annoying proclivity to flirt with cute blond students (I heard that much more occurred as well, but these are only rumors, which I am not at all adverse to spreading here), and his horrible, horrible, horrible recipes. I remember with perfect clarity a “Vegetarianism 101″ class he taught that featured a “balanced meal,” in its entirely, of salsa, black-eyed peas and rice, and split pea soup.
I worked as a steward at time, which meant I was in charge of procuring ingredients for the cooking classes. This entailed endlessly measuring out beans and grains, making simple preparations to be used in classes, and trekking all around town to get lotus root from Chinatown, ancho chilies from little Latino bodegas, microgreens from fancy grocery stores, raw buckwheat from Whole Foods, oh the schlepping I did.
Peter Berley was infamous for his infuriating and unfailing trait of requesting impossible items at the last minute and demanding that these requests be fulfilled. My lovely boss, a fancy chef in his own right in a former life, was a fan of order, scheduling, and advance planning, and had no patience for chef-instructors who failed to get their orders in on time and/or demanded items at the last minute. I was directed to get these items for him only if it didn’t inconvenience me, and to politely decline his requests if I was too busy.
One morning, when I was chopping mountains of onions, carrots, and celery in preparation for making 20 gallons of vegetable stock, PB breezed in and announced that he wanted five ripe avocados. Needing to get the stock on the stove ASAP and knowing that it is completely impossible to buy ripe avocados, I informed him that, as these items weren’t already requested, and since I couldn’t buy avocados that were already ripe and we had none on hand, I unfortunately couldn’t fulfill this request. He got very angry and demanded the avocados. I got very angry and called my boss, who gave me the authorization to tell him to fuck off. I politely told him that I could not get the avocados. He fumed all day.
The next day, weary with the thought of another day working with a stony PB, I took a deep breath, marched up to him, and told him that I was just doing my job and I understood that he was just doing his job and I hoped there were no hard feelings.
He snorted and rolled his eyes.
I punched him.
Very gently, in his doughy stomach, but a punch nonetheless.
Shortly thereafter, I quit my job and haven’t seen PB since. When I started working at Bloodroot, my mentor Selma asked me what I thought of his cookbook. I said I thought the section on sourdough bread was lovely but the rest of the book was terrible, and that I hated PB. She said that all she needed to do was look at the back cover (the cold, dead kitchen, the bleached chef’s whites, the undead look in his eyes, the stony stare, the hilarious facial hair) and she knew he was a fucker – her all-purpose term for the kind of man that a radical feminist lesbian doesn’t like (surprisingly, there are many men she does like).
Wait! I have one more PB mini-story. I was once watching a friend’s band at Mercury Lounge in NYC. Afterward I was chatting with an acquaintance, who was talking endlessly about her upcoming wedding. When I told her that it sounded lovely (full disclosure: it didn’t) she asked me if I was planning on getting married to Jacob and I said no, I didn’t see a reason to, and she looked confused and changed the subject to PB, whom she knew I knew. He apparently lived near her and they had become friends and he “was just a dear.”
So. People who like weddings like Peter Berley. All is right with the world.
PB was on the radio talking about some horrid-sounding cookbook he’s written about “flexitarianism.” Has the vegetarian blog world already aired our grievances with this sickening world? Do I even need to add my voice to the chorus? This made up crap word was actually selected as the year’s most useful word in 2003 by the American Dialect Society, which gave it a lot of weight that it didn’t deserve.
This is so blindingly obvious that I shouldn’t even need to state it, but clearly I do. Being vegetarian is like being pregnant – either you are or you aren’t. If you aren’t, you aren’t anything but a meat eater. You’re not “itarian” anything – you just enjoy eating rotting flesh and feel guilty for this desire and want to identify with vegetarians, so you have made up a silly little word. Please stop it, you’re irritating all of us.
Perhaps you will say that there are many people who are “almost vegetarian,” and aren’t comfortable saying they are vegetarian and still need a word that proclaims their identity.
I would suggest “losers.”
Oh man, that is so mean though. I can’t quite bring myself to delete it, because it is truly how I feel, but I must mitigate it somewhat because I have several friends who are pretty much 99% vegetarian. What to do about Than, who is vegetarian but eats fish sauce when he is home and his Vietnamese mom cooks for him, because a Vietnamese meal without fish sauce is not a meal? Or Natalie, so sweet and apologetic when she explains that she used to be veg, but eats fish once in a while for the Omega 3s, because it just makes her feel good? Everyone is on a path, and everyone is trying their best – except for those who aren’t trying at all, which is most people but happily not most people I know.
But Natalie and Than aren’t “flexitarians” – they are mostly-vegetarians who sometimes make exceptions. The word “flexitarian” (I will not do it the honor of using it without quotation marks) implies that you are flexible about your vegetarianism, which linguistically and practically is not possible.
“Flexitarian” also does great harm to us real vegetarians, because it implies that our vegetarianism is somehow flexible.
Like most junk made up words that become trendy in the mainstream media, it is a signifier that signifies nothing, a short cut for the feeble-minded. In Peter Berley’s case, it is a trend on which to jump and probably make some good cash.
I wouldn’t have expected anything less from him.