“Eat food. Not much. Mostly plants.” -Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food
I very rarely eat out at lunchtime. I usually bring a sandwich or leftovers to warm up in the microwave at work.
This morning, I forgot my leftover pasta at home, and although I ate a banana at the office, I seriously thought I might starve to death before I got home tonight. I decided to splurge and go to Subway for a sandwich. I decided to eat out for lunch! I looked forward to it for a couple of hours.
At 1:00 PM I left the office and drove to Subway. I parked, walked inside, and stood in line.
(Let me back up a moment and mention that I don’t eat much meat anymore. I’m not exactly a vegetarian, but working in the agricultural industry has given me an education about how animals are treated, and slaughtered, and I don’t want to eat them much anymore. If animals were treated with humanity during their lives and slaughtered in a quick, stressless, humane fashion, I wouldn’t mind eating them. I love pepperoni pizza and cheeseburgers.
At my job, and just by paying more attention while living my life, I’ve also come to understand most farmers’ attitudes in relation to the animals that they raise, kill, and sell: in my opinion, they should feel grateful to the animals, but they just see the animals as a means to an end. Animals are just one more object to deal with along the way of earning a living. Turkey farmers refer to themselves as “turkey growers,” as if turkeys are just plants or inanimate objects to be grown. They wouldn’t want to refer to themselves as raising turkeys, because then consumers would remember that turkeys are actually live creatures. And did you realize that pig farmers are now called pork producers?)
So anyway, even though 99% of Subway’s menu—meat sandwiches—is not an option for me, they do have a delicious Veggie Patty that’s served hot, and I also enjoy the lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, green peppers, and onions that I can add to it. Here’s a photo I found of it:
And whenever I’ve ordered this sandwich at Subway, I’ve done so with a smidgen of smugness. It’s subtle, maybe even unconscious at the time, but I do acknowledge that I momentarily feel morally superior to everyone else because they’re eating animals, but I’m eating plants! (Note: I’m poking fun at myself.)
So today, I got to the front of the line and here is the conversation that occurred:
Subway employee (grumpily): “What can I get for you?”
“I’d like a 6-inch veggie patty on wheat.”
“I’d like a 6-inch veggie patty on wheat, please.”
“Veggie . . . PATTY?”
(Clerk looks at me sideways.)
“We have a veggie.”
“You don’t have the veggie patty?”
The clerk looks at me like I have just escaped from the local asylum and repeats:
“We have a veggie.” (As if this explains everything.)
Intuitively, I realized that she didn’t know I’d been to several other Subways that do offer a veggie patty, and that she apparently thought I was ordering it just to piss her off. So I said by way of explanation, politely:
“Oh. Well, some other Subway stores have a veggie patty,” and I was going to proceed with my order, but she interrupted me and said, clearly very annoyed:
“Well, some other Subway stores have pizza, too, but we don’t have that, either.”
I considered saying one of the following:
- “But I didn’t ask you for pizza,” or
- “I was just helping you out, so that if someone else orders a veggie patty from you sometime in the future, you’ll be ready to give your apologies and explain that you don’t have the veggie patty, but you do offer a delicious veggie sandwich,” or
- “Back off, you grouch! I am treating myself to a rare lunch out and you are spoiling it with your rudeness.”
But instead I just said:
It was OK. It was actually pretty good. I’m not going to starve before dinner tonight, and no animals died so that I could eat lunch. I’ll moralize some more at you once I start walking the 20 miles to work and stop polluting the environment with my fossil-fuel burning car.
In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t explain myself to the Subway employee. She probably makes minimum wage and stands on her feet all day. Maybe she is a student or a single mother or has a sick family member. Maybe her car broke down this morning and it’s going to cost a lot of money to repair. Who knows, Subway employees probably don’t even get a free sandwich after their shift. I have an ample supply of empathy with a person who can’t even communicate about a sandwich without getting upset at the person who is ordering it.
But I probably won’t be going to this Subway again for a long, long time. And someone should care about that, but no one does, so I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.