Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Legends of the Acceptance

I drove from Limerick to Ballybunion golf course to play one of the most spectacular courses in the world. Ireland golf courses do not invest much in golf carts - mostly because a golf course was meant to be walked. But also, the many hills of a their links courses on the seaside are too hilly to be navigating with an electric buggy. So, as I teed up my ball and shot a drive down the middle of the first fairway (a minor miracle), I slung my giant golf bag (Americans are easily identified by their oversized golf bags) over my shoulder with pride and marched 18 holes up and down gorgeous hills wrapped in treacherous (to a golf ball) fescue grass. I had the immense satisfaction of playing golf properly - walking, and not once got winded. In the past I have gotten winded countless times, huffing and puffing, playing flat parkland courses in the States -- and with a golf cart, no less!

But this day, with the wind rushing off the Irish Sea and gently slapping my thinning face, I reveled in the special feeling of playing sport the way it was meant to be played! Now, there were pull trolley's to rent to be sure, but like that American who accidentally orders the whole giant duck instead of an individual portion in a restaurant in Hong Kong, and then faced with snickers and stares from the locals over the mistake, decides to eat the entire thing for pride of country, I forwent the trolley. After the starter's comment, "Jaysus, look at the size of that thing," I strapped my Callaway golf bag cum cello case over my back and set off into the brisk Irish air. There would be many more drives, precious few finding the fairway, but it was exhilarating, and after 18 holes I had enough stamina to go another 18 had I the time. As it was, I needed to rush back for, of all things, a BBQ.

Driving a car down Irish roads which were just wide enough for a horse and an anorexic goat, and on the left hand side of the road no less with approaching traffic bulleting past you inches away from the side of your car you are supposed to be sitting in, was like facing a suicidal death every 3 or 4 minutes. I turned the radio down to make sure my Hail Mary's were heard.

I pulled into the beautiful Shannon River town of Killaloe just north of Limerick for the BBQ. Now, to date I have had beef soaked in Irish stew, and plenty of fish, so "the big moment" was long over. But this was a BBQ - with all sorts of steaks and sausages on the the grill. I had no burning desire to try them, but when going to a BBQ there is a certain expectation that if you are a man over 5 feet tall you should not offended your host who has been standing over the hot charcoal grilling your meal and ask which way is the salad. Then magnify that expectation with the fact you are in a host country, and as an American it is commonly accepted at a BBQ that you should represent yourself as more John Wayne in "Rooster Cogburn" and less Nathan Lane in "The Birdcage." And if that weren't enough, now magnify this expectation by 100x when you realize just who I was visiting at this BBQ -- my friend, Anthony Foley, former captain of Munster Rugby, and former co-captain of Ireland's National rugby team. A true legend in Irish rugby. Now, who else was at this backyard BBQ that I was shooting the breeze with? None other than that bald tank, the legendary Keith Wood! Go to any pub in Ireland that has rugby paraphernalia and if you do not find a photo of Keith Wood on the wall I will be your manservant for a year.

These are men's men who spit nails and spent their 20's and 30's crushing other guy's skulls every Saturday around the world for fun. Foley's wife, whom I met once a year ago in, where else, P.J. Clarke's noticed how much weight I had lost and asked how. Oh, boy, I had not felt this embarrassed in admitting my vegan quest in probably 4 months. You don't go to a BBQ in a host country surrounded by men who rewrote the definition of toughness, and start spouting the benefits of a meal of broccoli and pine nuts. Not to mention their scarred, granite fists were never without a large, potent can of Bulmers hard cider, so telling the story of abstaining from alcohol for the past 6 months, even though my hand was similarly armed at the time, was going to go over about as well as saying tennis is a tougher sport. But I did, and they looked at me over their oft-broken noses and spouted some comments...

Now, at the BBQ I was interested enough to grab a sausage, knowing how terrible it was for me, because I was curious - not a burning desire, just curious, and it would be damn rude not too (note: Had this been during My Vegan Quest I would have gotten a perverse death-wish pleasure out of strutting my veganism - surely a more suicidal feeling than even zipping and flinching along the rocky N69 road out of Limerick). I also loaded my plate with salad, which I got from the party's one salad bowl that was smaller than the bowl of mayonnaise. I finished my small plate, neither disgusted nor enamored with the sausage, and looked for the trash bin. The host saw me and refused to help in my policing of the paper plate. "Here, there is more!" "Have more!" "C'mon, these are just off the grill!" "Take some more sausage!" My protestations finally won out. But I will admit to you now that had it been out-of-this-world delicious sausage I would have had more.

Yes, no problem in having sausage once every two or three months. That is where my head is at now - extreme, militant moderation. For those who thought I would come firmly to the side of complete veganism, I am sorry, it is not what I want to do. However, what I want to do, and what my body tells me what I need to do, is to have at least 80+% of my daily diet be plant based.

Now, back to the two legends of rugby. These are the comments I heard from them, "6 months no drinking? Jaysus, that's impossible!" "No meat, huh?" "Almost 60 lbs you say? That's over 4 stone!" "Wow, good for you." "Yeah, eating mostly vegetables are the key." "Hell, I could lose a few maybe I should do something like that." And that, was that -- these menacing men did not rip my head off with humiliation.

I firmly believe because I was big like them, and played rugby, and currently had a tiny bit of animal grease on my fingers and a beer in my hand they knew I was "normal;" that I was one of them in the world of manliness. And because of that I could talk about the amazing benefits of my vegan quest and it was accepted as a viable option for health reasons by these two beastly gentleman. Had I been a malnourished-looking, anti-sport, pacifist, my advocacy story of plant-based dieting would have never reached a point any farther than, "Hi..."

And with that, meeting these two giants in the world of rugby was a great thrill, and having these legends show acceptance of the benefits of veganism reaffirmed for me that so many other social platforms in this world can be more readily accepted -- it is all in how it is packaged.


Vegan Epicurean said...

Sounds like a wonderful vacation. Glad you had a great time.

I agree with you that you need to know your audience. Sometimes a non verbal message can be the most powerful, like Foley's wife noticing your change. ;-)


Terrence said...

thanks Alicia