Political Cheese

, , , | Related | March 4, 2020

(Well over half my family doesn’t eat meat at restaurants. Some of us are vegetarian or vegan, and others avoid it for other reasons, such as concerns over factory farming. The rest don’t mind having a meatless meal everyone once in a while. When we go out to eat, we often go to a local vegetarian restaurant so everyone can have more than one option. About a third of the menu is vegan, and most of the vegetarian dishes can be made vegan. Just before this, the restaurant started asking everyone who ordered a vegetarian dish whether they would like the non-vegan ingredient or a vegan substitute, whereas before, customers had to specifically request a vegan meal. One day, I’m out with my family at the vegetarian restaurant sitting between my cousin and my mom. I’m vegetarian, my cousin is vegan, and my mom has no dietary restrictions. Though my mom often complains about “political correctness” culture and people being too sensitive nowadays, she’s always the first to call out an innocuous phrase as potentially offensive to some group she’s not part of. The waitress starts taking orders and eventually gets to me.)

Waitress: “What would you like?”

Me: “[Dish], please.”

Waitress: “All right, and would you like [cheese name I don’t catch over the restaurant noise] cheese or vegan cheese?”

Me: “Just normal cheese is fine.”

(My mom lets out a scandalized gasp. The waitress moves on to the rest of the table and then leaves to put in our orders. As soon as she’s gone, my mom smacks me lightly on the arm and gives me a scolding look.)

Mom: “You can’t just say things like that!”

Me: “Things like what?”

(Mom glancing around furtively like she’s swearing in church.)

Mom: “‘Normal cheese.’”

Me: *laughing* “What?”

Mom: “You’re saying vegan cheese isn’t normal. That means you’re saying vegans aren’t normal! It’s so offensive!”

(My cousin overhears and jumps in, though she’s on the edge of laughing herself.)

Cousin: “No, it’s not! Cheese isn’t a vegan food. That’s the norm for it. If vegan cheese was normal, we wouldn’t have to call it vegan cheese. We’d just call it cheese.”

Mom: “But a vegan could be offended!”

Cousin: “I’m a vegan and I’m not offended. Really, it’s not a big deal, Auntie. No one who heard is offended. It’s fine.”

(It took the two of us a few more minutes to calm my mom down. Later that same evening, my mom got into a conversation with a couple of my uncles about how terrible it is that people get offended so easily. My cousin and I made the mistake of glancing at each other and then had to leave the room so our laughter over the hypocrisy wouldn’t be so obvious.)

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