Backstory: Welcome to Tofurbia

A few years ago, I was at the refrigerator deciding whether to feed my then 5-year-old son and his friend Aaron hot dogs or baloney for lunch, when the phone rang.

"This is Deirdre Schleswig-Holstein," the voice sniffed. "Aaron Schleswig-Holstein's mother. I was wondering exactly what you planned to serve Aaron for lunch?"

Panicked, I looked at the choice of nitrates and animal parts in my hand. But before I could think of a decent lie, Aaron's mother snorted condescendingly: "You do know that Aaron is a vegan?"

"I didn't realize...." I stammered.

Did we have anything edible that didn't come from an animal? What exactly was pasteurized, processed cheese food? I remembered some vague connection between a cow's hoof and gelatin. And was that white stuff in a Twinkie animal, vegetable, or indescribable?

Trying to find nonanimal lunches for suburban children was not then, and is not now, an isolated phenomena. These days, it happens with regularity. But it still confuses me.

I can understand a mother's devotion to food that only emerges from the ground or drops from a branch if she lives on the West Side of Manhattan, or Berkeley, Calif., or Cambridge, Mass. Places where vegetarians grow on trees.

But a suburb? The home of fast food drive-throughs and strip-mall restaurants where the walls have a sheen of grease from meat-filled sandwiches and pepperoni pizzas?

It used to be that the kind of people who would tell their children, "a veggie burger is the same as a bacon cheeseburger, only better," lived in urban areas where it was more dangerous to breathe the air than to eat spaghetti carbonara. But no longer. Now suburbanites are munching mache salads, installing windmills in their backyards, and driving hybrids. True, they're hybrid SUVs, but they're still hybrids.

Nutritional Correcties have moved their families and Grateful Dead albums to bedroom communities.

My problem is that I moved to the suburbs to get away from people who only eat organically grown sprouts and who picket veal. And then I woke up to find that the new family next door had replaced 50 years' worth of tulips with rows of Brussels sprouts and had given up rhododendrens for heirloom tomatoes.

So, I have devised a solution. If the Correcties insist on leaving the city, perhaps we could relegate them to nutritionally correct suburbs.

We could call these places Tofuburbs. We'll hire Veggie Patrols to keep out the pork-rind fanatics. Lawns will be mowed by herds of sheep. Compost heaps will rise from backyards, and some front yards.

These nutritionally correct Tofuburbs will be correct in other ways as well. Sporting events will have no winners or losers because all goal posts, home plates, and baskets will be removed from athletic fields. No grades will be given out at school so that no child, or parent, will feel badly.

But until that happens, I've got a couple of questions. Did Aaron ever tell his mother about the SpaghettiO's and meatballs he begged me to give him? And are those meatballs responsible for his schoolmates recently voting him "most likely to be indicted for insider trading?"

Chuck Cohen, an advertising writer, lives in Mill Valley, Calif.

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