Hold the meat, please!

“I’d like the Farmer’s Omelet with no meat, please.”

The waitress peers down at me over her notepad with a look of utter bewilderment. She stares at me, slowly processing the information I’ve just given her. I can almost see the little hamster in her brain stumbling on its wheel, desperately trying to get her cortex back into first gear before she stalls in the intersection.

After an awkward pause of maybe three full seconds, she visibly snaps out of her intense concentration. “OK,” she mutters, scribbling on her pad.

This is the story of my life—at least, the past 10 months of my life that I’ve been a vegetarian. If I’d requested anything else left off my omelet—no onions, no tomatoes, no bell peppers—I guarantee she would have cheerfully noted my order and moved on. But the request for no meat left her stunned, perplexed, unable to form a coherent thought. You’d have thought I asked her for a side of monkey brains with hollandaise sauce.

In the year 2001, I find it hard to believe that I still get this kind of reaction whenever I go to a restaurant. Vegetarians are no longer a mysterious breed of hippies and Hindus living on communes in Northern California (if they ever were in the first place), and no matter what backwoods part of the country you’ve been living in all your life, the fact that vegetarians exist should not be a jaw-dropping revelation.

The worst part is, the incident mentioned above didn’t happen in Iowa, or North Dakota, or Deep in the Heart of Texas (where I was raised on beef like it was going out of style). It happened in a casino coffee shop in Las Vegas, where the sheer number of immigrating Californians and tourists from all over the globe should have introduced this waitress to at least ONE vegetarian.

Here in Reno, the situation isn’t much better. No matter how many times I’ve tried to explain the simple economic principle that meat costs more than vegetables, I often have to debate waitresses and waiters on why it’s OK to substitute, say, extra hash browns for the sausage and bacon. Or more beans in my nachos instead of ground beef. Or grilled mushrooms in my fajitas instead of grilled steak.

Let me spell this out plainly: By leaving out the meat, I’m actually saving restaurants money. Despite this, I have never asked for a discounted meal, and many restaurants will actually charge me MORE for my meal.

Playing the devil’s advocate, I asked myself, “Self, are you paying extra for being a pain in the ass? Are you causing these poor chefs undue mental anguish with your order?” Answer: Not a goddamn chance.

We’ve all seen picky eaters in restaurants—hell, I married one—and my simple request to be meat-free is nothing compared to the array of crap these people require. I used to tease my ex-husband because he would order something, and then have it modified to such an extreme that it wasn’t even remotely like the thing he ordered: “I’d like a cheeseburger with no cheese, no onions, no pickles, no lettuce, no mayonnaise and no tomatoes. Ah, what the hell, leave out the bread, too. Just give me a greasy patty of ground beef with a splash of mustard. Wait—scratch the mustard.”

I may be exaggerating.

The point is, I’m not asking the short-order cooks at Denny’s to whip me up some grilled tofu with soy cheese and hummus. I just want some more damn potatoes. Is that so much to ask?