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Urology Pearls: Planning dinner is no small task

Shahar Madjar, MD

Dinner at the Madjar’s is a military operation. Each front presents its own challenges and each heart, mind, and stomach has to be won separately. Daniel, the youngster, is a picky eater. He opposes eggplants, objects to red peppers, avoids fish and detests salads. He won’t eat anything spicy, or green. It took him 15 years to acquire a taste for hummus which has always been a staple in our home. Guy, our middle child, an Art Director in an advertising company in Chicago, who makes a living by creating advertisements for fast-food restaurants, arrives at dinner with a mature sense of humor and a premeditated meal plan from which he is unlikely to deviate.

He could have eaten the meatballs I had made for dinner, but, OOPS! he didn’t plan for that. He is sometimes on a gluten-free diet, and sometimes on a high-protein-diet. He believes in portion control. My wife, Sharon, on the other hand, eats anything I make and calls it finger-licking good. I eat everything except raw fish and spiders. Shai, the eldest, is a doctor of philosophy, soon to become a physician. He is also a vegan.

Several years ago, Shai sent me a copy of Consider The Lobster, an essay in which David Foster Wallace describes the last moments in the life of a lobster (which is typically cooked while it’s still alive): ” … If you’re tilting it from a container into the steaming kettle, the lobster will sometimes try to cling to the container’s sides or even to hook its claws over the kettle’s rim like a person trying to keep from going over the edge of a roof. And worse is when the lobster’s fully immersed. Even if you cover the kettle and turn away, you can usually hear the cover rattling and clanking as the lobster tries to push it off. Or the creature’s claws scraping the sides of the kettle as it thrashes around. The lobster, in other words, behaves very much as you or I would behave if we were plunged into boiling water … “ Yes, whether instinctual or sensory, the lobster isn’t having fun!

I told Shai that I have almost converted to veganism twice. Once, as a teenager, when I was a vegetarian for six months. It was an attempt to lose weight and to win the heart of a girl named Talia. In retaliation, my mom, who was afraid of my impending demise from “severe vegetarian anemia,” decided “to stop the madness.” She made her famous stew with a whole shoulder of a cow, potatoes, and sliced onion, all happily swimming in red paprika sauce. She ‘forgot’ to cover the pot. The house filled with unbearable aromas. My suffering was palpable, my hunger intense, and as I was eating my mom’s stew, Talia was quickly forgotten. On another occasion, several years ago, I stuck to a vegan diet for three months in an attempt to lower my cholesterol. On both occasions, to be honest, my choice wasn’t based on my concern for animals and their well-being. Talia’s heart remained entangled with that of another man, and my cholesterol was defeated not by diet, but by taking Lipitor.

“Did you consider the lobster?” Shai asked me as I was preparing dinner for everyone, his eyeglasses framing his intelligent, curious eyes.

Shai takes me to the best vegan restaurants in Ann Arbor. With him I have tried all things vegan: tofu, fake meat, almond milk, vegan cheese, and vegan ice cream. Some of the products are excellent; others are still a work in progress–lacking in texture, or taste, sometimes leaving an after-taste. “It’s just good enough,” I tell Shai. The truth is that when I am eating vegan, I feel as if there is something amiss in the spectrum of my experience, as if I were watching a rainbow drawn in black and white.

It is dinner time at the Madjar’s. I plate hummus on a large dish and decorate it with tahini sauce, paprika, and olive oil–we could all enjoy this part of the meal. I serve rice with beans in tomato sauce for Shai; Mediterranean-style French fries and Israeli chicken Tenders for Danny; and chicken Shawarma rich in protein for Guy. Sharon and I taste anything and everything. As I bite into the chicken shawarma, I think of the traditions of my family, and the long history of humans as carnivorous hunters. And yes! I consider the lobster and eat the chicken with feelings of emerging regret and growing guilt. The tastes–intense and satisfying–bring back memories of my own childhood, a time when everyone in my family sat around the table, all sharing the same meal.

Is the vegan diet healthy? Can it help people lose weight? I will answer these questions in my next article.

Editor’s note: Dr. Shahar Madjar is a urologist at Aspirus and the author of “Is Life Too Long? Essays about Life, Death and Other Trivial Matters.” Contact him at smadjar@yahoo.com.

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