My oldest son called me before Thanksgiving, his voice quite somber.

“I have something to tell you, Mom,” he said.

“What’s the matter, Son?” I asked, dreading his reply.

I feared the worst: somebody had contracted cancer or some other terminal disease; their new car was stolen from the driveway, just like the old one had been; their cat died; or ... who knew? The world is filled with disasters.

“I just wanted you to know we’ve decided to become vegans,” he said quietly, giving me time to absorb the blow.

“No. Say it’s not true!” I cried, picturing my adorable blonde-haired, blue-eyed grandson Trevor surgically altered to have those long, pointy ears like Spock on “Star Trek.”

“Not the long, pointy ears“ not for Trevor,” I wailed, thinking all was lost.

“Mom, that’s Vulcans,” Ken said, reassuring me.

“Oh, yeah“ Vulcans,” I repeated, relieved beyond measure that the ears thing was not what he’d meant. I like my grandchildren with the ears God and genetics, not some pricey surgeon, gave them.

“So your ears are OK?” I asked, still unconvinced.

“Mother, we are vegetarians, not Vulcans,” my son told me. “We are not eating meat any more.”

Whew. Thank goodness for that good news, anyway.

After all, this did not come as a total shock. Ken and his family already had been leaning in that direction the last time I visited them.

I remembered calling Ken’s brother, Keith, who lives in the same city, and asking him to please make some excuse to come pick me up and get me the heck out of Ken’s house for a while.

When he complied, I told him to hit the gas and I’d buy him a nice, juicy hamburger.

“I need red meat,” I’d declared. Most of what Ken’s family consumed involved copious amounts of chilly, pale, limp tofu.

Ken’s tofu quiche was not too bad, actually. But enough was enough. So I’d urged Keith to spare no pressure on the gas pedal in hotfooting it to the closest burger stand.

When we returned, I had a little trouble explaining the reddish meat juice stain on the front of my shirt, though.

I just told Ken that his brother became a little peckish as we drove around, and I didn’t want him to feel like the Lone Ranger, so I’d bought us each a simple burger.

Ken paused and looked at me with strong suspicion, raising a single eyebrow (which, come to think of it, was pretty Spock-like of him), but he said no more. He was too busy preparing his special Baked Tofu and Mung Bean Delight for the evening repast.

When I hung up from talking to my son, I hastened to the Internet to see just what he meant by “vegans.”

Veganism, it turns out, is a diet and lifestyle that seeks to exclude the use of animals for food, clothing or anything else.

“Vegans endeavor not to use or consume animal products of any kind,” the Internet sources said.

“The most common reasons for becoming a vegan are an ethical commitment or moral conviction concerning animal rights, the environment, human health, and spiritual or religious concerns,” Wikipedia says.

“Of particular concern are the practices involved in factory farming and animal testing and the intensive use of land and other resources required for animal farming.”

Hey, I could relate to much of that.

Vegans are said to comprise up to 1.3 percent of the U.S. population, so I knew my family has some (scant) company.

And my family had been talking, of late, about eating more “ancient grains,” including one with a name that sounded like “keen-wah.”

It turned out to be spelled “quinoa” but pronounced “KEEN-wah.”

Apparently this stuff originated in the Andes where it has been an important food for 6,000 years. I don’t think anyone grows it in Wapiti.

The Incas, who held the crop to be sacred, referred to quinoa as “mother of all grains,” and the Inca emperor would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season using “golden implements.”

Glad the grain got some actual work -- other than tossing virgins into volcanoes -- out of the emperor, I began trying to picture my Oregon family dining on their quinoa and tofu.

Then I wondered about Thanksgiving, thinking surely they would cave on their new vegan ways for the holiday in favor of roast turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing and all the rest of it.

The next time I spoke with my son, I asked him how he’d enjoyed Turkey Day.

Turns out it was more of a “Tofurkey Day” for them.

I might have known.

But at least it didn’t alter the shape of their ears.

 

Originally Published in the Cody Enterprise, Wednesday, December 27, 2008.