Tastes Like Dirt

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When Mom announces she’s preparing a special meal for dinner, some families cheer while others cringe. For Lane Parker and his siblings, the announcement was on the ominous side.

Recently I learned that the first official World Vegetarian Day occurred on October 1, 1978. By 1982 my mother had gotten the memo, because one day I asked “What’s for dinner?” and she answered in carefully worded mom-speak which I translated to mean she’d found a vegetarian recipe and was making a vegetarian dinner.

My sisters and I had our reservations. Unfortunately, those reservations were not at Spago.

For dinner, mom made a Carrot and Potato Loaf. It did look loafish. Even meatloafish. Mostly it resembled a small Duraflame log. Mom, busy in the kitchen, told us to start.

Even now I struggle to find words to sugarcoat what the Carrot and Potato Loaf tasted like — because it tasted like dirt. I know this because I tried dirt once when I was a little kid, and I discovered what grownups already know, namely: Although essential to agriculture, no culinary preparation should include dirt on its ingredients list.


But my sisters and I had a problem. We couldn’t fall back on the usual complaints, because we knew how hard mom had worked on this meal. So someone asked, “Can I have the ketchup?” The ketchup made the rounds. Then the A1 Sauce. Then the Worcestershire. If we’d had sugarcoating we’d have asked for that, too.

Then mom sat down and took a bite, and we all stopped breathing. Jaws slackened. Forks dangled. Mom stared off into space, chewing. Then she looked around at us and said, “We’re not eating this. It tastes like dirt.“

Apparently, a batch of bitter carrots caused the bad taste. But that bitterness was nothing compared to our feelings at the time.

Years later I decided for a couple of reasons to revisit vegetarianism. I was pleasantly surprised to find so many options. I like to think that my mother, despite that initial failed attempt, was in the vanguard of consumers eager to explore alternatives to a carnivore diet. These days there’s a cornucopia of vegetarian cookbooks, restaurants, and grocery store fare. My own children have never had to endure a Carrot and Potato Loaf Incident.

Still, sometimes it’s a challenge to get them to eat their vegetables.

With a Perspective, I’m Lane Parker.

Lane Parker is an editor and writer living in San Francisco.