I saw a classified ad in our local weekly newspaper inviting newcomers to a VIP potluck, VIP standing for Vegetarian Inclined People. At great personal sacrifice, I attended in an undercover capacity. As a disguise, I figured I could either go as an old hippie or a millennial but since I really didn’t fit the millennial demographic, aging hippie it was.

I used an old cap someone had given me as a gag gift eons ago that had a white ponytail sticking out the back. I wore a pair of beat up, old second-hand Birkenstocks I got at the Nifty Thrifty, crumpled cargo shorts exposing my white legs with varicose veins, and a faded Hawaiian shirt. Then I “inserted” myself into the combat zone wearing a wire.

I was greeted warmly by all seven of the VIP’s and I think it was because I was the first “new blood” they’d seen in quite some time. We met in the basement of a church, which was most appropriate. I’d always been taught there were three primary religions in the world, Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Well, I think it’s safe to say we can add a fourth: Vegetarianism.

Granted, the veg-heads don’t sing hymns, pray, or even play bingo but from what I could tell, they do believe a very hot Hell is reserved for anyone who eats meat. They believe when good Vegetarians die, they go to the big Vegetarian restaurant in the sky and if they don’t backpedal and eat a Big Mac or a Whopper now and then, they could come back as an organic Brussel sprout…if they’re lucky.

Vegetarians believe soy is the answer to all the world’s ills and that only through Vegetarianism will the human race become benign and lovely. They are ferocious in these beliefs and send out their missionaries hither and yon to convert everyone to their religion. They especially prey on teenage girls who seem to be especially vulnerable to their wily ways.

I was seated at a table with three other VIP’s and began my investigation. “I’m sorta confused about this Vegetarian thing,” I admitted. “You have your pescatarians, your flexitarians, your vegans, etc. What does it all mean?”

“Think of Vegetarianism as a religion,” said the VIP who’d brought the rice balls drizzled in soy sauce to the potluck. “In Christianity, you have Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, etc. Well, Vegetarianism is the same. There are five different levels. The lowest form of Vegetarianism are the Flexitarians who enjoy a piece of bacon or a filet mignon now and again.”

I’m a Pescatarian,” piped up a young lady with purple hair, tattooed face, and a nose ring who had contributed Tofurkey Tetrazinni to the meal. “A Pescatarian doesn’t eat the flesh of a living organism but we do eat fish because fish feel no pain.”

Another diner who’d brought the tomatoes stuffed with zucchini and baked pears said, “I don’t eat anything that ever flew or swam.”

“Cows and pigs don’t fly or swim, at least very well,” I said, “yet you don’t eat them.”

“I’m gonna make it really easy for you,” said another VIP who was trying to give me a true taste of their religion. “I don’t eat anything with a face.”

“And yet, I do see you eating things with heads, like lettuce and cabbage,” I countered.

“I’m a LEVEL FIVE Vegetarian, a true believer,” said the chef who’d brought the carrot sticks and celery spears. “I am A VEGAN,” she said with a snobbishness that made the others uncomfortable. “I don’t even eat animal crackers or anything that ever cast a shadow.”

“Celery and carrots are capable of casting a shadow,” I said. “The only thing I can think of that doesn’t cast a shadow is a ghost and you’d starve to death eating apparitions. And what do you say to those who say that vegetarian is just another name for “lousy hunter?”

“Very funny,” said the born-again VIP who never smiled.

I sensed the other VIPs were beginning to catch on to my true identity and that maybe I was a second-hand Vegetarian: one who eats cows after they eat grass. Then absentmindedly, I took off my cap to scratch my head, the ponytail went with it, and my cover was blown completely.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles