I clench my fists, hoping he won't join us for dinner.
"Dessert would be fine," I tell myself. But that's a lie. If he doesn't show up for dinner, he probably won't show up for dessert. And maybe then I'll finally get rid of the anxiety that's invaded my stomach.
It's so severe that I sometimes forget I'm talking about my own brother.
Dysfunctional? Sure. But I swear everything would be different if we could share a hamburger.
Today (Sept. 27) is Hug a Vegan Day, according to PETA. This is relevant to my story because I think my brother's a vegan. Or a vegan-in-training. Or a level two vegetarian.
Either way, it makes me feel incredibly inadequate. Which is why I probably haven't taken the time to clarify the official name of his diet.
Vegans eat no meat or dairy products, according to The Wall Street Journal. It cites July 2012 Gallup poll results suggesting 5 percent of Americans consider themselves vegetarians and 2 percent consider themselves vegans.
While the numbers seem small, national awareness of the alternative diets has arguably grown. Vegan and vegetarian options are now more accessible, even in the frozen food aisle. While not everyone's brave enough to take the full leap, we've seen sometimes-vegetarians and "one day a week" vegans.
It's resulted in a heightened dialogue about healthy living...and more collective eye rolls aimed toward picky eaters.
Consider this excerpt from a recent Slate article: "I maintain that it is very impolite to straight-up refuse something someone has taken the time to make for you (and the other, probably carnivorous people present) because of your personal preference. Doing so belies a valuing of the self over the collective, and the misapprehension that the host is your servant and not a generous peer taking time out of her schedule and money out of her wallet to feed you in good faith." (The article is about vegetarians' reactions to chicken stock, by the way.)
My brother is not one of Those Eaters.
In fact, part of the reason I can't precisely label his diet is because he often makes compromises -- sans meat, of course -- when we're dining out as a family. He doesn't judge -- out loud, at least -- and is generally more than happy to watch us stuff our faces with dessert.
But I still get incredibly introspective while eating fried food in his presence.
Maybe that's because our eating habits are sometimes linked to our lifestyle habits. Vegan/vegetarian options are available for my brother at family gatherings. As he eats his entree, he often receives questions and comments about how much discipline it takes to sustain such a healthy diet.
Meanwhile, I ask my cousin to pass the butter.
Regardless of whether my paranoia is warranted, I'm not alone in the sentiment. There's an entire Yahoo! thread devoted to figuring out why vegans are so "judgmental, opinionated and close-minded."
A 2012 NPR piece asks this question: "Do vegetarians and vegans think they are better than everyone else?"
The answer, of course, depends on the person.
Certainly some vegans voice their decision a little too loudly -- just like some carnivores dominate conversations by pretentiously comparing grilling techniques.
Yet contrary to old wisdom, we are not entirely what we eat.
Regardless of their motivating factors, dietary choices are just one facet of our uniqueness. Ideally, they initiate a conversation -- a "why?" that spurs acceptance, or at least understanding.
Or in my case, a realization that someone's culinary preferences are about personal fulfillment, rather than a deliberate attempt at "sister shaming."
We can make this happen, fellow diners.
Beginning with a hug.