A Hamburger for Lapsed Vegetarians

·Food Editor
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Welcome to Summer Food Memories, a series we’re doing in collaboration with Tasting Table. We asked four people—writers and chefs we like, plus a few surprisesto help us say goodbye to summer with culinary nostalgia. Then Tasting Table developed recipes to match

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Photo courtesy Tasting Table; design by Tiffany Choi 

Brooklyn-based novelist Emma Straub is the author of The Vacationers, a New York Times bestseller published last spring. She’s also a failed vegetarian. Here’s how she discovered that one fateful summer.

Between theages of 7 and 14, I spent one month every summer at Shire Village in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, just outside Northampton. This camp was a serious hippie camp: the logo on the T-shirt said, “Shire Village Camp is a non-sexist, non-racist, non-homophonic, non-competitive camp.” It was the greatest place in the world if you, like me, had zero interest in competitive sports. If you just wanted to sit on grassy hill and make bracelets and flirt, it was wonderful.

Because of that ethos, there were a lot of vegetarian campers, probably more than there would have been at a more bloodthirsty camp. 

We had all of our meals in this big old-fashioned dining hall, and there was one special table where all the vegetarian options were. The super cool thing was being a vegetarian, because it made you seem more sensitive and more aware and like you had opinions. Meanwhile, at home, I could not care less except for the fact that I was in love with River Phoenix, who was a vegan. (My almost 11-month-old son is named River. Old loves die hard.) 

So I was not at all a vegetarian, but I did like to pretend to be a vegetarian at camp. It wasn’t just me. A lot of us spent the whole summer pretending we were vegetarians.

We got to have granola at breakfast, which was sort of like candy. I had never seen or heard of granola before, so I was pretty impressed by that. They had fake hot dogs called tofu pups, which were kind of disgusting but people loved them anyway. (I understand that actual hot dogs are not the most appetizing foods in the world, either, but the tofu pups just didn’t seem worth it. If you’re going to have something weird like that, just go for the pigs and tails.) This lasted all week until every Friday night, there was a big camp-wide cookout where they would grill burgers and hot dogs for everyone. That’s when I, personally, would lose my vegetarian resolve. 

I always want a hamburger more than anything else. Even more than being cool. 

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GET THE RECIPE: Hamburger with Pickled Tomatoes, Sweet Potato and Avocado