Welcome back to the second installment of the Vegans versus the Cajuns. Last week we watched as a Cajun mom spread a little zest into the flavorless lives of the Gates family. Meanwhile, the Louisiana Loupes were learning to live with an alien control freak from the planet Vegan. We met some gamine-looking children who shed a quiet tear over the thought of a hurt animal, and a fast-talking boy with a creative haircut who walked barefoot in close proximity to live, hungry alligators ... and a lot of dead alligators, too. And by a lot, I mean a towering pile of carcasses. And yet, the alligator folks seem to have the healthiest home life. This week, I will not be kind to people who see fit to crush their children’s spirits like poisonous spiders. How hard is it to let a child’s natural hope and exuberance live?
A Programming Note
I’m sad to note that a VCR glitch prevented me from seeing about thirty seconds of last week’s episode, and those thirty seconds were pure recap gold. But worry not, my friends. I’m so in awe of ZZ saying to the vegan mom, “You’re fired!” that I am running out right now to buy the t-shirt. ZZ, you have more courage at eight years than I have at thirty-five to face down that woman. Miss Barbara looked downright mean.
Yeah, And Monkies Might Fly Out of My Butt
Miss Barbara, our Vegan mom-cum-child-nagging-parent-extraordinaire, thinks that eight-year-old ZZ is insensitive to her feelings. But she wants to be a good mom, she tells us, so she plots to help ZZ with his homework, whether he needs it or not. She’s really smart, she confides to the camera; at least she thinks she is. She waits a beat, then tells us with a giggle that she knows she is.
Those veggie smarts aren’t much help when it comes to third grade English homework. Turns out, ZZ would have been better off on his own, as we see vegan mom insist to ZZ several times that the plural of “monkey” is “monkies”. ZZ even repeats the grammar rule of the lesson, which points to the correct spelling: monkeys. “You need to listen honey, because I know,” she chides ZZ. But that plucky youngster isn’t some easy sell raised up on yeast bi-products; ZZ sticks to his guns because he knows that he’s right. He’s also adult enough to know that Miss Barbara isn’t about to admit she is wrong.
A world away in sunny San Diego, the Gates take Diana Loupe to the seashore, where they snorkel and try to gently teach her about the beauty of fish in their natural environment. The children tell us that the sight of fish swimming lazily among the coral reefs will make Diana want to become a vegan. Unfortunately, the snorkeling experience only served to work up her appetite - and Diana wants a taste of California seafood.
Now personally, I have a hard time getting fuzzy feelings over a fish. I definitely feel closer to a tree than I do to a mindless swimming machine. Heck, I’ve had cars that made me shed a tear at their demise, but I laugh when I notice that Elmo’s pet goldfish has shrunk in size again. But the Gates children have been raised completely steeped in the thought that fish deserve as much consideration as fellow human beings. When Diana orders a crab and fish dish, the children are deeply affected. Lucy’s tiny chin quivers and tears well up in her waifish face. Diana doesn’t want Lucy to cry, but it doesn’t stop her from eating the delectable-looking dish when its served. In fact, she can’t keep from letting out groans of ecstasy at the taste, while Lucy holds her bread plate up to her face so that she doesn’t have to witness the icthyian carnage. The Gates parents sure are preparing those kids to cope in the world, aren’t they?
Gumbo Sans Ya Ya
Diana is preparing to cook for the traditional Trading Spouses Party With the Freaky Friends. (TM) But she’s worried that the children are so sad at the prospect of meat being cooked in their house. The turning point for Diana comes when she discovers a “poem” (more like a mission statement) posted on the inside of a kitchen cabinet. No meat is to be prepared in the home, the poem reads, because meat is only obtained through violence. Diana is swayed by the poem to leave out the authentic alligator meat from her gumbo, and use a soy alternative. Lucy runs to tell her brother the good news. Have you ever met an eight-year-old who was enthused about soy? Now you have.
Diana gamely cooks up soy sausage and tells us that it’s not going well. In compensation for the lack of meat-given flavor, she pours in the hot pepper sauce. Beware, Diana; these folks are going to excrete cinder blocks if a single tastebud is killed in the name of flavor.
A family arrives, and although we’re unclear on who exactly these folk are, we know one thing - they are unabashedly vegan. Shocking, but true. The patriarch of the visiting family (who could be Jim’s brother - or just a brother in veganism) dramatically declares that no blood was spilled in the making of the gumbo.
Pretty soon, the vegans are wishing they had given the gumbo a pass, however, as their steady diet of bland foods has left them unprepared for Diana’s spicy concoction. Perhaps it was merely foreshadowing for the rest of the night - the ingredients for a pleasant evening are all there, but it just doesn’t work out. So much for Trading Spices.
Pets or Meat
The visiting vegan woman asks Diana if she has any pets, gauging her furry tendencies, I guess. Diana tells them that she keeps alligators for pets ... and I’ve heard other people describe their livestock as pets, but it didn’t keep them from eating them or selling them for meat when the time came. But I don’t think the visiting vegan woman thinks of it that way, because she seems confused. She’s on her way to accepting the idea of an alligator as an unusual (but friendly) pet, when Lucy brings the conversation to a screeching halt by walking in the room with her new dried alligator head. Quicker than you can shake a stick at a crawdad, the mood in the room changes.
Diana starts to explain that the federal government harvests a certain number of alligators per year because they threaten human settlements, but this group of vegans do not warm to her “recycling” program of saving the heads of already killed gators. The vegan momma argues that you can say the same about wearing leather shoes, that it’s just a by-product of an animal’s doom. And could you not make the same argument against wearing Pleather, which the visiting vegan dad is doing? Isn’t the appearance of wearing a slick leather jacket promoting the demise of cows?
The visiting vegan father now feels empowered to contribute his two cents. They believe in catching and releasing dangerous animals, and say their neighbors call them when they encounter a rattlesnake so that the animal can be transported, not killed. Diana says that she performs the same service for her neighbors, and also releases snakes in the bayou - but she kills the poisonous snakes. “Why is it so hard to let things live?” thunders the self-righteous vegan father. Diana responds calmly that in her case, it is to protect her son. The vegan visitor shakes his head and shrugs off her explanation.
He continues to preach about “working with” poisonous animals, not resorting to killing them. Diana asks what they do about black widows - do they also drive hundreds of miles to release them into the wild? The mom admits that no, they kill black widows. But her children are more likely to be bitten by a black widow than a rattlesnake, she adds. Diana says that she is doing the same thing, but that it just so happens that in “[her] neck of the woods they’re more likely to get bit by the poisonous snake.”
Diana sums up the conversation by saying Debbie and Morgan (oh yeah, we finally learn their names but I’m too fed up to edit them back into earlier paragraphs) were there to preach tolerance for all animals, but they are intolerant of anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs.
The whole night has been an ordeal, and Diana tells us that she misses the bayou, with all its wildlife. She’ll take garden variety poisonous snakes over this nest of vipers any day. She misses her family, too. Who knows what hair-brushing antics they could be getting into?
We see a shot of a cool vertical lift bridge, which means we’re back in Bayou territory. Barbara Gates is doing her best to produce stony, uncomfortable looks on the faces of the Loupe men - and succeeding, by brushing their hair. Barbara further raises the discomfort level in the room by inspecting ZZ’s just-brushed teeth. She sends him back, convinced he’s lying about having brushed his teeth.
We watch as ZZ brushes his teeth, comes back out to sit by his dad only to be confronted by Barbara, who scratches at his front teeth with her fingernail. Do they allow this kind of behavior on the distant star of Vega? Even though ZZ has just brushed his teeth in front of the cameraman with an abundance of scrubbing and toothpaste foam, she sends him back, saying he didn’t brush hard enough. Again he comes out, and is subjected to Barbara’s finger in his mouth. In all, she sends ZZ back to brush again four times. After the humiliating ordeal, ZZ tells us that he feels (holding his fingers an inch apart) “this small.” I’m having fantasies about popping that woman between the eyes like an unruly alligator by this point.
Worst. Animal. Lover. Ever.
It’s time for a group of friendly Cajun folk to be brought down by a house full of vegan food and shameless proselytizing. But let’s call it a party, just for kicks.
Barbara is in the kitchen, chopping up vegetables and nagging ZZ to work for her, when she smells a foul odor. No, it’s not chicken poop, Barbara. The tiny, defenseless dog (endearingly named Bear) has peed on a table leg. Barbara goes into her most familiar mode, discipline with overtones of righteous anger. She grabs the dog’s neck and tries to force his nose down in the pee, calling him a bad dog. ZZ looks uncomfortable, but Barbara says over and over that he has to be shown that he’s wrong. Meanwhile, the dog whimpers in pain and fear, so Barbara gives him a swat to further show her dominance. For someone who “loves” animals, she has no problem inflicting a little terror on their innocent hides.
The party guests arrive, sending Barbara into a tizzy because she was not expecting them for another hour. (Which happened in the Tennessee episode, too; a show set-up?) The infraction lets the real Barbara show her claws, and she lets loose with the first of many scathing comparisons between Louisianans and Californians. For now, she just rages that they are “casual” and don’t read clocks. More on her views later.
Barbara disseminates the night’s menu, which is a variety of gardenburgers, chickenless chicken, and vegetable treats. The men attending the party seem especially offended to miss a real meal. “Wild Bill” - one of Diana’s relatives showcased briefly last week - says the food tastes like “cardboard.” When a pair of preteens look reluctant to eat a veggie burger, Barbara tells them that soy fights cancer, whereas regular burgers cause cancer. I bet those soy treats taste even better served with a heapin' helping of preachin'. Meanwhile, Barbara takes a break outside to smoke a cancer stick. Do they make a soy alternative to tobacco?
Barbara announces the entertainment portion of the evening’s soiree - a film she brought with her from home. Can you guess the subject? Here’s a hint: Barbara says that you won’t be in the mood to eat while you watch it. And she thinks it will explain where she comes from so that they won’t think she’s “some crazy lady.” She might be right about the first, but she’s too late to remedy the second.
Cue the movie, which is blurred and fuzzy like the world’s raunchiest porno on prime-time television. But we can make out a line of ducks. A narrator tells us that to most of the world, these happy creatures are known by the moniker “dinner.” *thunderclap* As the film continues, we see the audience react: a pair of teenage girls fight the giggles; a middle-aged woman rolls her eyes; Wild Bill checks his watch; and another man drowses on the couch. We hear the narrator implore us to consider the following: “Do we really think that chickens don’t dream of a better life?” Are these people confusing the claymation hens from Chicken Run with actual chickens?
The film is too much in many ways. Barbara screws up her face, revealing horsey teeth. For a second I thought we would have our first Trading Spouses upchuck moment, but it was only prelude to theatrical sobs. Yes, she sobs while the party guests shift uncomfortably, and yes, I think she was faking it. Soon, an exodus begins, and the guests leave the movie room one-by-one. Converts? None. Convinced she is not “some crazy lady?” Um, also none.
Diego leaves us with the thought that the guests didn’t know what to make of Barbara. He says that no one would talk about it, but the guests “are really scared of her.” Don’t forget small dogs, Diego. She scares mammals both big and small.
J’ai Mangé de L’Alligator
Diego takes Barbara and ZZ out for some non-healthy cooking as a favor to his son, who has put up with a lot this week by anyone’s count. Barbara asks Diego if he holds the seat out for his wife, and he nods yes. Barbara demands that she receive the same service. Poor Diego hops to do as she says, knowing that she will never shut up about it if he doesn’t. His take on Barbara’s visit so far? “Not a pleasant experience.” My take on recapping Barbara? As pleasant as drinking green sludge.
The men order their fried alligator and frog legs, and Barbara is there, yapping away. But what’s this? She’s not serving up the “meat is murder” small talk, she’s hinting that she would like to try the fried alligator...because alligators don’t give her “the warm cuddly feelings that I have toward cows and pigs and even chickens.” Furthermore, she doesn’t feel as much sympathy for them as she would a “vegetarian mammal such as a cow or lion.” Holy smokes, some other entity from the planet Vega is inhabiting Barbara’s corporeal form! That’s the only logical explanation I will accept. She did not spend the week lecturing us all ad nauseam to just change her mind at the first sight of a deep-fried alligator nuggets. Nope, some kind of alien body swap is more believable.
Barbara explains that she felt it was time to connect with her Cajun family. While stooping to eat their food is better than inappropriate late-night hair brushings, Diego and ZZ are not interested in bonding over fried food. Diego tells her more than once that she doesn’t have to eat the alligator at all, but Barbara wants to prove that she’s an open-minded person. In fact, she tells us smugly she doesn’t think you can become a vee-gan unless you are open-minded. Now we are faced with a plethora of ironies and hypocrisies. Is it ironic that you have to be open-minded to be a good vee-gan, said by the woman about to eat meat (who therefore isn’t a good vee-gan, which would make her close-minded)? Or is it overpowered by the hypocrisy of a woman who has spent the week forcing her views on everyone unfortunate enough to cross within three feet of her, while rejecting rigidly anyone else’s point of view? Either way, the decision to eat alligator - whilst lecturing chastely on her moral superiority - is entirely Barbara’s. Even when she gets tearful at the thought that she is breaking her years of flesh fasting, and Diego tells her to by all means not eat it, she pops the meat in her mouth.
One bite isn’t enough, and she easily polishes off the alligator chunk, saying it’s good. Diego points out that she might be a vegetarian, but deep down she wanted that alligator. “That was no big deal,” she says with her mouth full. Barbara does worry about what her friends at home will say when they find out she ripped the alligator flesh apart with her carnivorous teeth. She doesn’t mention the effect it might have on her children - you know, the ones who teared up at the thought of a guest ordering fish in a restaurant. Sure, they’ll understand that mommy is always right.
Barbara puts forth another of her profound philosophies - that if her family were about to starve, she would eat the neighbor’s dog. Diego and ZZ think this is pretty harsh, and Barbara doesn’t understand how ZZ can say he would eat his pet frogs if he had to, but not any dog. ZZ (I love this kid) has no moral nonsense cluttering up in his head, and articulates the difference easily. “A frog is a frog, but a dog is man’s best friend.” From Barbara’s confused look, it’s clear that ZZ “gets” animals more than their self-described savior.
Get Gone, Already
It’s the night before the departure. ZZ sits on the couch and tolerates Barbara snuggling close to him and stroking his cheek. As she thanks him for “the good times,” he looks like he expects snakes to pop out of her eyes and bite him. The moment of uncomfortable, inappropriate touching goes on a long time. Get your skanky claws off the minor child, Barbara!
ZZ politely does not say anything, but he tells us how much he misses his mom. He wants to get back to his regular life. Barbara, meanwhile, tells us with dramatic sobs that she desperately “wants to get out of here”. So why does she complain that no one tells her goodbye in the morning? Because that would mean admitting that she’d been less than loved. This way, it’s the cajuns’ fault for being asleep when they should be kissing her toes. But for now she is content to let the sleeping Diego and ZZ lie, because it gives Barbara the opportunity to pen Diana a long letter detailing Diana’s parenting mistakes with ZZ. She’s a treasure chest of loving advice, that one.
In California, the goodbyes are more reasonable. Diana tells us that she’s grateful for the entire experience, and Lucy tells us how much she liked Mrs. Loupe. She didn’t want her to leave, because she knows she will be in trouble when her mom comes home. Especially when the calls from all over America start pouring into Child Protective Services. Don’t worry, Lucy, if your mom complains about ... well, what did Lucy do that was so wrong? Smiled at her substitute mom? Anyway, bring up the alligator nuggets at least seven times a day until your mother gets the message, hon.
As they are whisked away to the Meeting of Moms, Barbara tells us that she has taken parenting classes, and knows that Diego and Diana have made mistakes. She feels compelled to confront Diana with her superior knowledge. Meanwhile, Diana expresses her hopes for meeting the Gates’ mom: that she was as open to the experience as Diana was. Now who here can argue that editing is shaping our views of these people?
Barbara kept a journal of her experience, chock-full of the evidence she will throw at Diana’s feet while she screams, “YOU’RE the bad parent, not me!” Well, her plans are to “confront” Diana in some form, because as she tells us with a theatrical sob, “the truth will set you free.” Or put you in jail. I’m just sayin’. *dialing CPS madly*
Showdown at the Appall-O
The moms meet, and give each other a quick hug. Flash to Barbara telling us of her first impressions of Diana: she dislikes her “flashy” gold chains and animal print blouse, calling her look “outdated” and behind Californians. But she said it with a sickeningly sweet smile. Aww, now I can officially hate her with the intensity of a thousand suns, since she’s offended me as a parent, a woman, and a Californian. But oddly, not as a meat eater.
Diana reports her success of the week - that she tried to keep to the vegan lifestyle, culminating in a meatless gumbo. She comments to Barbara that she must have had a hard time leaving her family, especially Lucy and Jack. Barbara seems genuinely surprised, and tells her no, half-jokingly. But her eyes are narrowing and growing colder by the second. When Diana tells her that she had fun with Barbara’s family, Barbara interrupts, telling her that it reminds her of some important things she has to say to Diana. This can’t be good.
Barbara starts out by telling Diana that she thinks ZZ is depressed. She blathers on about pain and hurt, but Diana interrupts to ask her what she thought of ZZ’s laugh. Barbara admits that she never heard ZZ laugh - so see, Diana, he must be depressed. By this time, Diana has assessed Barbara and found her to be opinionated and judgmental, so she points out the flaw in Barbara’s argument - that Barbara didn’t allow ZZ to have any experience where he would feel like laughing. Barbara drops the topic of ZZ’s so-called “depression” (more like loathing for Miss Barbara) and turns the topic to the Loupe’s nutritional habits. Here, Barbara is on familiar ground, and brings out the standard I’m-better-than-you vegan lecture. I’m not going to use this recap to repeat any of her propaganda.
Diana tells Barbara that she was open to Barbara’s lifestyle, and is sorry that Barbara wasn’t open to Diana’s culture. Barbara tries to interrupt, but Diana continues that had she been open, she might have learned something from Cajun culture. Actually, I think it would take psychic jaws of life to get Barbara to be open to another culture, so let’s ship her home, pronto. But for now, I take comfort in the fact that Barbara’s big planned “confrontation” has been shot down with a few words of common sense.
Barbara ruminates sourly on the experience. She tried to confront Diana, she did not get the opportunity to tell her everything she wanted to. That happens in life sometimes, Barbara. Not everyone will clam up and let you give your questionable opinions, especially when it involves denigrating their young children. Now cram a chunk of alligator in your mouth and deal with it.
Money Talks, Vegan Squawks
Diana settles down to read Barbara’s letter to the family. ZZ is especially anxious to find out if Barbara has left him any money to buy a mud boat , which had been promised to him before the twist was known. Barbara divides the money for the Loupes as follows:
- $3,000 to be given to charitable organizations (met with blank stares);
- $4,000 for a family vacation;
- $20,000 for two new “eco” engines for the tour boats;
- $12,000 for a new roof;
- $5,700 to be given to Diego’s parents; and. ...
- $2,000 for ZZ’s much-anticipated mud boat (ZZ flips on his back and squeals with joy).
Barbara prefaces her reading of Diana’s letter with a stern reminder to her family that they will “choose to be happy” with whatever is in the letter. “If there are any tears, you won’t get any lettuce wraps,” she warns. Ah, folks. Savor this moment, as the matriarch will be eating her words in the near future. Diana divides the money as follows:
- $1,000 each for Lucy and Jack. Diana says they can spend it on what they like, possibly electric scooters. “You still have to earn your merit points before you can buy it,” Barbara snaps at their excited faces. That *pop* you heard was the Gates children’s bubbles bursting.
- $8,000 for a family trip to Mexico or Hawaii.
- $5,000 to Jim for an orchard he has dreamed of planting on their adjacent lot. Barbara can barely spit the words out, she is so incensed. She needs to yell at someone to feel better about herself, so she snaps at poor Lucy to stop touching the letter. Angry mom alert!
- $5,000 to dig a well so that the orchard will have irrigation. Barbara turns her venom on Jim, wanting to know “what the hell” he talked about with Diana. “$10,000 of our $50,000 is going to that?” she asks, her voice dripping with disgust.
- $10,000 for a jacuzzi. Lucy pipes up, “I told her that, Mommy!” with obvious pride that she thought of something her mom would like. Barbara cuts her to the quick, telling her that it’s not funny. Lucy retreats backward on the sofa into her dad’s lap. When Mommy Barbara gets mean, she’s got the cold, hard eyes of a snake.
Lucy apologizes to her mother, and says she thought her mom would like it. Barbara says she’s not happy, and the tears are welling up. She struggles to retain her composure while her kids plead with her not to be upset. Barbara makes a snarky comment about the Loupes spending their own money on corvettes, motorcycles, and jacuzzis. Jim tells her to stop crying, she’s going to Hawaii. “It’s just not what I expected,” whines the martyr. “I get to pick where [the jacuzzi] goes!” She also demands that Jim buy her “one of those pretty little showers to go with it.” Barbara, having established an ounce of control again, continues to read the list:
- $20,000 for Barbara. Well, glory be.
Diana’s letter states that she hasn’t met Barbara yet, but knows she’s a strong woman leading her family. True, but that doesn’t keep Barbara from being human garbage, strong woman or no. If Diana had met Barbara before she divvied up the money, I suspect that chunk of money would be allocated to “dump in the bayou of your choice.” As for Barbara, all of a sudden she has warm words about Diana’s wisdom and intelligence. Meanwhile, Jim is put off by his wife’s attitude, which he sums up as: “what’s mine is hers, and what’s hers is hers.” I’m surprised they didn’t foley a bullwhip cracking over his confessional.
But Wait, We’re Not Done?
Usually on Trading Spouses, the show ends with the reading of the lists. But we’re back on the bayou, where Diego is showing Diana the letter that Barbara left on the sly. It looks to be several pages long - and no doubt, it’s long on Barbara’s criticisms and short on any kind of insight into the Loupe family.
Diana reads a portion of it out loud. Barbara feels that ZZ acts up because he’s hiding a lot of hurt. What’s causing his pain? Barbara feels that he lacks the company of a nurturing mother. And trust me, if anyone knows about un-nurturing mothers, it’s Miss Snap At Her Kids Over Nothing. Diana looks hurt and surprised by the criticism. ZZ can see the result of Barbara’s dig at Diana, and tells us that Miss Barbara should feel all kinds of shame for being mean to his mom. I don’t know whether to tear my hair out at Barbara’s smug jibes or celebrate that it showcased ZZ’s inspiring love and loyalty for his mom.
Diana tries to put a rational spin on Barbara’s letter. She says that Barbara came prepared to find something wrong with her family, and that some people “have that in their nature.” She feels that Barbara just ran out of things to say, so she found things to criticize. Diana is far more tolerant and generous in her reflections on Barbara that I would have been. She even goes so far as to say that Barbara just didn’t get to know her - but she’s interrupted by ZZ diving into her arms for a big, fierce hug. Barbara’s kids shrink away from her, and Diana’s kid is happy to hug her pain away. Now, that’s what I call a loving, nurturing family led by a wise, insightful, open-minded person.
Back in California, we have one more log to throw on the fire. There is a little matter of Mommy Perfect having violated Vegan Law. It seems she’s come to realize that her moment of bonding with the Cajuns - you know, where they asked in bored, we-don’t-care voices not to force herself to eat alligator on their accounts - was filmed for television, and should be explained lest her actions be misunderstood. Certainly, her family will understand, once they hear her explanation. Or at least they won’t dare imply that she did anything wrong. She didn’t do anything wrong. She is perfect. She is always right. (I hope you enjoyed my glimpse into Barbara’s brain. *shudder*)
Barbara delivers the news thusly: “Um...I ate alligator.”
Both kids are visibly upset, hiding their faces in their hands. Lucy is especially angry and yells at her mother. Barbara does not look pleased to have to explain herself to a lowly eight-year-old. Jim calls her “the matriarch” who flushed eight years of preaching veganism down the toilet with a single bite. Barbara tries to shrug it off, but Jim wants to know her specific reasons for the transgression. Unable to deflect Jim, she pushes a hovering Lucy off her arm - literally - telling her sharply to “hang on a minute.” Thankfully, the editors decide we’ve had enough of Barbara, and leave us right there - with her hand in her child’s face, her face an ugly expression of hateful annoyance.
We are treated to one more glimpse of the Loupe family. They are doing what they enjoy most: interacting with their alligators, and spending time together as a family. As we watch Diana put a baby alligator to sleep with one touch (quite a neat trick), she tells us that every person has their own journey to live, and they’re accountable for that journey in the end; she’s not going to dwell on the negativity of one person. All three Loupes look relieved to be back in their normal routine of happy family life on the bayou.
Another wacky California family is exposed for our enjoyment. This time, it’s barefoot nuts who think people are not evolved to live in houses. Another family looks normal in comparison.
Bring on the alligator nuggets and laissez les bon temps rouler! firstname.lastname@example.org