What I learned while watching The King of Queens last night: Once you give up meat, it’s a slippery, slippery slope to becoming one of those nagging, know-it-all, hemp-hawking, finger-pointing, tree-hugging, self-righteous environmentalists we’re all trying to distance ourselves from (or most of us, anyway).

The episode begins as main character Doug Heffernan — a delivery-truck-driving, junk-food-loving, red-blooded American living in Queens — almost runs over a chicken that has escaped a butcher in Chinatown. Rather than see the chicken meet an unsavory end, Doug puts it in the passenger seat. Blah, blah, blah … musical montage showing Doug and the chicken spending the day together.

Doug returns home to find dinner on the table — you guessed it, a roasted chicken. He can’t eat it. He goes outside for some air, runs into a neighbor who whisks him away to watch one of those grisly slaughterhouse documentaries (you know the ones), and Doug’s fate is sealed. He announces to wife Carrie that he’s no longer eating meat. Good for him.

Could it be left at that, though? Could Doug have grown as a person and made an important decision about the food he eats and how it comes to be on his plate, and then just move on to the next joke?

Ha, ha, ha … no.

Instead we fast forward to the next morning, when Carrie finds Doug sitting in the kitchen, wearing artsy thick-framed glasses and doing a crossword puzzle ("five-letter word for Russian river … Volga!"). He criticizes Carrie for drinking unfair-trade coffee — "Juan Valdez, that nice man with the donkey in the coffee commercials, is an actor … I know that now."

He takes an interest in reading long, foreign novels. When they attend Carrie’s work party, he asks her to wear a dreadful, shapeless hemp dress ("from the Woody Harrelson collection") that looks as if it’s made from burlap sacks, and he condescends to the party hosts because they’re serving meat.

In short, Doug becomes a total jerk. All because he’s given up meat.

Is that how it works? Do all vegetarians become tweed-jacket-wearing, Volga-River-knowing pains in the ass? Is that what will happen to you, if you give up meat?

Well, no. Of course not. But that’s what much of middle America will think now. Thanks for playing to stereotypes, King of Queens.

Postscript: The happy ending on this one? (You knew it was coming.) Doug succumbs to the marketing wiles of two competing fast-food restaurants, and Carrie returns from work to find him asleep on the couch in front of the TV with a half-eaten burger resting on his rotund belly. And the balance of the universe is restored!