Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Trials of Faux-Vegetarianism

Some time ago in the past couple years I pledged to try to only eat meat that is sustainably raised. Because I'm grossed out by the idea of eating meat from an animal that spent its life in a dirty crowded small space pumped with corn feed and antibiotics grosses me out. And because thoughtful, ethical, sustainable farms leave less of a trace on the planet. However, try is the key word there.

I keep my pledge in my own home by only buying meat from the farmers market. I keep it by eating out at restaurants that source their food from local and organic farms.

BUT I run into trouble when circumstance forces me to eat from places that don't give a f* about the meat they serve, which would be most eateries. Because most of the time, the vegetarian options are unappealing and are usually limited to one or two lines on a menu, and outside of NYC sometimes none! For some reason, they often involve mushrooms, which guess what, not every "vegetarian" likes mushrooms and wants to eat them every time she goes out! Or the options are a grilled cheese sandwich or a plain salad, which I'd rather not spend my hard-earned money on something I could just as easily make at home, thank you very much. Or fries, which is not exactly a "meal."

So this is why I slip up. Because when vegetarian options just don't do it for me, I'd rather eat meat because I'm not a vegetarian and I do enjoy eating meat.

Which leads me to my question for the vegetarians out there, don't you feel offended by the scant options you're given? How do you deal with this??


  1. I gave up eating meat when I was 11 because I simply didn't like it. It reminded me of muscle and sinew, it wasn't appetising. 22 years later I can assure you that veggie options (particularly in mainland Europe) have vastly improved. I rarely go somewhere where I don't have options (although it does help that I eat fish and seafood). Where I do get frustrated though are set menus (such as weddings or hotels). Almost exclusively the veggie option is something wrapped in pastry and usually contains unspecified "mediterannean vegetables" or truly vile nut roast. I am not sure what it is about these places which causes vegetarian regression to the bad old days but I cannot understand how, in their minds, veggie food equals stodgy unidentifiable mush.

    Otherwise I find that I am rarely stuck for veggie food and often my dining companions are wanting to try mine.

  2. I learned to like mushrooms. (HA!)

    I suppose that I've gotten use to that tiny meat-free section of the menu and usually search for sides.

    Luckily, many places can make their main dishes without meat if you ask. Calling ahead helps too. I find that good places, with good chefs, love the challenge of whipping up one of their signature dishes sin carne.

    Though, in diners and such, I'll generally eat more dessert than dinner ;)

  3. I am totally not a vegetarian. But I respect those who are. I don't really get this shortage on veggie stuff either. I mean, sometimes I just feel like eating something easy on the digestive system. But most restaurants want to serve you a big ol' hunk of meat and a side of fries. I grew up eating fresh veggies from the garden every day. We would go several meals without any meat. I love meat, I truly do. But I think most restaurants put too much emphasis on it. And if I had to eat tofu all the time I would break bad on some chef's ass.

  4. The restaurant where I work has a crap-ton of meat on the menu just because we're an "American" joint...but we do have a lot of great veg. options too. Probably only because one of our chefs is one himself.

  5. I'm fortunate to live in the SF Bay Area, where it's as common to be a veggie as to be a carnivore. And I eat fish (esp. sushi) when I go out... so it's not too hard here to be veggie. But on a recent road trip to the middle of the country, I was pretty much limited to salads, grilled cheese sandwiches, and omelettes - oh, and the occasional veggie burger. Omlettes are usually the best bet in non-veggie friendly establishments b/c it's really hard to screw up eggs & veggies.

  6. you know, i totally also think similar things when out and dining in Halifax area (especially)... what do vegetarians/vegans think about the craptastic selection??

    I eat meat because I'm fussy and wouldn't never be healthy otherwise... but like you i try to eat less meat, more nuts and sustainable meat. However, most free-range, grass fed, local, organic whatever meat is frozen here...
    one of the sacrifices we made by moving back to the east coast was to accept less "hippie" options... and this area definitely is less.

    Good luck! It really sounds like you are doing a fantastic job at keeping your goals- way better than I am with meat! :)

  7. Emmy - i've never heard of nut roast, must be a european thing?

    Meag - that's a good tip about asking for custom options. i think one of my other probs is that when we go out, jesse makes me feel weird if i don't order an entree and just get sides or appetizers, as if i'm not having enough of a meal.

    Miz November - exactly! too much emphasis on meat. i like it but i still don't prefer to eat a big hunk of meat and a little side for my dinner.

    Elizabeth - that makes sense, glad your restaurant has options for all.

    One Barefoot Bride - ack i totally forgot i also wanted to vent here about veggie burgers - the other big veggie option that is soo hit and miss so i'm afraid to order them. it's true there are a lot of restaurants with good veg options here in nyc too so it's not hard to be vegetarian if you can plan on where to go, but sometimes the restaurant is not up to me :-)

    Eco Yogini - interesting, why is most grass fed meat there frozen? because the farms aren't that close to halifax?

  8. Ohhh, errr.

    Couldn't help commenting on this one.

    Sometimes the vego options are pretty rubbish, but we tend to mainly go to the places that are either vegetarian restaurants, or have great vego options.

    We're also lucky to live in a University town, and I think that, because there are a lot of students here, and hence vegetarians, most eateries offer good vegetarian options.

    But one possibility, which seems to be becoming more common, might be to be a "slackatarian", and choose the vegetarian option when you can, and eat veg at home. But if nothing appeals at all, or there's no option when you eat out, then go for the meat.

    There's no reason why you have to live by anyone else's rules or labels. Do what feels right for you. And any reduction in the amount of people eating the amount of meat they consume is a good thing. Maybe the hardline vegetarians need to be reminded of that every now and again!

    BTW, I found your blog through eco-yogini. I hope you don't mind me dumping my thoughts at you full-on like this. But it was such an interesting post and topic!

  9. well..... hm. it is somehow really easy for me.

    i have been vegetarians since i was a young teenager, and even though i have grown to be ethically ok with eating meat, in a manner as you strive to, i just couldn't do it myself. it is too much of an emotional thing for me personally.

    i guess that means i am just used to it. the lack of options. and there is simply no desire.

    of course, i generally choose restaurants where i know they will have an entree i will enjoy. and i just deal with occasionally sucking it up, when having to go somewhere with family, or? i know that this meal is had for the company, not the food, and that's ok sometimes. sometimes.

    that said, i love daharja's "slackitarian". if you have a car parked in your drive way, but still generally walk, bus, bike etc and only use the car on occasions, we can all appreciate that choise. anyways, I agree with D all round. if you can keep your consumption in check to a level where you are comfortable with it, and do what feels right, then awesome!

  10. I am quasi-vegetarian, somewhat depending on my mood. (Weird, I know.) I haven't had a bite of red meat in nearly 5 years, but I do occasionally eat chicken and turkey...but only breast meat. Something about bones and tendons and skin really freaks me out. I'll eat fish and shellfish...but only if it's someplace where I trust that it's at least as fresh as it can be or it - you guessed it - freaks me out. Some restaurants do really suck, I admit that, and it's frustrating. I sometimes just ask if something with meat can be adapted, or I just try to stick to places that I know have good veggie options. And, of course, I'm always asking "real" vegetarians for their recommendations when I'm traveling.

  11. Vegetarian options are often so utterly crap. For years I ate 'vegetable taglitelli' when I went anywhere (pasta, boiled veg and cream. gag) then two years ago I started eating fish again for the first time in 15 years which made things a little easier but only a little as I'll only eat sustainable fish. I too learnt to like mushrooms (it took 15 years but I cracked it) and learnt to suck it up when the options were rubbish.

  12. daharja - of course I don't mind! like jamie says, the slackatarian approach is a good description of what i, and a lot of other people, are doing in their quest to reduce their carbon footprint. it's a good reminder that it's better than doing nothing at all.

    cyd - my family was like you growing red meat, only turkey and chicken breast. now i branch out a little more. glad to know there are other quasi vegetarians out there. i feel awkward about how i somtimes eat meat and sometimes don't and i fear it confuses people and makes them think i'm hypocritical.

    peonies - 15 years to learn to like mushrooms? ok check back with me when I'm 40.