Vegetarians Are Screwed
Vegetarianism is not for me. And I’d like to say that I have no problem with vegetarians, but that’s not entirely true.
Now people come to vegetarianism from lots of different angles. Some of these are concerns about their own personal health. Other see it as a path to be more conscientious about the environment. Some care deeply for animals, and don’t wish to eat them. Of course there are others who are following religious precepts. Surely there are countless others.
The problem I have is inconsistency of belief. Whether it’s the health conscious vegetarian who ends up eating bagels with cream cheese every morning. Or the environmentalist who buys frozen vegetarian meals in recycled boxes and compostable trays that source ingredients from around the world. Or the animal lover who still buys conventional eggs and dairy.
It’s maddening. And veganism isn’t the answer either. Because you know what, I’m perfectly fine taking some of the honey away from bees. To say that this practice is wrong, I find mind boggling.
But this isn’t about me or my problems. It’s the problems that vegetarians are facing elsewhere.
The movement is being ignored. Maybe even dismissed entirely.
Recently I heard mention of something called a “plant-based diet” and to an old friend of mine it sounded like marketing speak. And I thought this was very interesting. It was in the context of a company in Philadelphia that was making convenient, healthful meals for busy people. The meals contained no meat, and were suitable for those following a plant-based diet.
This phrase shouldn’t sound too strange to ethical omnivores who have been good disciples of Michael Pollan. He has been spreading the gospel of, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” That sounds like a plant-based diet to me.
So why didn’t the business in Philadelphia say they made vegetarian meals?
I think the answer is obvious. It’s because the word vegetarian has a stigma. It applies to a group of people who self identify with one another. Calling them vegetarian would imply that these meals were made for vegetarians, and if you are not a vegetarian, they may not be for you.
And food that’s made for vegetarians has a track record of being awful. One of the great failures of this years Metroland Best of the Capital Region 2012 poll is giving Best Vegetarian Restaurant to a place called Antipasto’s. I had the great displeasure of once trying their pizza and their vegetarian sausage topping, and I would not wish that on anyone. And it’s pizza, for crying out loud. It’s vegetarian to begin with, and they still found a way to make is awful.
The thing is that places that have catered to vegetarians have had a captive market for a long time. The food never had to be good. It just had to fulfil the requirements of a vegetarian diet, and be more convenient than cooking at home.
None of which is to say that vegetarian food has to bad. One of my favorite Indian restaurants in Albany, a place called Parivar, is entirely vegetarian and it’s fantastic. And if you weren’t paying close attention, no omnivore would leave that place feeling deprived. And I’ve never left Parivar any less than overstuffed. That food is delicious and super filling.
Personally, I’ve always been comfortable saying that I lean towards a more vegetarian diet. Now this may sound odd coming from a man who enjoys deep fried Buffalo burgers. But when cooking at home, meat is generally on the menu only one or two nights a week. And except for Friday night dinner when roast chicken is on the center of the plate, when we do serve meat it takes on more of a seasoning role in a plant-based diet.
More restaurants should have offerings lower on the food chain. You can call these vegetarian or vegan dishes if you like. And they need to have better options than just pasta. Because the issue isn’t that the pursuit of a vegetarian focused diet is going away. I see it actually intensifying, as more and more people care about the food they eat.
It’s just that people aren’t going to call it that anymore. Because vegetarianism is too limiting, polarizing, and just plain old outdated. So I’ll happily embrace the parlance of our times, not as marketing speak, but as the evolution of a movement.