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Vegetarians Are Screwed

July 26, 2012

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.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2012 10:02 am

    Try ‘veganism’. The food is fantastic and no animals have to die needlessly to satiate desires that are plainly unhealthy for people.

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    July 26, 2012 10:31 am

    I completely agree with you.

  3. July 26, 2012 11:17 am

    I’m down with vegetarianism but veganism is just another form or radicalism and radical anything in whatever form is a turn off.

    • An _ permalink
      July 26, 2012 6:42 pm

      A turn off for you, perhaps. For me, I am pretty much ONLY turned on by radical vegan bike-punks nowadays, so there :p — to each their own.
      By the way, I’ve been ovo-lacto-pesca-vegetarian for 5 years and 5 weeks ago I went vegan. My allergies to pollen and cats disappeared (or at least, shrunk to the point of not being noticeable). I cough and sneeze with less frequency. I feel PROFOUNDLY healthier mentally knowing that I am not contributing to the suffering of animals.
      I also cannot think about eating meat, dairy, or fish anymore without my mind traveling to the realities of the horrors of factory farms and the Holocaust. For serious.

  4. July 26, 2012 11:33 am

    I’m this way myself — I’m often surprised to notice that I’ve eaten vegetarian for a couple of days unwittingly, ’cause I tend toward things like mac and cheese and pizzas. I don’t really like cooking with meat, but I still enjoy eating it, so I mostly have it when we eat out. (Also, I really don’t get the vegan thing, either — is it really hurting the chicken if you eat the egg it was going to lay anyway, or drink the milk that’s already there for the taking? The animal still lives either way.)

    • July 26, 2012 11:52 am

      I’m going to plagiarize a favorite joke from myself: the reason why other animal products are more or less the same as eating meat is that dairy cows and laying hens whose production is low don’t exactly retire to a condo in Boca.

      Also, both industries by design mean the early deaths of young males, since the vast majority aren’t needed for dairy or egg production. Male chicks are killed as soon as their sex can be determined, and male calves become veal.

      (I’m an omnivore who mostly eats vegetarian because I don’t like the taste/texture of most meat, for the record.)

  5. July 26, 2012 12:17 pm

    Like the above commenter, I’m down with vegetarians in general, but also totally in agreement about the inconsistency of some vegetarians’ beliefs — including my own, which is why I started eating what you call “happy meat” when I moved to the Berkshires a few years ago, after having been vegetarian for over a decade previous. At this point in my admittedly fussy, conscious-to-the-point-of-self-irritation eating style, I’d much rather buy as much as I can from a regional, small-scale, humane farmer than suffer through another over-packaged, processed, healthfully dubious Boca burger.

    Of couse, this makes eating outside of my own house an exercise in frustration, as I’m sure you well know.

    Looking forward to see what kinds of comments this post stirs up.

    • July 26, 2012 7:00 pm

      This is basically what I do, and I am less consistent when I eat out (but I’ve been trying to patronize more places that source their ingredients from ethical sources). It’s caused our grocery bill to skyrocket (though we’ve found ways to reign it in by cutting back on how much meat we eat, joining a CSA, etc.), but (and I’ve said this before), we’re in an income bracket where we can make these choices. It’s a privileged place to be, however this is a far different discussion.

      • July 27, 2012 8:52 am

        Yep, same here on the grocery bill — and I do make exceptions from time to time when eating out. And, like you, I feel lucky that I can choose to blow large amounts of money on really good food. (Then again, living where I do, in the middle of nowheresville, there isn’t much else to spend money on!)

  6. July 26, 2012 1:13 pm

    I think you and I had a discussion about the phrase “plant-based diet” because I had been thinking/reading about the ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, and that’s what he calls the way he eats. Because he thinks vegan has a negative/radical connotation (see above comments, for ex), and he’s found that eating this way makes his body healthier, leaner, and faster. Which is especially helpful if you are running 100 or so miles at a time during a race.

  7. christine permalink
    July 26, 2012 4:02 pm

    I’m sure there are some facts somewhere on the interent regarding just how humans were designed to eat. In caveman days, I’m sure they ate whatever they could find… or kill. So, while I sure don’t care if someone eats meat or not, I think we were designed to eat it. I love a good steak and I have one every now and then. But, I do find myself eating less meat.

    The whole eggs/milk thing makes me crazy. Sorry, I just do not get it.

  8. Nathan permalink
    July 26, 2012 4:39 pm

    As an ethical omnivore who often just happens to eat vegan, I can attest that it isn’t that hard, or radical. But, Sir Fussy, in all my time of knowing a good dozen or so vegans very well, I’ve never met one of the anti-honey vegans. I’m not sure if they really exist.

    I can attest that any plant-based diet involves a lot of gruesome death via insect slaughter. Our organic gardening often starts with a regiment of smashing dozens of bugs and baby bugs between rocks. Mexican Bean Beetles, Squash Bugs, Potato Bugs, you name it. No matter what anyone tells you, growing organic produce involves violence on a massive scale.

  9. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    July 27, 2012 10:39 am

    Somehow my comment never got posted. I agree with Daniel on every point. I am an anthrooplogist and I can assure Christine and others that scientifically speaking, we were and are absolutely designed to eat meat/animal protein.

  10. dieta permalink
    August 2, 2012 9:56 pm

    Start by eating more of the plant-based meals you already eat. Bean and rice burritos? Pasta Primavera? Cereal? These are vegetarian foods! By focusing on the ones you already eat you are making changes even before you introduce new foods.


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