Thursday, May 22, 2008

Veggie Might: That’s What I Was Going to Say

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

This past weekend, my cute doggie, Snack, and I participated in a bike ride to promote pet adoption. Here’s a cute photo of Snack and a link to Rational Animal rescue collective. Adopt a pet and love forever!

Even before Kris asked me to write for CHG, I’d been thinking about what my Veggie Manifesto might say. It would not try to convert omnivores to the fold (though you may think otherwise from my first post—really, I was just making a correlation to our current eco/enviro situation); but it would respond to the same old questions and frequent (and unprovoked) defensiveness I encounter from meat eaters.

Then someone wrote it for me—my Veggie Manifesto—almost word for word. Almost.

In the Slate article, Meatless Like Me, Taylor Clark tells omnivores everything they’ve ever wanted to know about veggies, with a sense of humor and a dose of reality. I heard the podcast version while walking home from work one rainy evening last week. With every new point, I smiled and gave a little “amen, brother!” from under my umbrella.

Point one: We are regular people. Clark explains, “Imagine a completely normal person with completely normal food cravings, someone who has a broad range of friends, enjoys a good time, is carbon-based, and so on. Now remove from this person’s diet anything that once had eyes, and, wham!, you have yourself a vegetarian.”

We’re just like you, but with a plant-based diet. Not necessarily health-nuts, not necessarily activists, just people who choose not to eat meat, just as you might choose not to eat shellfish or horseradish.

I was beginning to feel liberated.

Point two: We want decent food in restaurants. Clark implores, “We really appreciate that you included a vegetarian option on your menu (and if you didn’t, is our money not green?), but it may interest you to know that most of us are not salad freaks on a grim slog for nourishment. We actually enjoy food, especially the kind that tastes good.”

Preach it!

Though, in New York City, I have little to complain about, it can still be tricky to eat out. When dining with my omni friends, I’m accustomed to making meals of sides, appetizers, and parts of entrees to the annoyance of many a waiter and chef to be sure. But I’m used to it. When I go to a vegetarian restaurant, it takes me hours to order; it’s such a novelty—and sometimes a burden—being able to choose from everything on the menu.

Point three: We don’t care what you eat. Clark reassures, “As you’re enjoying that pork loin next to me, I am not silently judging you.” That’s right, omnis. Go ahead and enjoy your osso buco. Savor that porterhouse. As long as I don’t have to eat it (or cook it for you), it doesn’t bother me. I grew up eating meat; I’ve served meat in restaurants (Who had the lamb shank?); I’ve only ever dated meat eaters. The people who attempt to make you feel guilty about your life choices are just, well, obnoxious. And if you feel guilty eating chicken Marsala on a date with your new vegan boyfriend, let me assure you, it’s your issue, not his.

There is one thing I would add or change in my version of the Veggie Manifesto. For me it goes beyond diet, into lifestyle territory.

While Clark is comfortable wearing leather as he shuns a roast beef sandwich, I find that contradiction hard to stomach. He challenges the reader to find a pair of nonleather dress shoes. May I kindly point you here, here, and here? And Portland, where Clark resides, is the home of the first vegan mini mall, which can probably help him find local vegan shoe options.

But his point is well taken. We can drive ourselves crazy trying to be the perfect vegetarian or vegan. (And if you eat fish or chicken sometimes, you’re neither.) We have to set boundaries we can live with. After that, we are only accountable to our own consciences.

So why do meat eaters become so defensive in the presence of vegetarians? Clark doesn’t really ask this question, but I’m curious. I’m not referring to a discussion of the lifestyle between willing participants. I’m talking about unsolicited attacks on the wisdom of my food choices based on presumed lack of dietary merits, ethical differences, or just plain antagonism. Does the perceived deprivation of the vegetarian lifestyle make people uncomfortable? Make them feel like they should be doing something they’re not?

If that’s it, then everyone can relax. I am not deprived. I don’t starve (which you could tell if you could see me), and I enjoy the food I eat. I don’t even miss the meat. Sometimes I get a little wistful when I think of crab cakes or smell fried chicken, but it doesn’t last. I savor the memories and enjoy the vegetarian bounty before me.

Hosanna!

(Shoe photo courtesy of Flickr member shoe la la.)

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12 comments:

MCM Voices said...

Leigh, thank-you for this post. I have a question for you. What does a carnivorous household do when a vegetarian dinner guest shows up at literally the last minute (group of my sons' friends dropped in and I had enough for a crowd, but discovered the one girl's vegetarian status as we were sitting down). I know she wasn't expecting much on this occasion and she didn't go away hungry, but I would like to have the wherewithal to present something nutritious and appetizing without fanfare on the spur of the moment. Do you have suggestions for things I could keep on hand to pull something together quickly?

Thanks!

Mary

JABster said...

I can't speak for all omni s but I have only become defensive with one vegan. In my defense, he started it! My college roommate had a vegan boyfriend, and he would inevitably show up in the kitchen when my boyfriend (now husband) were cooking. He would sniff the air, and if we were cooking spaghetti sauce with beef or some other meat-containing dish, he would say various helpful things like, "Well, I guess might makes right. If you can kill it, you're allowed to eat it." He drove me nuts. Now, had that been my first interaction with a vegan or vegetarian, it might have poisoned my outlook. I've met a couple other "holier than thou" vegetarians or vegans since then and it's extremely annoying -- probably as annoying as the omnis who bother you.

Jaime said...

When I go to a vegetarian restaurant, it takes me hours to order; it’s such a novelty—and sometimes a burden—being able to choose from everything on the menu.

Amen! It's such a treat, but it takes me *forever*.

Jen@BigBinder said...

I am a carnivore; but a good cook. I can cook meat at home - and it tastes like...meat. There really is only so much you can do with it.

When I go to a restaurant, I want someone who can do something snazzy with vegetables so I usually order a vegetarian dish. I think there is a greater potential for interesting and beautiful and tasty dishes I can't make at home.

I can empathize with trying to find a suitable dish in a restaurant and not eating a bunch of appetizers and calling it a meal (although, sometimes, that's not so bad...)

CraftyKate said...

To Mary above- I can only speak for myself of course, but as a long time veggie who lives with a meat eating boyfriend it makes me uncomfortable when a meat eating family make too big of a deal about me being veggie. My bf's family does this. If I go to their house for a meal, I expect that meat will be part of that meal. No problem. There's always bread, salad, and plenty of veggie sides that I would never go hungry, but his mom always buys boca burgers, or a frozen veggie meal just for me. I really don't want to be a burden, and while it's incredibly sweet she's willing to go out of her way to make me welcome in her home, I always feel like a finicky pain when she buys me my own meal. I'm happy with the non meat portions of the meal!

eatclosetohome said...

I beg to differ on point #3. While many vegetarians don't care what others eat, a good number do. Like JABster's vegan encounter, there *are* lots of militant vegetarians and vegans out there. I have been preached and scoffed at by zealots using every scare, guilt, and shame tactic in the book. One woman even asserted that I can't be a *feminist* because I eat meat a few times a week. That kind of behavior feeds the stereotype of the picketing PETA veggie that you see on sit coms...which might be all the exposure to vegetarianism that some folks get.

Jaime said...

eatclosetohome, there are obnoxious, militant, shove-their-values-in-your-face people in every camp or group. Vegans, racists, feminists, environmentalists, democrats, republicans - but that doesn't mean we should judge a group by its rudest members. Vegetarians are people who don't eat meat, not inherent proselytizers. (I think that's the first time I ever spelled "proselytizers" correctly on the first go.) The Slate article may have skimmed over that point - that there are militant, pushy vegetarians - but the larger point is important and trie: that most vegetarians *aren't* like that, and, most importantly, that the bad attitude isn't an inherent part of being a vegetarian.

eatclosetohome said...

Jaime-

I totally agree with you - my comments were a response to Leigh's question "So why do meat eaters become so defensive in the presence of vegetarians? Clark doesn’t really ask this question, but I’m curious." I was illustrating the experience from the "other side." I remember when I found out that many farmers thing all environmentalists are extremists...I was baffled, because none of the environmentalists I know are like that. But understanding where they were coming from has helped me bridge the gap.

Emily

JABster said...

Hmmm...
The post says
"So why do meat eaters become so defensive in the presence of vegetarians? ... I’m talking about unsolicited attacks on the wisdom of my food choices based on presumed lack of dietary merits, ethical differences, or just plain antagonism."

and Jaime says
" there are militant, pushy vegetarians - but the larger point is important and trie (sic): that most vegetarians *aren't* like that, and, most importantly, that the bad attitude isn't an inherent part of being a vegetarian."

I think eatclosertohome was trying to say (as was I) that the unsolicited attacks fly both ways and are not inherent personality traits of either group.

Perhaps the automatic defensiveness on the part of SOME omnis and SOME veggies has to do with their prior experiences with an unpleasant individual or two from the other group.

I don't think it's fair to say that the bad attitude isn't inherently vegetarian, but leave the generic meat-eaters-are-antagonistic comment without rebuke.

If we aren't judging groups by their rudest members, then perhaps the question should say, "Why do SOME (my emphasis) meat eaters become so defensive in the presence of vegetarians?

Laura said...

When I go to a vegetarian restaurant, it takes me hours to order; it’s such a novelty—and sometimes a burden—being able to choose from everything on the menu.

Yes, yes, yes!

Leigh said...

Yay! Open, intelligent dialogue. This is great, y'all.

You're right JABster, I should have asked why SOME omnis get so defensive. I fell into the trap myself. Because, of course, most I encounter are perfectly respectful and nonconfrontational. My apologies.

And just for clarification, I'm not denying the existence of the militant veg - and I've sorry you and eatclosetohome have had so many bad experiences - but as Jaime said, there are militant folks of every strain.

As for what to do for that surprise veg guest, MCM Voices, do what you'd do for any surprise guest - the best you can. Personally, I don't expect, or want, you to bend over backwards to accommodate me, especially on the fly.

As CraftyKate agrees, too big a deal can be as equally uncomfortable as having no veg options at all. CK, my mom and sister do the same thing. It's so sweet, but the fuss isn't necessary. Maybe it's a mom thing.

Thanks for calling out my faux pas, and elevating the discourse y'all. This is great.

Jaime and Laura, we should block off six hours or so and go to Red Bamboo for dinner sometime. ;)

Michelle said...

Great article! I know food choices can be hard, but I think vegan shoes have really come along way!

One of my favorite vegan shoe sites is: http://www.vegetarianshoesandbags.com/

They also just added a children's line as well! doesn't get any easier than this!