Monday, September 19, 2005

pointed critique of certain "vegetarian" practices

Now, I don't mean to be rude. BUT . . . some recent food related bloggings, here, there and everywhere, have brought these issues to mind. And I want to be honest and up front with everyone about how I feel about some common vegetarian eating practices in the US.

(1) I'm frustrated when vegetarians don't know the food prep practices of the restaurants they eat at, or the cuisines they enjoy. A rather repulsive case in point - a good friend of mine years ago would only eat McDonalds rather than Taco Bell because she ate their fries. Yes, the ones fried in animal fat. If she cared, she should have done the research. I mean, Taco Bell has a lenten menu. One can get food for vegans there, if need be. And this friend (who, I think, is still a vegetarian, but frankly, no longer a friend) always said that Taco Bell had nothing meatless. Was it an excuse to eat fries? Did she just not like Taco Bell? (Understandable, but in a fast food context, you could do worse.) I wonder to this day . . . .

(2) I'm saddened when vegetarians adapt dishes (or food groups) with meat and dairy substitutes rather than just learning about and eating cuisines that don't include meat. I was recently hosting a vegan friend here in Pittsburgh who insisted on going to Mad Mex, where he had heard he could eat vegan cheese and sour cream (which, I understand, are suspect to the informed vegan), rather than Aladdins, where they know how to prepare bean dishes.

(3) While I enjoy fushion as much as the next adventurous diner, when making substitutions, I ask the vegetarian to make informed choices. Tofu does not go with every cuisine. Pick the cuisine appropriate bean. Read a range of meat and meat free recipes from the cuisine you are preparing to get a sense of which flavors are essential and which can be left out of a dish or which ingredients can be substituted in to round out an adapted dish without doing violence to culinary tradition.

(4) I am often uncomfortable travelling with vegetarians (especially outside the US) in cultures or to household where meat is part of the diet. I don't think its polite to refuse a dish, or to explain to someone all your food ways, if you are a guest.

I could go on and on about how pushy, but ignorant, so many vegetarians I've know have been about eating out and cooking in. In every one of these cases (and more besides), I have held my tongue and not bitched until now, in this post, with you, dear readers. Like titling a blog "i hate the new yorker" this post will probably be misinterpreted by many well meaning souls. . . but please,

(5) Don't assume I like to sit home eating raw beef. Ok, so I've eaten raw beef, but only when it was served to me by someone who wanted to share something they thought perfectly normal and enjoyable. I cook veg all the time, but I put a lot of effort into it - research, reading recipes and cookbooks, talking with culinarily experienced friends and family, experimenting, shopping carefully.

Thanks for your patience. And happy eating . . . Please feel free to write in with suggestions for "keeping veg" responsibly.

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22 Comments:

Blogger juniper pearl said...

i've been vegan for three years and was vegetarian for a few before that, and i agree that it's incredibly irritating when people make a big deal about their eating habits and then don't actually follow any of their loudly professed rules. i had a friend who had been "vegan" for five years and cried when she passed meat in the supermarket, but still went to kfc for the potato wedges.

some of us do our research, though, and maybe you think it's rude to refuse food (i do not; if you had an allergy instead of a preference, you'd have to be just as picky), but i don't think a person's dietary choices should dictate or limit their travel plans.

there are completely vegan cheeses and sour creams, by the way, they're just not always, you know, good.

7:01 PM  
Blogger zp said...

allergies and religious dictates should be respected in all circumstances. no argument there.

and thanks for the olive branch of sympathy. yum, olives.

9:13 PM  
Blogger JR said...

I have enjoyed a vegetarian diet as a healthy choice for over ten years. What has me perplexed is how many Americans say they don't eat meat, yet regularly consume chicken and fish, just no beef or pork. This is not being a vegetarian. This is avoiding beef and pork. I would like to know when did "meat" mean only red meat? Apparently what ever rationale they have concocted only applies to cows and pigs. Don't get me wrong, avoiding beef and pork is a heathy choice and many doctors and dieticians would agree with limiting if not eliminating them from anyones diet. I guess it is not cache enough unless it has a healthy sounding name.

Most people say "vegetarian" and mean "lacto ovo vegatarianism" which is not eating any animal products except eggs and diary. What I like to call non-flesh eaters.

If people eat no animal products at all, then they are "Vegan". Or what those pig and cow avoiders might call "hardcore vegatarians". I make a point with these folks that are all vegetables all the time to bust them if they have any leather products on and comment that it is apprently OK to wear animal products just not eat them.

And finally we have the peak of all plant eaters (something the dinosaurs would be proud of) and that is the "Raw Foods Only" or Macrobiotic crowd that eschews eating only foods that have not been cooked. These folks seem like complete wackos to me. The only thing less appealing is licking the bottom of my lawnmower after a session in the backyard and washing it down with some pond water freshly dipped from my nieghbors koi fishery.

As for the lowly french fries, which for the pig and cow people are not vegetables for some reason, I thought McDonalds stopped using the beef tallow in their cooking oil ten years ago when the fries stopped tasting so good?

9:36 PM  
Blogger zp said...

Ah, my youthful good looks must have fooled you.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Nooblet said...

I eat meat but not pork. I had two teachers who liked to get attention by calling themselves "hardcore vegetarians" but we caught them both eating meat. It was really annoying.

11:55 PM  
Blogger juniper pearl said...

mcdonald's stopped cooking their fries in tallow a while back, but they did not stop flavoring them with beef extract. if you saw supersize me, you know that just about everything mcdonald's serves has a little bit of beef in it--even the chicken.

there weren't any olives on that, zp, it was just a branch. i have no idea what you wound up eating, but you might want to brush your teeth. hard.

2:23 AM  
Blogger zp said...

See, the thing is, I'm omnivorous. I eat whatever. I don't freak out when someone hands me something I've never eaten before. So you can tell me, what was on that branch?

Granted, this has led to violent digestive trouble more than once, but hell.

As for teachers, I was once in the car when one of my vegetarian high school teachers ate a Wendy's burger. She swore it was the first meat she'd had in years, but that's what they always say . . .

11:05 AM  
Blogger Caleb said...

Wow, this is a peacefull discussion on a popular blog. I am glad to see that no one is getting to crazy defending their own ideas.

If you look at veggies as people who are just trying to reduce suffering in the world (I know not all do this), then maybe you can see why they would refuse a dish at anyones house. Maybe you can understand why they would be picky about eating in or eating out.

We often surround ourselves with illusions of who think we are, and the power that we have. Our power to reduce suffering is very real and easily implemented. So please try to be understanding to veggies.

And when you run into a self-proclaimed veggie who is breaking one of the "rules". Think about yourself and your actions in pursuit of a noble cause, before judging them.

None of us are perfect, but that should not stop us from trying to make the world a better place. So if you see a veggie breaking the "rules", you should see that they are trying hard to uphold an idea in a culture in which they are a minority.

2:19 PM  
Blogger zp said...

Sincere thanks to Caleb for his thoughtful responses.

5:19 PM  
Blogger femme feral said...

"I make a point with these folks that are all vegetables all the time to bust them if they have any leather products on and comment that it is apprently OK to wear animal products just not eat them."

Really? I understand that hypocrisy can be frustrating, but . . .really?

To me, most of the the stuff listed as irksome vegetarian practices are simply in the category of annoying behavior. Being vegetarian doesn't make you annoying. Being annoying makes you annoying. So some annoying people are vegetarians. So what are you gonna do, give out demerits?

I get what you're saying and everything...and blogs are good for venting, but it's worth noting that not being informed about one's lifestyle and/or being insensitive to others isn't limited to a few veggies, and --in fact -- there are (forgive the cooking animals reference) bigger fish to fry.

10:54 PM  
Blogger zp said...

i think femme raises a great point. annoying people are annoying . . . no matter what they eat.

but really, this whole debate for me is (secretly) an attempt to ponder one mystery - why don't i have any vegetarian friends anymore? did i only meet annoying ones? did my perverse omnivorousness annoy them? but at my birthday, my 5 best friends and i were sitting at a big round table and someone said, lets get oysters and no one dissented. everyone was excited and we did. and i looked at them all and i knew i loved them.

and its not like we're stockbrokers or something - i went to a liberal liberal arts school and i'm in a left of left graduate program and no one, not one of my friends is an actual vegetarian of any stripe . . .

sometimes we actually discuss this, and there are various theories - maybe we're pleasure seekers of some kind, hedonists, less repressed, or sometimes it seems were more repressed, food is a fetish, or maybe its a question of eat what's in front of you . . . we don't all cook and our cooking skills come and go, but we all eat and no one could be described as anything but adventurous.

alright, enough about me. but maybe this puts into perspective my strange sense of alienation and wonder . . .

for food readers, I am a big MFK Fisher fan, but not all of my friends enjoy her prose . . .

1:15 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a gay friend about Gay Pride parades. I KNOW not all gay men wear buttless chaps and not all gay women wear leather pants and ride a Harley. I KNOW these people are a VERY small portion of the gay community. But they're the part we heteros see, because everyone else is normal enough we don't even notice, and most people don't even care what their preference is. I told my friend, "If I were you, I would be pissed that these people were representing me in any way."

I think the veg. community is much the same... just like any lifestyle. Most vegs don't make a big deal out of their food choices and you might never know they were vegs at all. It's those few that babber to whoever will listen about their vegetarianism out of an "I'm better than you" attitude that make the rest of them look bad.

I shun those people who make life choices, or especially declare their life choices based on the social status they think they're reaching because of it. Not everyone can be fully informed, but I think if you really feel strongly about veg, like anything else, you'll make sure you're educated about it.

1:19 PM  
Blogger zp said...

i was on the verge of censoring the latest comment, since i found so much of it personally offensive. but rather than click the little 'garbage' button, i'm going to try and let the comment stand and try to address some key issues Heather raises.

being gay and being veg are incomparable. no one's family disowns them for being vegetarian. no one loses a job because they are vegetarian. no one gets beat up in the street because they are vegetarian. vegetarians are not denied the right to be with family and loved ones in times of death and tragedy. even in the most conservative cultures, vegetarians are given the right to love and have children.

but most of all, people choose to be vegetarian and, in the case of many of our commenters here, do so to express political beliefs. but the beliefs produce the vegetarian practices . . . in the same way that other beliefs produce omnivorous practices.

political beliefs do not produce gay and lesbian sexualities. being gay is the exact obverse, in many ways. being gay in a conservative culture means that one is forced to to develop political beliefs in order to DEFEND one's political and civic rights, one's right to privacy, to family, to a life free from violence . . . the list of basic human rights goes on.

but really, that's just the beginning of what is so disturbing about this comment . . .

a small point - the reason "vegetarian" is in quotes in my post title is because there is no way these vegetarians can represent a group, nor is there any way in which i can represent what meat-eaters know or think of individual vegetarians or vegetarians as a group. it was a post that chronicled, and called attention to, my subjective experiences and tried to move beyond them . . .

so again, I'm troubled by Heather's analogy. while its great to say that all gay men and lesbian women cannot be represented by stereotypes, i hope she's not speaking for, or trying to represent, "heteros" - how would she know who has seen what or what conclusions they might draw?? if they all drew the same conclusions as her, we'd be in a lot more trouble.

and finally, if, having been excluded, ignored, repressed and violently abused by straight communities i then critique their traditional constructions of gender by wearing butless chaps, well, that seems like a fairly "normal" response to me.

ok, i'm a little incoherant and that's just the tip of the iceberg. so, anyone else who wants to respectfully pursue this discussion, i pass the baton. and if you think i should have just censored Heather's comment, let me know that too, since I think the kind of assumptions she makes about normal are very intimidating . . .

2:33 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

I agree with commenter femme feral and other above, that the problem is not with vegetarians per se, but annoying people. Every subset of people has an annoying fraction. And every group has a subset that is not approved of by others within the group.

Personally, I am not an evangelical 100% vegetarian. I try to avoid eating dead animals and their direct by products, but if a restaurant uses a little bit of chicken stock in a pasta sauce, it's not the end of the world for me. And my rules relax a bit when I travel outside of the U.S. The way I look at it is that 95% vegetarian is a lot better than 0% or 40%, and that the extra 5% is too much trouble to obtain. Just think of the positive impacts if every America ate 80 or 90% less meat than they do now: some factory farms could be converted to free range operations or smaller scale family operations, cattle could be raised in grass pastures instead of massive feedlots, etc. A number of vegetarians would still complain, but the overall benefits could be huge.

As for clinging to fake meat "American" foods instead of exploring the rest of the world's vegetarian cuisine (including the fake meats of Chinese Buddhist cooking), I can't understand that at all. One of the positive by products of my vegetarianism is that it encourages me to learn about the food of India, or Malaysia, or how good vegetables can taste instead of just grabbing another roasted chicken and a salad. But some people just don't like to experiment with new foods.

A long time ago Vegetarian Times magazine had a story about shoe manufacturing. Production of synthetic shoes is not benign. Petrochemical extraction and refining have tremendous negative impacts on our earth. Manufacturing plastics and the shoes themselves also have negative impacts. These impacts include the direct and indirect killing of many wild animals. How many songbirds equals one cow? How many wild fish equals one sheep? The article's recommendation was to buy fewer shoes, and make those that you own last as long as possible. Tread lightly, so to speak...

3:33 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

It never ceases to amaze me that no matter what someone says, someone else can find fault in it, feeling personally insulted. So, I apologize if anyone was offended. My analogy was solely about the few representing the many. I do not think being gay is the same as being vegetarian any more than I think having a pet prepares you for parenthood. Two totally different things there, just with a couple comparable traits, and that's what I was getting at. I could have used animal rights activists or evangelical Christians or any number of other lifestyles, backgrounds, whatever. There are a zillion groups, categories, lifestyles, etc. that people form opinions of based on the representation of the few. I chose that one because I had a personal connection to it. And I use the term "normal" very loosely as well, as I don't cling to the social "rules" very well myself.

Either way, the point I was trying to make about vegs: I am personally bothered by someone who professes their lifestyle as the best choice, downplaying others for not doing the same, when they themselves are uneducated or otherwise hypocrites about the very thing they're supposed to be better for. If I became a vegetarian tomorrow, I would expect others to respect that and take me seriously, and I think many vegs have such hypocritical behavior that others just don't know how seriously to take vegetarianism at all.

1:58 AM  
Blogger ReMARKable Palate said...

I think that the problem with Heather's analogy about gay people, or about any subset representing the whole group, is that it's an erroneous one entirely. Those kinky boys in the buttless chaps and the Dykes on Bikes are not "representing" the gay community, or any community for that matter. They are BEING who they are.

In the same way, the annoying vegetarians are not representing all other vegetarians (even if they claim to be). They are being their own annoying, hypocritical selves. We are all individuals, and shouldn't be lumped into a collective, whether they do it themselves or not.

Speaking of annoying vegetarians, when I first read this post, I couldn't help but think of a client of mine (I'm a personal chef) who is a "vegetarian" and has the absolute worst eating practices. Even after cooking for this guy for nearly 2 years, he didn't expand his horizons into healthy proteins and dishes that come from other parts of the world. I made dinners for him, but the breakfasts he insisted on making for himself were Morningstar farms "Vegetarian" sausage links, and lunches were frequently "Boca Burgers" topped with vegan cheese, or as I call it, solid oil. If all the vegetarian food you eat is designed to look, smell and taste like meat, what's the point? This guy also has the worst indigestion problems that I'm sure are related to the horrible "healthy" food he eats. If he were just to eat regular healthy foods, a wide variety of vegetables, good soluble fiber, a variety of plant based proteins, he would be healthier.

But people always have the right to their own choices. He doesn't represent any other vegetarians, he is just being the annoying burping fake burger eating person he is. Thank God he's no longer a client of mine.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

All I know is being a veggie or going veggie, no matter what kind, is not easy. If people who do so are annoying, then it is proably because they are not getting enough of the right stuff in their diet and are thus cranky. Doing the balanced-clean diet thing in the U.S. is getting more difficult everyday. But then 'burger and fries people' don't really care about that, do they?

8:50 PM  
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8:27 PM  
Anonymous Tracy said...

Hello, thank you for writing a blog about vegetarianism. I was given a subscription to vegetarian times, and every time it comes in the mail I almost instantly want to throw it out. I let the better get to me, and I read it to read article after article promoting nothing but eggs, dairy products, especially healthy yogurts and milk. The lie that these foods are healthy is totally obscene. And, any informed vegan knows that there is no such thing as 'organic milk, or organic cheese.' How could there be when the practise of using the cow's by product is totally unnatural. Feeding female cows numerous hormones, and seperate the young male cows to be sold for veal. Any claims that are 'organic,' can be quickly disproven down to the fact that, 'organic,' is a lose definition to these individuals. What is an organic chicken? But another product for someone to say that they are making 'the better decision.' Yes, life is about making choices, but the healthier choices are the ones that eschew all animal products entirely. I told my mother about how undigested animal proteins will remain undigested for years, if the colon is forced to digest more than normal amounts of meat. (ie a person that consumes more than regular amount of meat and animal by products - and any amount is irregualar - all of it will be forced to come through one exit point!) I live in a rural county now, and there are really big people everywhere. I know that their huge stomaches are stretched out with undigested material. That is what makes people fat! That is what happens when you eat fat directly! I can't imagine how people would chose that over veganism! But they do and it's disgusting, AND there are fast food restaurants everywhere. I wish I had the funding to open a radical vegan restaurant, but the county residents have already chosen their restaurants of choice. On the last page of Vegetarian Times this month it recommends several fast food restaurants for 'what to grab and go.' Sounds absolutely awful, and totally encouraging of of a bad life style. Unfortunately, my mom never learned to cook and I did eat many fast food meals growing up. But I grew up and learned to make a better choice. My mom still buys fast food reguraly (2 - 3 times a week). Imagine what sort of habits are encouraged, total hedonism in regards to healthy eating, and because of this, people never learn to cook their own meals! They never realize that eating vegan is the best thing that they can do, and the most sure way to lose unnecessary weight. I can't believe that this rediculous magazine claims it is promoting good health. When it tells its readers to buy 'the recycleable organic yogurt container,' (instead of none at all) or to actually buy fast food. Because, the magazine is 'vegetarian,' lacto-ovo-vegetarian, meaning that the majority of the recipes call for multiple eggs, buttermilk, heavy cream, milk, butter, yogurt, it is easy to notice that the reader's shopping lists are designed and supported by such a magazine. The grocery stores and the food industries that sell these unhealthful products promote them tirelessly as if they are God's gift to humans. If everyone grew their own garden and ate the vegan way, they would see first hand that good health really can be experienced by all. And that it was'nt just about filling up a grocery cart with the 'right' items.

We have some pictures online of our rural adventures:
tim_and_tracy.livejournal.com

Thanks again! Tracy

2:59 PM  
Blogger zp said...

hmmm . . . i like the part where you say, "what is an organic chicken?"

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Kier said...

So I've got a couple of responses to that, Tracy. First, I'd like to say that I am neither vegetarian nor vegan, I eat fish, chicken, pork, beef and tofu and I enjoy them all. I also respect the right of others to different opinions and different preferences. My boyfriend's best friend is vegetarian, and out of respect for her, when I go to her house I avoid wearing as much leather/animal product (yes, I own fur) as I can (shoes aside, I truthfully don't pay much attention to what my shoes are made of), and if she asks me where I got my shoes, I'll go try and find similar synthetic ones for her.
Now that I've established that I do not hate vegetarians (or vegans):
There is nothing medically wrong with eating animal products. First: if you look at the structure of animal teeth - herbivores have mouths full of large flat teeth for grinding up greens. Look at horses or cows. Carnivores have fang like teeth (they're all pointy) for tearing into meat. Gorillas are primarily herbivores, but also eat large insects. Our teeth are a mash-up of the two. We have sharp canines and large flat teeth called molars. We do not have the kind of stomach acid that allows us to digest large quantities of unchewed meat like, say, tigers do, because we can chew, which makes food easier to digest.
Second: Should you choose not to eat animal by-products, that's a choice you make and that's fine. Dairy products and eggs come from chickens and cows. Yes, there are hormones in the milk. No, I don't think it's a good thing. Though to be honest, I spent a large amount of time driving through the rural midwest and not once did I see cows locked up in little stalls. I saw lots of cows roaming around in gigantic fields. But that's another topic. Organic milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, eggs etc.etc.etc. are made without the hormones and other crap. That's part of why they cost so damn much. No, I don't believe that everything that says 'organic' is actually organic, but I do think there are some honest people out there producing honest to god 'organic' products. That is: no hormones, synthetic pesticides, or additives.
As far as organic chicken vs. free-range chicken: there are some that are both. I don't have a preference one way or the other, honestly, it all tastes like chicken to me. Free-range chicken is typically organic, but I don't really spend time researching the foods I eat.
Vegetables are a good thing. I like them raw, cooked, in stew, plain, all kinds of ways.
My point is: I don't think you're a bad person for being vegetarian and choosing to eat what you want and what you like. Eating meat does not make me a bad human, just like eating meat does not make a tiger bad. Yes, we have the ability to choose what we eat, but that just gives us more options, no?
Also. When vegetarians go out to eat, they are perfectly entitled to make sure that there are no meat products in what they're eating - they're paying for it. For the person who said that a vegetarian refusing food is like someone with an allergy - they'd have to be just as picky, the only kind of people I can think of that have to be just as picky as vegetarians are people with Celiac's disease (inability to digest wheat gluten). If somebody's allergic to peanuts, you take the peanuts out of the recipe and make the meal anyway. If somebody refuses meat and you're making a pot roast, well, you're up a shit creek without a paddle. I think the big problem is that *everyone* feels a little too entitled. If I go to a vegetarian's house, I don't expect to be served meat just because I have different preferences, though several of my vegetarian friends cook meat when they're throwing large dinner parties for a mixed crowd. Similarly, when I have my vegetarian friends over to my house for dinner, I make sure to have plenty of food that they can eat. It's called mutual respect. Just because you don't eat yogurt doesn't mean the people who choose to are evil or even wrong. It's a matter of opinion.

10:35 AM  
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