Saturday, May 3, 2008

Vegans, vegetarians, and the rest

I'm not vegan. I think I would like to be, but I haven't made the leap yet. However, I believe that nearly every meal I have posted to this blog has been vegan or very nearly so... It's hard to say for sure because I know some already-prepared foods, like the beer in the beer bread, could potentially be non-vegan. Everything had been good, and some things, like tonight's dinner, I thought were really excellent. Full of flavor and texture, and quite satisfying. 

Most of the time when I eat out, I go to places that I know can provide a similar experience. There are not many choices within walking distance of my office, but I know that I can get an enjoyable meal at any of the indian, japanese, and thai restaurants (relatively) nearby. Yes, I realize that thai food which claims to be vegetarian often still contains fish sauce, but to me that is not that big of a deal, as I will occasionally eat fish with no issue.

You see, I discovered several years ago that eating meat was making me sick. I've had indigestion and/or other stomach problems for as long as I could remember. One day, I decided I was going to learn to cook for myself, and as I was aware of the (perhaps exaggerated, I don't know) dangers of cross-contamination, I decided to forego the meat until I had developed some skills. A week later, at my next opportunity to eat meat, it dawned on me that I had felt so much healthier since several meatless meals had gone by. It was an epiphany. I've never gone back.

...intentionally, that is, because it turns out that meat is really hard to avoid. A large part of the population assumes that if you don't eat meat, you're a messed up freak. I can deal with that, I guess. The problem is that there's another large part of the population, possibly the largest, who is so unaware of the issue that it perhaps doesn't occur to them that chicken broth, for example, is not vegetarian. There's no "meat" in it, so it's OK, right? The problem for me is that I get sick if I eat such things. Because of this I am considering just telling people that I am allergic to animals and will get sick of I eat any part of them. This is sort of almost true, so I guess I can live with it, except I am tired of being the annoying picky eater everywhere I go. So for the most part I eat at places I know I can trust, and do my best not to be too much of a pain when I go elsewhere, unless I feel like I have no safe option unless I raise a stink about it. 

The flip slide is that occasionally I encounter well-intentioned vegetarian dishes which were clearly designed by people who would never, ever consider eating a meal without meat unless they had to suffer through the creation of such a recipe. I think the big fallacy of the meat-eater's mind is that vegetables have no flavor, and so veggie meals prepared by non-veggies often seem to me to still contain more animal products than vegetables. Cheese, mayo, butter, and anything else that is rich and not-quite-meat. 

I guess I've found that over my five meatless years, my need and desire for such rich food has seriously waned. I am still capable of packing in a lot of rich, heavy food at an indian buffet, I admit it, but for most meals, I get by just fine with something lighter. I have come to enjoy the flavors you find in spices, fresh herbs, organic and heirloom produce FAR more than the surprisingly-small-when-you-think-about-it variety you find in meats and cheeses. I think your average meat-centric food preparer would do well to look into these options, too. It would likely improve their own cuisine, as well as enable them to come up with something a little more creative for the rest of us than pasta alfredo with a white lettuce side salad. 

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