Today’s FYI: Why I’m (sorta but not entirely) a vegetarian

I saw a nifty post on a parenting blog called The Blurred Line this morning, on the topic of why vegetarians are so often an unlikeable bunch of pompous assholes. I have to agree with the fact that many are, despite the fact that I’m (sorta, but not entirely) a vegetarian myself. So I decided to re-post something I’d written on the subject, which comes from another blog I had in a previous life (forgive me if you’re a friend/reader who’s seen this already, but it’s Friday and I’m feeling lazy today). It goes a little somethin’ like this…

The definition of “vegetarian” confuses many people, so I’ll break it down simple like for ya. First, there are vegans, who are the hardcore mofos of the vegetarian world: no dairy, no eggs, and no animal by-products of any kind, which means they must hunt down items like marshmallows and cosmetics and clothing that do not, in any way, use animal sources of any kind in their manufacture. I am simply not disciplined enough for this lifestyle. And I like cheese waaay too much, so veganism was never an option for me.

There are several less-stringent varieties of vegetarians as well. There are vegetarians who eat eggs, but no dairy; vegetarians who eat dairy, but no eggs; raw food vegetarians; and, for all I know, there is a type of vegetarian who eats only fruits and vegetables that begin with the letter P.

And then there’s my type of diet, which, for lack of a better term, I call the sorta-but-not-really-entirely vegetarian diet. I do not eat meat except for fish. I have not given up fish, because I like it too much and because I live in Florida and would probably be miserable without partaking of at least some of the local fish and shellfish around here. I do eat it rather infrequently, and I do look out for seafood sources that are as ocean-friendly as possible. It’s not perfect, as far as veggie lifestyles go, but it works for me.

It’s tough to have the diet I have, because I often have to defend my choices to both meat-eaters and more purist vegetarian types. I am a “tofu-eating hippie flake” to the former camp, and I am on morally indefensible ground according to the latter camp, who believe that you can’t be “sort of vegetarian”, just as you can’t be “sort of pregnant”. So, I find myself ending many food-related conversations by telling someone to just fuck off.

I do, in fact, agree with those who are full-on vegetarians and tell me I am not one of them. I understand the fact that either you are or you ain’t, and if you eat living creatures like fish, then you ain’t. I am not perfect, and neither is my diet or my lifestyle in general. I don’t claim to be 100% eco-friendly with everything I do, buy or consume. I try to be aware, and I do try to make the best choices I can make. I know, however, that most vegetarians tend to disapprove of how lax my standards are compared to theirs. And that really pisses me off.

I can understand why so many meat-eaters have a negative view of vegetarians. I have to be totally honest here, folks. Vegetarians can be really, really annoying. For many who decide to go meat-free, it is a moral decision. And, like any lifestyle based on a specific and strictly-defined moral code, it sometimes causes those who choose to follow it to get pious and judgmental when they are around others who don’t share their views.

It makes perfect sense to me that people who go veggie out of a desire to prevent animal cruelty would be so passionate in their views. it is a very admirable thing to look out for the creatures of the earth, and to learn how to adjust one’s eating habits to support that cause. I think this world and it’s inhabitants would be in better shape if everybody gave up meat. I don’t think I can make that decision for anyone else, though, and I don’t act militantly about it, because I think zealotry tends to scare people away rather than win them over.

I have had many a conversation with vegetarians who got on my case for not being 100% veggie. I understand and respect them, I really do, but I think it’s up to me to decide what I do or don’t eat. If I say I can live with eating the occasional piece of mahi mahi, then that’s my business. And there are also those rare moments in life when I yield my regular diet for the sake of experience. When my husband and I traveled in Europe, for example, I did eat some dishes with meat in them. If you think I was gonna ask the waiter in that trattoria in Florence to pick the meat out of my homemade sauce, you must be smoking crack.

At the end of the day, my motivation for eating as I do is a combination of moral and health-related issues. I think there are many alternate sources for the nutrients I need, and I see no reason to eat meat when I can readily find and obtain those alternatives. It helps a lot that there are so many products now available for people who don’t eat meat (I highly recommend almost everything from Gardein, a line that is widely available in supermarkets). It’s also lucky that I have found a decent arsenal of veggie-friendly recipes that really taste delicious. I am Italian, and I’d kill myself if I didn’t enjoy the food I eat. Trust me, I am not able to subsist on tofu burgers. I can tell you honestly, when I make veggie Shepherd’s Pie or Sloppy Joes, or seitan Stroganoff, my husband and my kid are both on it like locusts. And if those two carnivores can enjoy what I cook, it can’t be that bad.

I’m gonna leave a recipe here for those of you who are brave and/or open-minded enough to give meatless cooking a try. It’s one that has been universally enjoyed by everyone who’s had it, and I do mean everyone – from my husband to my parents, friends and brother-in-law, who is a grilling fanatic and has a weekly meat intake that rivals that of a T. rex. It uses seitan, a product that is available in Whole Foods stores and many regular supermarkets. If you do try it, I think you’ll be surprised at how tasty it is.

SEITAN “CHEESESTEAK” SANDWICHES

1-1/2 cups thin sliced onion
1-1/2 cups thin green bell pepper strips
2 packages seitan strips
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Greek seasoning
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
Additional garlic powder, Greek seasoning and black pepper (to sprinkle over seitan)
Sliced Provolone cheese (or non-dairy equivalent, if you’re a hardcore vegan mofo)
Hoagie rolls

Drain seitan. If it is not sliced well, slice into strips. Place seitan on a paper plate and sprinkle with garlic powder, Greek seasoning, and black papper to taste. Allow seitan to sit in spices while doing the next step.

Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat with cooking spray. Add onion and pepper. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are crisp-tender (about 6 minutes).

Add seitan, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, Greek seasoning, garlic powder and black pepper to skillet, stirring well. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 4 minutes or until veggies are tender and seitan is heated through. Remove skillet from heat.

Preheat broiler. Split hoagie rolls lengthwise and place on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Fill rolls with seitan mixture. Top with sliced Provolone cheese. Broil 1 minute or until cheese melts. Serve immediately.

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