Your resident vegetarian says: 'Meat lovers can stuff it'

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I’m a food person.

Not a “foodie,” which is an annoying, little word that could die any time.

I’m not a professional, by any stretch. I just like food. I like buying it, cooking it, presenting it, and, (der) eating it.

But I don’t eat meat. I think a lot of people would say that means I can’t really participate in this whole food movement thing going on right now.

Well, they can stuff it.

And by “it,” I mean an eggplant.

I’ve been a vegetarian nearly my whole life. My veg head origin story goes something like this: When I was 10 years old, I caught a small pickerel fish in the lake near my house. This came after years of catching and releasing the same 10 sunfish (some even had little holes in their cheeks from my hook, but they always came back for more), so I was completely blown away that I’d finally caught something edible.

I carried the poor thing home in a 10-gallon bucket half full of water. By the time I dragged the bucket up to the house, the long, skinny fish was probably near out of oxygen. He could barely turn around in the bucket.

I proceeded to run around the house announcing my success to anyone who would listen, and telling my mother that I’d be the one making dinner tonight. I was so proud of myself!

Then my father, in typical Maine father style, vividly described the way we would chop off the fish’s head, yank out its guts and then spend the meal picking out the tiny bit of flesh between its bony ribs.

I nearly threw up.

See, I was the kid who saved her allowance to donate to the World Wildlife Foundation (and had many a fight with a fellow student who argued WWF stood for World Wrestling Federation). I had posters of animals and rainforests around my room, memorized the scientific names of interesting animals, collected and released handfuls of frogs and salamanders daily, and wanted to be a zoologist. Yet, for some reason I’d never connected the meat on my plate with the animals it came from.

At least not until that moment, staring into the yellow bucket, my pathetic, little catch staring right back up at me.

I didn’t have the heart. Or maybe I had too much heart.

Either way, I hauled the bucket down to the stream near the house and dumped him in.

I’ve not eaten a bite of meat since then. At least, I’ve tried not to. I know for a fact, over the years, I’ve accidentally eaten one thing or another. For instance, I learned this year that my second favorite Easter snack (next only to Cadbury Eggs), Peeps, aren’t vegetarian. Red food coloring is often made of ground up beetles. Soups almost always have some kind of meat stock. Thai restaurants sneak fish sauce into everything and almost always call it vegetarian, even if you ask.

So I don’t get bent out of shape about these things. Because, really, in the scheme of things, it’s not the end of the world. But I do try very hard to make sure I keep the animals out of my diet.

And yes, (despite the mockery I frequently endure for admitting it) I really do like tofu.

What I’ve found about being a vegetarian nearly my whole life is that I was actually a foodie (cringe) before that term was even invented. I was thinking about what I was eating before it was cool. I knew McDonald’s put beef tallow in their fries long before Supersize Me! came out and it was cool to hate on fast food (which I’ve hated nearly my whole life).

Being a vegetarian forced me to try things I wouldn’t have otherwise tried, like crazy veggies (I LOVE purple potatoes!) and creative sources of proteins (seitan rocks!). And it’s forced me to become a cook.

My husband, who is a meat eater himself, freely admits that when I cook he doesn’t miss the meat.

That’s because it just doesn’t have to be there. There are so many great foods out there that get overshadowed because of the proteins they’re served with.

You really appreciate the talent it takes to make good sushi rice when you’re eating it without the fish.

You understand the importance of roasting veggies before adding them to a soup if you use vegetable stock instead of chicken.

Tofu will absorb amazing flavors if you let it. Much more so than meats, because it’s so much more porous. (Try a soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, garlic powder, ginger, chili pepper, scallion and honey marinade…SO good!)

But I don’t proselytize. Deciding what you eat is profoundly personal and I would never try to convince anyone (who wasn’t already considering it) to become a vegetarian. It’s simply none of my business.

But I might try to convince you to respect your vegetables. Because they pretty much rock — if you let them.

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