I am a vegetarian.  I have been so for many years, since about 9th or 10th grade.  I stopped eating red meat in 8th grade, and easily tapered back on my fleshly intake, until I am became an ovo-lacto vegetarian.

I’m sure you, my literate blogdience, understand what it means to be a vegetarian.  It really shouldn’t be so hard.  I’m not talking about the finer points like gelatin, rennet, or honey.  I’m not debating ovo-lacto versus vegan versus raw foods and macrobiotic.  I’m not talking about 5th level vegans who don’t eat anything that casts a shadow.  I’m not even discussing vegetarian shoes and responsible resourced materials. 

I just mean the whole I-don’t-eat-meat thing.  It seems remarkably hard for people to understand.

“But you eat chicken and fish, right?”

In my book, animal = meat.  Chicken flesh = meat.  If you eat animal, animal died.  You eat it.  It is meat.  It sure didn’t grow out of the ground.  I’m not trying to get ethical, just definitional.  I think something has watered down the meaning of meat as people have shifted away from “red meat” into “alternative” meats.  They think they’re healthier for choosing chicken or fish.  Pork did that whole “other white meat” campaign to convince you it was healthy.  Yes, but still…the other white meat.  Carving up your turkey, you are offered white meat or dark meat, n’est-ce pas?  If it’s meat, I don’t eat.  Got it?  If it has eyes, it’s meat. 

“But what do you eat? Salad?”

It’s amazing to me how many foods can be vegetarianized simply by leaving out the meat.  Salad, for example.  Sadly, it’s getting hard to look at a menu and order a salad as is.  I often have to say “without the chicken/steak/beef tongue”.  Again, marketing has struck.  What’s a salad withouth triple meat?  You have to feel like you’re paying $7 for more than a few leaves of lettuce.  Break out of the lunchmeat rut, folks.  Pasta, soups, casseroles, lasagna, quiche, veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, eggs, dips, veggies.  And international cuisine is a haven for veggies, since in other cultures, meat, being very expensive, is reserved for special occasions.  Burritos, curries, pad thai, Chinese, sushi (yes, even sushi), rice-based dishes, sweet potatoes, frittatas, falafel, and more.  I’m not starving.  I’m really okay.

“But how do you get enough protein?”

This is usually followed up by cliché discussions about how I must consume huge quantities of eggs, nuts, peanut butter, and beans.  In reality, I bet the majority of meat-eating America is consuming too much protein.  Our “3 servings” of meat or meat alternatives are only supposed to amount to about 9 oz of protein per day.  Double quarter pounder?  And all this assumes protein is only found in so-called “meat alternatives”.  

Out of curiosity last night, I looked at our box of pasta we had for dinner.  7 g of protein (about 1 serving, thank you) in each serving of pasta.  Then we put some lovely Edam cheese on top, and served it with pasta sauce with fresh veggies.  Cheese?  Veggies?  Oh, yeah, they’re also a good source of protein.  My only issue with protein is other people’s insistence I’m not getting enough.

“Do you eat [gasp] tofu?”

Among other things, yes.  I do eat tofu.  Followed up by, “What does it taste like?” Well, nothing and everything.  Whatever you put it in, much like, I suppose, meat. 

Who really savors the flavor of unseasoned chicken?  Of steak withou the A1?  Of a burger without the fixins?  Meat’s main selling point is all those delicious flavors that have, by and large, been added.  This is how I can enjoy consuming such delicacies as “Philly Cheese Steak Potato Chips” (sadly no longer made) and “Buffalo Chicken pretzel bites” (Snyders makes these — awesome), and many convincing veggie substitutes for The Real Thing.  We’re talking meat balls, tacos, hot dogs, hamburgers, cheese steaks, “steak”/”chicken” quesadillas, and General Tso’s mock chicken.  Many of these we make at home using a crumbled garden burger (which is really veggies, not so much on the soy end of the spectrum).  The flavoring in a taco is mostly the seasoning, folks. 

“But how does your husband cope?” or “What does he eat?!”

Umm, whatever we make for dinner.  I’m not the Susie Q. Homemaker here, providing whatever roots and bark I fancied to cook up.  We shop together, we cook together.  If he wants a burger, he makes a burger.  If he wants shrimp lo mein, he orders shrimp lo mein.  I used to think it would be hard to have a partner who would be disappointed if I couldn’t or wouldn’t cook meat for him.  Thanks to Mr. Apron, and his mother, I have learned 3 ways to make chicken, which I do for him on special occasions.  The other times, he makes it himself. 

Far more frequently, though, we share a meat-free meal.  And he does not want for flesh.  He actually has said, “Thanks to you [that’s me!] I’m going to live longer.”  Thanks to me, he now enjoys his favorite kind of veggie burger, and has expanded his love of vegetables and fruits.  I never force a thing on him, and he doesn’t feel deprived. 

A single friend of mine is a vegan, and she is still ardently looking for a vegan husband (or one who would go vegan for her, she says).  If she finds one ready-made, good for her.  But would you really want to have forced someone onto your team, forced them into a lifestyle they may not agree with, just to satisfy you and make your pantry a little easier to stock?  Would you really want to base your partnership on one piece of compatibility?  That sounds more like looking for a roommate.

When Mr. Apron wants meat, he makes turkey burgers, or bakes chicken, or orders take-out.  He gets enough meat, and I’d say he gets more. 

“Do you eat eggs and dairy products?

Finally, an intelligent question I am happy to answer.  Yes I do.  I am not a vegan.  I do enjoy those products very much.  To me, vegetarianism is a diet choice, one that does not have to impact every aspect of my lifestyle.  I can go to most restaurants and find something to eat.  I have eaten well at the Capital Grill in Boston and at a seafood shack in the Midcoast of Maine.  I survived rural Spain and southern France.  I was inundated by the choices I faced on menus on the island of Bali.  From England to New York City to small town America, I do okay, though we do occasionally make the joke that, if Mr. Apron wants to have seafood at The Shore, that I’ll only be able to eat the tablecloth.

Veganism seems more like a lifestyle choice than simply a diet.  What car are you buying?  It had better not have a leather-wrapped steering wheel.  What shoes are you wearing to the wedding?  They’d better be synthetic.  I want to bake her cookies for her birthday, but I can’t use eggs or butter.  Guess how dense they turned out?  And don’t even get me started on checking labels.  If it says “whey” it’s out.  If it says “lecithin” it’s out, because it could be dairy or soy.  If it says “casein” it’s out.  You’ve even got to check your calcium supplement source to make sure it wasn’t milk-derived.  One visit we ended up at a deli, and all my friend found to eat was a bagel with jelly. 

That doesn’t seem like the joyful experience we want to have when we sit down to eat with friends.  I want ask her, “What do you eat?”