I’m a vegetarian, and that’s one of the least interesting things about me. (Or so I hope.) Still, whenever I’m at a party, out to dinner with someone new, or even trying to pass a particularly aggressive grocery store employee handing out samples, the questions come. You’re a vegetarian? Why? How long have you been one? Do you eat seafood? Cheese? How do you get protein? How can you live without bacon? Are you going to throw paint on me for wearing a leather jacket?
Look, I’m not telling you what to do — I just don’t want to try the pork sliders or split the calamari appetizer or sample the bacon caramel corn. I’m not interested in meat. That doesn’t mean you can’t order the porterhouse. I don’t mind one bit.
A 2009 survey found that 3% of Americans never eat meat, poultry, or fish/seafood. Many more worldwide follow fully or partial vegetarian diets for reasons that include religious beliefs, cost, and availability. Others forgo meat for environmental or health reasons. That’s fine for them.
I became a vegetarian when I was a sophomore in high school. I can’t recall my exact reasons at the time, but I think it was a mixture of my ambivalence about eating meat, a desire to live a healthier life, and the satisfaction of knowing that it would piss off my family. (As teenage rebellion goes, my parents should have been relieved.)
I did my research to make sure I was getting enough protein to support the development of my still-growing body, and to ensure that I had sufficient energy to make it through my rigorous day of school and sports schedules. Egg whites, beans, and tofu became my protein sources of choice, and I made sure to eat a variety of foods to maintain my weight and avoid becoming a “cheese and carb” vegetarian.
I’m not a hardcore vegetarian. I have a weakness for great leather boots and handbags. I eat eggs and dairy, but I don’t eat seafood. Do some of my choice seem contradictory? Probably. I’m not trying to take a political stance here, I’m just living the way I choose.
Becoming a vegetarian was my decision and I stand behind it. While I realize that no one is responsible for my diet, it’s hard not to take it personally when friends who know that I don’t eat meat invite me over and there’s only one dish that I can eat. As a vegetarian, it makes me feel so out of place, yet I always insist that “no problem, just the salad is fine,” because I worry about making the host feel badly.
So, if you’re inviting someone you know is a vegetarian over for dinner, please have more meatless options than a wilted plate of Romaine lettuce. Otherwise there’s no way we’re bringing dessert again. Or, if it’s a situation where you know the menu is going to be meat heavy, just give us a heads up — we’ll either eat something beforehand or bring along some food for ourselves. Believe me, as a vegetarian it’s better than walking into a situation where we’re starving and staring down an evening of sprouts and too much wine — a meal that (oww) we’ll certainly regret the next day.
If you’re dining with one of my people (you didn’t know about our secret society?), lay off the interrogation and the indignant cries of “I could never live without beef!” I appreciate that people are thoughtful enough to ask me if a restaurant choice has enough meatless selections or if I mind that they’re ordering the carnivore’s dream entree. Still, when I’m constantly questioned, it puts me on the defensive and makes me uncomfortable. In other words, people, sometimes you really kill my appetite.