“Oh, the beefless Tips are back in stock. I love those!”
The cashier at Fred Meyer seemed inordinately chatty, but I had sufficient coffee so I didn’t mind. I replied,
“Yeah, I’m fortunate because I’m making stew tonight and really needed them.”
“I’m vegetarian, so I really like these. Are you a vegetarian as well?”
“Yes, I’ve been a vegetarian for… a few decades now.”
I am pretty sure I have been a vegetarian longer than the cashier has been on this earth. It started back in 1988 when I was in the Army. during field training exercises the way pork was prepared was absolutely disgusting. As a result I gave up pork. That included ham, which I will get to in a moment.
A few self-reflections later and I wound up giving up pretty much all meats over the course of the next year so that by the time I was discharged in the summer of 1989 the only thing I at was fish, and only then it was the occasional fish & chips, but that ended by 1990.
While I wasn’t raised vegetarian, apparently my mother was for most of my life. I don’t really remember separate dinners, but I guess there were. When I decided to become vegetarian there were a few meatless products, such as Morningstar Farms brand Grillers burger patty. Then there was TVP (textured vegetable protein) which could be molded into various other items, such as “meat”balls – though the effectiveness was lackluster (at best).
When veggie crumbles were introduced I was thrilled. Morningstar Farms found out that many of their customers (like me) would take the Grillers and crumble them up to use in other recipes. The company would go on to introduce a number of products in the mid- to late-90s which would expand my options for cooking, along with other brands which started to come to market. What I distinctly remember was in 1991 there were Grillers, tofu (and it is surprising the breadth and variety of tofu available now), TVP and posibbly tempeh.
And I didn’t really know how to cook with those ingredients, teaching myself to cook and learning to be a vegetarian at the same time.
I remember when I got out of the Army in 1989, I was living with my best friend from high school and his girlfriend.She made dinner one night, knowing that I was a vegetarian. It was stir-fried rice with vegetables and ham. I started picking out the small pieces of ham and she got so mad. I told her that I stopped eating pork first over (at that time) a year ago and was becoming vegetarian. I reminded her that she knew this and her response was the pieces of ham were small so it didn’t matter. Or if it did, why should she bother to make separate meals. I continued to pick the ham out and she got angrier and angrier eventually leaving the table. I appreciated her cooking dinner, but that wasn’t enough. She wanted me to eat what she cooked, a meal she knew I was not going to eat as intended. I wasn’t mad, I just didn’t want to eat the ham. She was so offended I wasn’t going to eat the meal she prepared, despite knowing I was a vegetarian. Her justification was the pieces of ham were small and therefore inconsequential so I should just eat it. I remember this evening because it was when I fully resolved to be a vegetarian despite whatever opposition and obstacles I would inevitably encounter.
Once when Laura and I were travelling (just the two of us, before kids) and we were spending the night somewhere in Wyoming. Cody, I think. The trick to travelling when you are a vegetarian, at least it used to be this way much more than it is today, is ethnic food was the choice. Chinese food is good, but the middle of Wyoming can be a bit suspect. A Mexican restaurant is also usually a good choice. We went to a Mexican restaurant and on the menu there were sections for beef, chicken or pork with a variety of dishes under each variety of meat. Then there were sections for the types of food. Tacos, burritos, etc. Under the burrito heading, there was beef, chicken, pork, or bean & cheese. I ordered the bean and cheese burrito. The waitress asked me “Do you want that with beef, chicken or pork?” I replied that I wanted the bean and cheese burrito, as it was on the menu. She looked at me confused, completely unsure of what I was ordering. As if the concept of vegetarianism was so completely alien to her.
Why didn’t my mother raise me vegetarian? I don’t know and I’m not going to worry about it. What I find interesting is when people find out I am a vegetarian they ask me if I am raising my kids vegetarian as well.
Yes, of course I am. Why wouldn’t I?
I mean, when you find out when somebody is Jewish do you ask them if they are raising their kids Jewish?
Alright, so that might not be the best analogy or parallel, but it is a similar reasoning.
The fact is, it is so much easier to be a vegetarian today than when I started. Not only is there a wider variety of product, there are multiple brands offering choices. If you want (mock) chicken nuggets there are a few different brands to choose from. The fact is there is almost everything you could want or use in a substitute these days. While they all may not have the exact same taste as their real meat counterparts, they are good.
Part of the menu for this week looks like this: beef stew, casserole, spaghetti & meatballs, and then fish & chips.
What am I denying my kids by raising them vegetarian?
It isn’t nutrition, because they are certainly growing well and getting good grades in school. They aren’t being deprived of flavor because they have plenty food and a variety of it to eat.
This past summer when we spent a couple of weeks at Yellowstone National Park we stayed outside of a small town. It is now so easy to be a vegetarian the two small grocery stores had several vegetarian substitutes. No, not nearly as many as there are in the grocery store here in Seattle, but still, enough that we didn’t want for options.
When people tell me their child wants to be a vegetarian they often ask me for advice or how I feed my kids. It’s easy, really, living here in a major city. There are plenty of options, you just have to look. There is still the misconception that you just eat vegetables and pasta, which simply isn’t the case.
The only thing I miss is pastrami. There simply hasn’t been a good substitute for that yet.