Dana Treat – Treat Yourself

This Vegetarian’s Dilemma

Posted March 29, 2011

With apologies to Michael Pollan, of course.

Do not be afraid.  I am not climbing up on a soap box here.  I have never, nor will I ever, tell you how or what to eat.  The only people who get that from me are my children and that is another story for another post.  I sincerely hope this does not come off as a rant.  I have been thinking about writing a post like this ever since I started this blog and I guess it is just time.  Bear with me.

People often ask me why I am a vegetarian.  There are a lot of reasons – environmental, ethical, health – but I would have to say that the main one is that I just am.  Even as a child I never liked meat and so giving it up has never been a struggle for me.  I did so at an early age and have not looked back.  I never “wish” I could have the steak in a restaurant.  Being vegetarian comes naturally to me and it is as much as part of my makeup as being right-handed.

Having said that, I do struggle with the foodie side of things.  Most of the time, I am a glass is half-full vegetarian.  I celebrate the bazillion things I do choose to eat rather than focus on the four things I don’t.  But those four things (red meat, white meat, poultry, fish) make up a very large percentage of what is thought of as food – in this country at any rate.  I get several food magazines and only about one-quarter of the recipes are things I can make.  The summer grilling issues usually just get tossed in the trash.  Restaurants that I read about sound tantalizing to me, until I realize that I would mostly likely have a sub-par plate of pasta and that I am better off eating at home.  Imagine me on Top Chef – what would my “protein” be?

Again, it’s not that I want to eat meat and am just not letting myself.  I spend a lot of time eating food, thinking about food, photographing food, writing about food, but this huge chunk of that world is not available to me.  I struggle with that.  I struggle with feeling left out.  I struggle with not being taken seriously.  I was inadvertently sent an email the other day in which I was referred to as a “veg-head”.  Really?  In 2011?

I fight against the stereotype of the hippy dippy vegetarian who makes nut loaf and grows her own wheat grass.  I endure jokes from acquaintances, even friends, even my own family about whether I am making hamburgers for the next dinner party.  I nod and smile when someone says that they didn’t “miss the meat!” after eating a meal that took me hours to prepare.  Or when they say that my food is really good – for vegetarian food.

From what I read, more and more Americans are trying to eat less and less meat.  Meatless Mondays and all that.  I’m glad.  I’m excited.  I want to teach people what to cook and eat on those days they choose not to eat meat.  This is precisely the reason that I decided to start teaching regular and ongoing classes in my kitchen.  But why does it feel like the perception of vegetarianism is stuck in the 1970′s?  You know, the nut loaf and the wheat grass.  My husband is fond of telling people that I have been cooking for him for over ten years and that there have only been a handful of repeat dinners, and those are usually at his request.  That is not much of an exaggeration.  Our diet is incredibly interesting and diverse.  We eat really well.  Plus we are healthy and thriving.  Most of the time, I am very happy to say just that.  But sometimes, I feel left out.

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