Life and Travels as a Vegetarian

Being a vegetarian can be very trying at times.  Whether I’m traveling or just dining in town, I’ll ask, “Is there anything meat-based in this?” Usually, I just get a blank stare in return, followed by a “I don’t think so.”  At Subway, I watch as the sandwich artist cuts my veggie sandwich after using the same knife on an earlier meat-filled sandwich.  I’ll ask for a side salad that ends up coming out of the kitchen with bacon crumbles all over it.  Last week I brought home a pizza that ended up to be pepperoni and not just cheese.  Suddenly my dinner was ruined all because of a mislabeled box by an employee.

It’s time to get a few things off my chest.

We vegetarians have our various reasons why we choose to eat this way – be it religion, being against factory farming, an animal lover, various health reasons, etc.  No matter what our reasons are, we should be respected for it. Too many times, people seem to bash those that don’t eat meat or assume vegetarians are weak and protein deprived.  This new ‘bacon lover’ culture has grown way out of proportion.  Why is eating meat considered to be the “manly” thing to do? I’ve noticed at my local grocery store that “Man Cave” meats are now in stock.  Man cave meat? It seems like everywhere you go, all meals are based around meat.  As a vegetarian (and even more so as a vegan), you usually get one or two options on a menu and that’s it.  Why is our society so focused on meat?

Gluten free individuals seem to be treated with more respect because restaurants understand that if they falsely claim something to be gluten free and it’s not, there will be repercussions, depending on the guest’s reaction to eating the gluten.  Obviously, its important to let diners know truthfully, what ingredients are in the food. Because of the increase in peanut allergies, milk/dairy allergies, egg allergies, and wheat allergies, restaurants have to be transparent about their dishes if they want business.

But just as people with allergies need to know what they’re eating, so do the vegetarians and vegans out there.  Yes, it may be a choice for us to not eat meat and other animal products, but this is our “allergy.” If I sit down to eat something at a restaurant, how am I supposed to know that there are no meat products in it? Even some vegetable soups are made with a chicken broth!  Unless the dish is clearly labeled vegetarian, we don’t know if it’s safe to eat.

When cooking at home, I encounter so many products with “natural flavorings” in them.  The actual definition of natural flavor under the Code of Federal Regulations is: “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional” (21CFR101.22).  So yes, any meat, seafood, poultry, egg, and dairy flavorings are considered “natural.”  Well, it doesn’t work that way for us.

I’ve had people inadvertently make a usual vegetarian dish with beef or chicken broth, make jello, a marshmallow based dessert, or serve a marinara sauce that’s “flavored with meat,” thinking that since it’s technically meat free, I can eat it.  What’s natural thinking for us, isn’t natural for others.  

We vegetarians have to educate family members because most just think vegetarian living means no meat.  What they don’t understand is just how much meat and meat-based items we eat without knowing it.  I know of famous french fries made with beef flavoring, pancakes made with lard, and risotto with chicken broth – seemingly vegetarian foods, with hidden meat ingredients. Gelatin and gelatin-based products also need to be explained as well to those close to us.

Restaurants in the Midwest need to get with the program.  I loved dining in Seattle and Portland because there were so many meat-free options.  Here in the Midwest, the land of corn and cattle, meat is everywhere.  Why do I have to order a grilled cheese off the kid’s menu because there are no meat free options?  And why are there no vegan options? Can vegans even dine out?

As a vegetarian, it would just be nice to have more dining establishments that have meat free dishes.  Why don’t restaurants offer meat substitutes, pasta, vegetable dishes, falafel, or veggie soups? Also, let us know what’s in each and every dish so that I don’t end up eating what I’m “allergic” too.  My nausea, dizziness, headache, heartache, and tears are just as real when I ingest something that I don’t want to eat.

Thanks for letting me rant. What are your thoughts on vegetarian dining? I’d love to hear them!

Happy (Vegetarian) Travels!


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