Vegetarian option — delicious food for thought

The Fresno BeeJune 19, 2013 

I eat meat.

I eat the whole gamut of pork, beef and chicken.

I've been known to make a BLT without the lettuce or tomato. More than once, I have thought about leaving off the bread, too. As the special guest judge at the 2nd Annual Rib Cook-Off and Dinner at the Clovis Elks Lodge No. 2599 this weekend, I'm excited at the prospect of gorging myself.

So, I'm no vegetarian.

But I sympathize.

That's the official term for people like me: "Vegetarian sympathizer." It's used to describe people who eat meat, savor it even, just not as the centerpiece of every meal.

Vegans and vegetarians could use the sympathy. If you doubt it, try the vegetarian option at the next fundraiser you attend. It'll be pasta and vegetables. It's always pasta and vegetables.

You can also read the responses to The Fresno Grizzlies' Bacon vs. Tofu promotion happening at next Thursday's game. For instance, there's this remark from the blogger The Cured Ham: "It's common sense and being a human … bacon is better than tofu!"

Pitting the two foods against each other was purposeful, bacon being the meat du jour and tofu being the stand-in for all things not.

The responses are indicative of a certain attitude among meat eaters. It can come off as condescending, to say the least.

For my vegan and vegetarian friends, it's almost a joke.

"You don't eat meat?"

"Nope."

"Not even chicken?"

Some people are meat-and-potatoes types. They literally eat meat and potatoes and that's it.

To them, the idea that you would choose to eat coagulated soy beans over a juicy piece of steak is not so much scary, it's simply unfathomable.

As someone who straddles the line, a person who eats and understands the attraction of meat while also finding pleasure in a plate full of deep-fried tofu, let me offer a couple of other observations.

It's not a 'substitute'

Marketers have done a terrible job selling vegetarian/vegan food as anything but a meat substitute.

Meat is America's common food language and has become a reference point for everything else.

So, there are veggie burgers, vegan bacon and a chorizo substitute deftly called soyrizo.

There are even vegetarian hot dogs, for those who believe hot dogs have meat in them to begin with.

I kid.

This idea of substitute labeling is useful to a point, but it ultimately does a disservice to the food.

No one would ever fault a peach for not being a steak, but that's often what we get when we talk vegetarian options.

Tofurkey is not turkey. Just as vegan bacon is not bacon and a portobello mushroom is not a hamburger patty.

They don't need to be those things. They can stand on their own and be enjoyed for what they are.

I rarely cook meat at home, and even when I dine out I tend toward vegetarian and vegan options when available. It's not for moral or health reasons — though those exist.

It's because the food is good, as good, or better, than meat.

This may seem impossible, but I've had an heirloom beefsteak tomato that I enjoyed as much as any piece of meat I've ever had.

It's not just soy

People get hung up on tofu because it gets all the press. In truth, tofu is just a tiny percentage of available options for non-meat eaters.

When you think all the food that is not meat, the "vegetarian option" is pretty immense — just think about everything at the farmers market.

Getting over the politics

Why limit your options? Eat meat or don't. That's on you. But those who can't see beyond the "meat" of it, who let it keep them from trying something new — even if it is "vegetarian" — they are missing out.

There are thousands of reasons to eat stuff other than meat. They're called taste buds.

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com or @joshuatehee on Twitter. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com.

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