The Biggest Lie Ever Told About Vegetarians | Clean Plate Charlie | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


The Biggest Lie Ever Told About Vegetarians

Vegetarians in all forms -- ovo-lacto, vegan, etc. -- are subject to an impressive array of misconceptions and lies about the meatless lifestyle.

Sometimes, the evidence of misunderstanding is overt, like the person we encounter at a cocktail party whose eyes bug when they spot a plate free of sliders and pork belly, the conversation turning from pleasant getting-to-know-you-banter to an exhausting interrogation about gastronomic habits punctuated by sympathetic question-statements like, "But what can you eat?" (Look, guys, sometimes we just want to see how many mini spanakopita we can shove into our mouths at once without getting distracted by a 15-minute discussion of what does or does not make it into our digestive tracts.)

Other lies about vegetarians: We just love the hell out of portobello burgers and can't eat enough of them in restaurants; the soggier the better. We're always silently judging every meat eater at the table. (That's only partially true, and also: Get over yourselves.)

The biggest lie of them all? Vegetarians don't like food.

Somewhere along the line, being vegetarian became synonymous with being a picky eater. As if putting together a complex, carefully curated meal of whole grains, legumes, fresh herbs, and home-grown veggies is somehow akin to the kid at the dinner table who turns her nose up at a plate of broccoli and refuses to eat anything but the boxed mac-n-cheese. Picky is the adult man who won't eat anything that's green or isn't a chicken nugget. Vegetarians as a collective are choosy about what they eat, yes, but picky? No.

The crux of the lie is the notion that vegetarians don't like food. "I could never go vegetarian because I like food too much," people say, as if to imply that meat-free food isn't worthy of love. Look at the work of Yotam Ottolenghi, a chef who, although not vegetarian, has achieved fame for his salacious vegetable dishes. His cookbook Plenty is stocked with images so titillating that the book ought to come wrapped in a brown paper bag. (I refuse to refer to his work, or anything, for that matter, as "food porn" but that's basically what it amounts to.) These are dishes that are made for people who don't just like food but adore it.

Maybe the lie persists because vegetarians are seen as somehow being immune from indulgent cravings and losing control in the face of food. Makes sense if you think vegetarians  eat only raw tofu and carrots. Who asks a cabdriver to hit the drive-through on the way home from the bar because they've got a drunkity-drunk craving for a bowl of raw kale?

The thing is, vegetarians also obsess over and submit to culinary urges that aren't good for them. Those cravings for tacos and margaritas that lead to skipping out of work early for Taco Tuesday? Happens to us too. The ill-advised fast-food obsession that turns into a pilgrimage? Check. The fried-food fix that leads to a small grease fire in the kitchen? You bet your ass. Never assume a vegetarian doesn't like food. After all, like most red-blooded Americans, there's a decent chance the vegetarian in question loves food -- perhaps even a little too much.

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Tricia Woolfenden

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