I have been an “on again, off again” vegetarian for at least the last 10 years. Like so many things, I used to be pretty hard on myself about it but have come to accept that things aren’t black and white all the time (though even that is up for debate, depending on the way you see things/life).
At any rate, one of my friends (who happens to be a vegetarian) recently pointed out to me that there is a big difference between a “meatless” option and a vegetarian or vegan one. This might seem obvious, but I started thinking about how this plays out in my life. Unfortunately there tends not to be vegetarian protein options at many restaurants. Not that I eat out very often but it is discouraging when your only option at Subway is a veggie sub that only has vegetables and sauce on it (or cheese if you are into that). I guess if you eat eggs and don’t mind drowning in mayo, you can opt for the egg salad or one of the breakfast wraps (which are delicious BTW). Don’t get me wrong, I love Subway – it is actually one of the few fast food joints I will actually eat at but do I need to bust out a Tupperware container with my own tofu or tempeh to make it a complete meal?
On the flip side, I also don’t understand why people who eat meat need to eat it at every meal. There are plenty of vegetarian meals that everyone enjoys regardless of their overall food choices. Minestrone soup, bean salad, baked beans with rice, tabouli salad, curry with rice, oatmeal, toast and peanut butter….you get my point. Unfortunately, this only adds to my frustration when I am on the road or out with friends and I am forced to choose between a processed vegetarian burger on a white bun, a garden salad, or something smothered in cheese.
My solution (for now)? Order something healthy that has lean meat. I would rather have something healthy and fresh than something processed or heart-attack worthy, regardless of the meat situation. I realize this makes me a pretty sketchy vegetarian (aka sketchetarian) but I never said I was “perfect” at anything. My main motivation behind eating a plant-based diet is lowering my carbon footprint and being healthier.
Living in a culture where eating meat is still the norm can sometimes make it challenging to be a vegetarian or a vegan. I think it’s getting better with the recent gluten-free, raw food, cleansing, fasting, local food, organic, etc. trends because people are starting to think more about what they are eating and are trying to eat real food (which should not be a luxury or a challenge). But for those of us who do not live in Toronto (or even a city at all) where options abound, it can be even more challenging to find suitable meals unless you make them yourself. You may not agree with me but I would much rather eat a salad with chicken than without it and in all seriousness, I don’t run around with Tupperware containers in coolers anymore – instead I’ve got a diaper bag and a boatload of academic papers to read. I don’t eat out that much anyway.
Anyway, I really hope that it does become easier to be a vegetarian and that people realize it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing choice all the time, especially if you are just beginning your adventure into plant-based nutrition.