I was a pescetarian for 11 years, from the time I was 10 until I was 21. Luckily I grew up in Seattle, which is about as vegetarian-friendly as a city gets (and offers a lot of seafood options) — and then I moved to New York, which is still very veggie-friendly. But even there, I ate a lot of plain pasta or baked potatoes when out to dinner in group settings. My parents are also from Chicago, so we took regular trips to visit family in the Midwest, and on one of our drives through rural Illinois sometime in the mid 1990s we stopped, for lack of any other options, at a Burger King drive-though. I ordered a veggie burger, which Burger Kings had in Seattle. My parents and sister got hamburgers. When my burger came, I opened the buns, and saw that it was empty, except a slice of tomato and some lettuce. My dad handed it back to the cashier and said, “I’m sorry, I think you forgot the patty.” The woman, confused, said, “I thought you wanted a veggie burger?” And my dad, confused, said, “We did… we wanted a veggie patty. You know, like a gardenburger?” And the woman responded, “But if it has a patty it’s not going to be a veggie burger.” And on it went, until we all finally figured out that the idea of a “garden burger” with a vegetarian patty was totally foreign where we were and the “vegetarian option” was two buns with some lettuce. I ate my two buns and lettuce anyway.
Being vegetarian in a midwestern city, rather than a rural town with one Burger King, sounds slightly better. I was never, and still am not, a fan of the “vegetarian restaurant” — I preferred an all-around good restaurant that had vegetarian options — but a smattering of veggie-centered places in any city is never a bad thing. Ideally, restaurants would include a lot of actual vegetables on their menus (again, this is perhaps a personal bias based on my undying love of beets and brussels sprouts) and wouldn’t cook everything in lard, but it sounds like that’s not quite the case at your average Kansas City joint. Which admittedly sounds delicious, but not particularly healthy or environmentally-conscious. But, yes, the reality of being a vegetarian is that there are not always going to be tons of options for you, and you may be eating a baked potato for dinner lots of nights out. And it means you should probably learn how to cook. Because that’s the thing with dietary restrictions — they are restrictive.