Vegetarian in the Midwest

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.

155 comments for “Vegetarian in the Midwest

  1. January 11, 2012 at 11:32 am

    I grew up vegetarian in Iowa and even just the past, oh 10 years or so the amount of change in menu options has been quite noticeable. And yes, the local burger king has veggie patties.

    I wonder though, how much of it is access to more international cuisine and tastes in larger coastal cities compared to he midwest though. The US in general is kind of meat-centric no? And it seems that the more diverse my neck of the woods has gotten, the more GOOD, as opposed to just edible, veggie options become available.

    Course the nice thing is that if one is inclined to cook, the farmers markets are both fresh and cheap around here.

  2. Justamblingalong
    January 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    Do you mind if I ask why you’re a vegetarian? This isn’t to set me up for a rant on the benefits of meat-eating, I’m genuinely curious; it seems people break down roughly evenly into ‘ethical’ or ‘animal-rights’ vegetarianism and just not liking meat (or the way they feel after eating meat).

    To level, I tried vegetarianism along with a bunch of friends once, after we saw a film on factory farms in class, but after about a month of my dormmates grilling steaks outside my window I gave in to temptation. Total respect for persevering.

    • January 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm

      Well, I’m not a vegetarian anymore, although I do eat limited amounts of meat and try to eat almost all of my meat from ethical farmers who don’t use hormones or mass-production methods. But when I was a vegetarian, it was for ethical reasons. I didn’t see meat-eating as morally wrong, but I do see the torture of animals as morally wrong. So I was vegetarian because I didn’t want to support the meat industry. I started eating meat again because I was living in Italy, and the meat industry there is very different. Then when I came back to the states, I continued to eat meat, but sought out restaurants and grocers and green markets that sold meat from smaller farms. Which is much much much easier to do when you live in Brooklyn as opposed to a lot of other places.

      I still cook mostly vegetarian/pescetarian at home (and the occasional bacon for breakfast or steak salad for dinner) because it’s easier. I have noticed, though, that I’m healthier now that I’ve integrated some meat into my diet — mostly because when I was vegetarian, I just ate pasta all the time, and now I have access to a wider variety of good-tasting proteins. Healthy vegetarianism takes work, and I wasn’t particularly good at it. (Of course, healthy eating in general takes work, and Americans aren’t particularly good at it — in part because it’s just not part of standard “American culture” and so the desire for healthful meals that still taste good isn’t as deeply-held as it is in a lot of other places, and in part because of lack of access to healthy foods in the first place).

  3. robotile
    January 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Vegetarianism should be catered to more often in the Midwest and other places. Sure, there may be only 4 percent of the population that is pure veg, but there are also many other minority groups (those who only eat Kosher or Halal foods, for instance), that would appreciate leaving out the pig lard. That’s not even counting the dieters. My own experience in Milwaukee was fine, although I will say that food overall was kind of bland. Of course, you shouldn’t expect to eat what you like in a small town, where food options are generally more restrictive.

    Also, I used to be in the “accomodating vegetarian” camp; i.e. i would work hard not to inconvenience others, be fine with eating somewhere where a baked potato was my only option, etc. But then I realized it just encouraged bad behavior in my companions (such as heckling) and didn’t let restauranteurs know that I was a valuable market they should be trying to feed. I also realized that I would always accomodate others with weird food preferences: blood type diet, gluten free, raw vegan, you name it–even when it seemed arbitrary to me. So it was just plain rude for my dinner mates not to accomodate my restriction, which was pretty run of the mill. Of course, you can’t be assertive in truly large groups or pre-arranged parties, etc. but I do think it helps to stand up for your dietary preferences with friends.

    Vegetarianism requires strong offense, or you’ll constantly be on the defensive.

  4. January 11, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    I grew up in Indiana, and at the Burger King here, they do give you the veggie patty when you order the veggie burger — thing is, the cashier always panics because they can’t find the button for it on the screen, so it’s always just $0.99. :)

  5. gretel
    January 11, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    It is tricky being a vegetarian in many parts of the Midwest. Or at least that’s been my experience when I visit. But when I find an amazing vegetarian option on a menu, I’m always sure to comment about how great it is to the waitress or waiter. You have to be an advocate if you want to see vegetarian food on a menu; you can’t take it for granted or expect it.

    And yes! Learn how to cook! There are a lot of cookbooks that specialize in simple vegetarian meals that don’t cost much or take a long time to cook. I know people often associate vegetarianism with pretension, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

  6. Ruchama
    January 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    When I took a road trip last summer, I was pleasantly surprised at how many vegan options I could find in Columbus, Ohio.

  7. January 11, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    My vegan friends and I saw this article and were like “Seriously? Try being vegan.”

    What gets me about this, though, is that it’s actually not that hard. From where I’m standing, the hard part about being vegan has very little to do with my food options at restaurants. It has to do with the social pushback that I get for being vegan. At the Thanksgiving table, one of the guests went off on how vegans/vegetarians are hypocritical and stupid, and the conversation continued for like 5 minutes until my mother finally became completely incensed on my behalf and intervened. This happened at the Thanksgiving table. I mean, seriously.

  8. January 11, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Why not all-vegetarian restaurants? If they do a good job, I find they’re awesome. Brooklyn has a couple of ones that my meat-eating buddies like so much they don’t even notice: V-Spot, Wild Ginger. Not riding you; just curious.

    • January 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm

      Why not all-vegetarian restaurants? If they do a good job, I find they’re awesome. Brooklyn has a couple of ones that my meat-eating buddies like so much they don’t even notice: V-Spot, Wild Ginger. Not riding you; just curious.

      Oh I don’t mind them. I just find that more often than not, all-vegetarian restaurants are significantly less tasty than the vegetarian options at an all-around delicious restaurant, so when I was a vegetarian I would generally eat out at “regular” restaurants that were well-regarded, since the chances of getting a good meal there were higher. There are definitely some fantastic vegetarian restaurants — I particularly love Wild Ginger and now you’re making me crave it — but the chances for a complete miss seemed higher.

      • January 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm

        Also, I used to be in the “accomodating vegetarian” camp; i.e. i would work hard not to inconvenience others, be fine with eating somewhere where a baked potato was my only option, etc. But then I realized it just encouraged bad behavior in my companions (such as heckling) and didn’t let restauranteurs know that I was a valuable market they should be trying to feed. I also realized that I would always accomodate others with weird food preferences: blood type diet, gluten free, raw vegan, you name it–even when it seemed arbitrary to me. So it was just plain rude for my dinner mates not to accomodate my restriction, which was pretty run of the mill. Of course, you can’t be assertive in truly large groups or pre-arranged parties, etc. but I do think it helps to stand up for your dietary preferences with friends.

        Yeeeeah, I dunno. I was definitely an accommodating vegetarian, and I try to be an accommodating omnivore. When I was a vegetarian, I ate anywhere — I don’t think I ever vetoed a restaurant, since I could always get meatless pasta, or a baked potato with lots of toppings, or a bunch of veggie sides, or a salad. Obviously if I’m dining with a friend who has a food allergy or is a vegan or whatever, we’re going to discuss restaurant options where we can both eat and be happy. Of course. I’m not going to take a friend with Celiac disease to a place that only has noodles. But if a “raw vegan” friend can only eat at a “raw vegan” restaurant and won’t eat, say, a salad at a normal restaurant to accommodate the five other people we’re dining with? Eh. Not gonna go out with that person much.

  9. EG
    January 11, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    This happened at the Thanksgiving table.

    Of course it did. The whole point of Thanksgiving is to force everybody to spend time in the company of family, wondering why it never works out like it does in the movies. It is stultifying at best, and miserable otherwise. It is the perfect and only time for a family member to go on a five-minute rant insulting you. It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving otherwise.

  10. EG
    January 11, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    Why not all-vegetarian restaurants?

    I can’t speak for Jill or anybody else, but I avoid them personally because a lot of the protein in their food is soy-based, and I’m supposed to avoid soy as much as possible for medical reasons.

  11. January 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    That’s a good point. I think, at least in “hipster” areas, there’s been more of a turn towards quality. Austin has a couple of all-vegetarian restaurants and one of them was utter crap. I never ate there. Then they remodeled and my friends kept swearing it was really good, so I tried it, and yeah, they improved a lot. Dunno what instigated it. I think the fact that more meat-eaters are learning that you don’t have to eat meat at every meal is probably a factor. Once a vegetarian restaurant realizes that they can get veggies and omnivores by simply putting some effort into their food, that makes a huge difference. I rarely have a meat-eating dining companion who balks at being fed vegetarian food; 10 years ago when I first quit eating meat, that wasn’t true at all.

    • January 11, 2012 at 1:59 pm

      That’s a good point. I think, at least in “hipster” areas, there’s been more of a turn towards quality. Austin has a couple of all-vegetarian restaurants and one of them was utter crap. I never ate there. Then they remodeled and my friends kept swearing it was really good, so I tried it, and yeah, they improved a lot. Dunno what instigated it. I think the fact that more meat-eaters are learning that you don’t have to eat meat at every meal is probably a factor. Once a vegetarian restaurant realizes that they can get veggies and omnivores by simply putting some effort into their food, that makes a huge difference. I rarely have a meat-eating dining companion who balks at being fed vegetarian food; 10 years ago when I first quit eating meat, that wasn’t true at all.

      Yeah, I think that’s right. And there’s just more competition now — the so-so vegetarian place isn’t going to be the only game in town if you’re in a reasonably large city.

  12. LotusBen
    January 11, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    You wanna try something really fun: be vegan and homeless. I did that for about a month. The churches that give out free food to homeless people were pretty lacking in the sort of stuff I like to eat. . .not a lot of pad thai or falafel. I did manage to eat a lot of white bread and moldy bananas, and on the plus side lost some weight. I’m amazed now that I had the motivation to stick to being vegan under such circumstances. Nowadays, I don’t even have the discipline to avoid going to Whataburger.

  13. January 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    I still cook mostly vegetarian/pescetarian at home (and the occasional bacon for breakfast or steak salad for dinner) because it’s easier.

    Hey, me too! I’ll occasionally get a rotisserie chicken to make stock, but for the most part I cook veg because cooking meat just takes more work. If my lentils are undercooked, they just happen to have some crunch to them. If my chicken is undercooked, I get massively ill. Not really something I want to be worried about.

    Though to be fair I also have stomach issues where for some reason eating any sort of pork product makes me a very sick Hobbes.

  14. jillian
    January 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    I like vegetarian restaurants because it sure is nice to be able to go someplace and be able to look at the whole dang menu, including desserts. I’m not vegan anymore (consolidating food options with my non-veg*n spouse and children) and will even eat some food with “meat cooties” if it means not throwing it away. But to be able to go somewhere, not have to cook and be 100% guaranteed what im eating is safe is such a treat.

    I drive though the midwest a lot during the year and will have to remember Thai Spice next time im in SW missouri. It’s one less stop to a Burger King.

  15. January 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Hey, me too! I’ll occasionally get a rotisserie chicken to make stock, but for the most part I cook veg because cooking meat just takes more work. If my lentils are undercooked, they just happen to have some crunch to them.

    Oh man, this. That’s why I know way more vegetarian recipes than not, because storing and cooking meat always terrifies me a little bit. Strangely, one of the non-veg foods I eat a lot of is sushi, probably because there are hard and fast rules for dealing with sushi grade fish.

    I also started out generally abstaining from meat because kosher meat = superexpensive. I didn’t realize until a few years ago that most people eat meat for multiple meals a day! My whole life it’s been veg/cheap fish during the week and chicken or fish on Friday. We ate beef like…once a month? Once every two months? Which is pretty much our MO right now, because of cost and ethics. Except we probably eat chicken and fish even less than I did as a kid. For protein, we eat a lot of legumes, cottage cheese, yogurt, eggs, tofu, and seitan. Especially seitan since we learned that it’s pretty easy to make from vital wheat gluten. Still searching for the perfect seitan recipe, though.

    Regarding veg only places, those are pretty much the only ones I trust not to get meat in my food. At non-veg ones, I feel like I have to play 20 questions, which isn’t too much fun. Seattle has some awesome veg-only places, though! Especially if you like Thai food. And OMG Pabla’s Indian Cuisine (though it’s out in the ‘burbs). So yummy!

  16. EG
    January 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    I wish I could cook fish more often, but since moving into a studio apartment, I have had to give it up. Otherwise the smell permeates the place for days afterward.

  17. January 11, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    I’m appalled by the way some people treat another person’s dietary restrictions as an insult. I eat all the time with people who have medical dietary restrictions, such as glutin allegries or diabetes, and nobody would think to argue with them. There are things that I don’t eat simply out of preference; I dislike invertebrates and generally steer clear of them, just because I find I don’t care for them. Nobody feels the need to talk me out of that. But when I’m out with a vegan or vegetarian friend, people seem to treat that commitment as an insult or challenge, as Clarisse describes. And even religious dietary restrictions (Buddhist, Jewish; even Christian: my wife observes Catholic meat restrictions), while they usually don’t get challenged directly to the person’s face, people often mutter about it behind their back. Even when the restricted eater steers well clear of suggesting that anyone else should follow the same protocol, some folks seem absolutely bound and determined to extrapolate such a position, which is absurd.

  18. January 11, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Southern cuisine, regarding vegetables, is quite different. Veggies tend to be overcooked (read: mushy), oversalted, and flavored with pork (usually bacon). Some restaurants will avoid the pork, but the traditional style usually wins out.

    Granted, I’m sure this means of preparation probably reduces the healthy quotient. Much of the nutritional value is boiled out. However, this is how I grew up eating veggies, and all other methods seem somehow wrong and extremely undercooked.

  19. LotusBen
    January 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    Southern cuisine, regarding vegetables, is quite different. Veggies tend to be overcooked (read: mushy), oversalted, and flavored with pork (usually bacon). Some restaurants will avoid the pork, but the traditional style usually wins out.

    And salads here are traditonally iceberg lettuce with some flecks of carrot or purple cabbage. I have a friend who grew up in rural East Texas who believes the only two ingredients in a salad should be lettuce and ranch dressing.

  20. Nobody
    January 11, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    @13&17

    I can definitely remember when vegetarian restaurants tended to be pretty bland and uncreative. I guess they assumed they could coast because they had a captive audience.

    For the last ~10 years at least, the vegetarian restaurants I’ve been in have actually put effort into coming up with interesting dishes. And my experience was mainly in a largish midwestern city, so the trend isn’t just in NYC and the coasts.

  21. January 11, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Oh, also, at least in my experience (mostly the upper Midwest, around the Great Lakes), being in a smaller city is being in a smaller city. Larger Midwestern cities usually have plenty of vegetarian options, though meat is often part of the general cultural experience. But you know what? I got hassled by my Philadelphian friends when I visited and didn’t have a cheesesteak. And people do, in fact, eat vegetables other than corn and iceberg lettuce in the midwest. ::eyeroll::

    I get really frustrated with the idea that Midwesterners are all uncultured meat-lovers who believe that salad = iceberg lettuce and creamy dressing.

  22. Brandy
    January 11, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Rumor has it that Isa Moskowitz (vegan cookbook author) is planning to open a restaurant in Omaha. If that’s successful, I bet it would have a veg-friendly influence on the surrounding areas.

  23. ataralas
    January 11, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    I think a lot of the comments about “I don’t cook meat much at home” dovetail nicely with this Bittman piece about the steady decline of meat eating in the US. Not sure if I buy Bittman’s premise in whole, but I think less meat consumption overall probably has some sort of reinforcing cycle with better non-meat options in restaurants.

    As for personal experience, I have a much easier time finding non-meat options (with a few exceptions, I’m not really a meat fan) in the Midwest (Chicago, Madison, central OH) as opposed to in southeastern NM, where cattle ranching is a thing, fish is basically unheard of, and I got pretty tired of cheese enchiladas pretty quickly.

  24. January 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    And even religious dietary restrictions (Buddhist, Jewish; even Christian: my wife observes Catholic meat restrictions), while they usually don’t get challenged directly to the person’s face, people often mutter about it behind their back.

    Word. We have group meals a lot at work, where we all go out for dinner or lunch. I feel really awkward when people are set on, say, dim sum. I don’t want to be the one to spoil the party, but then I’m labeled as a snob or weirdo if I don’t go. So I went to the stupid dim sum lunch, asked for a tofu dish, said I was a strict vegetarian, and, of course, they put pork in it. So I just didn’t get lunch that day. Good times.

    See point A, I don’t trust non-vegetarian restaurants to not put meat in my food.

  25. alessa
    January 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Random and without relevance, but Jill this post surprised me because I grew up in Seattle as well, and also moved to Brooklyn when I was in my early 20s, but miss the pacific northwest quite a bit. It’s always good to see a fellow Washingtonian.

    On that note, Metropolitan Market and PCC have always made it insanely easy to access ethical meat. I am still figuring out my standbys in Bed Stuy.

  26. January 11, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    You wanna try something really fun: be vegan and homeless.

    Yes! It is just not possible in the US to be vegan (or vegetarian) and homeless. It’s also difficult if you have special dietary issues. One day at breakfast, a lady at the shelter I stay at said she really shouldn’t be eating any of the foods they gave her because she was diabetic (we were given oatmeal sweetened with sugar, a stale bagel, and an old donut that one of the local supermarkets couldn’t sell). If you’re hungry enough, you eat what they give you and deal with the consequences later.

  27. January 11, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Yikes, and I thought it was hard here in Louisiana!

    There’s hope for Omaha, though. I follow Isa Chandra Moskowitz, probably the most famous vegan cookbook writer there is, on Twitter, and she appears to be living in Omaha and planning to open a restaurant!

  28. LotusBen
    January 11, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    I get really frustrated with the idea that Midwesterners are all uncultured meat-lovers who believe that salad = iceberg lettuce and creamy dressing.

    I think part of the problem is terms like “the Midwest,” “the South,” or “the East Coast” and really broad and vague and don’t correspond as much to reality as many people think they do. I mean Detroit, Michigan and Fargo, North Dakota are probably about as dissimiliar of places as you get can in America, but they are both part of the “Midwest.” I think since World War II, regionalism hasn’t really been that big of a factor in the U.S.A. I mean, even white racism, one of the common manifestations of regionalism that people cite (associated with the South), was/is way more widespread than commonly acknowledged, and plenty of the North was segregated, too.

    In my experience (and from what I’ve heard, read, and researched), there’s more variety within regions and continuity between regions than anything. Small, conservative, resource-based towns (farming, logging, mining) have a lot of similarities wherever you go; so do liberal, touristy resort towns; so do affluent, strip-mall based suburbs; so do the bohemian areas around a major university; so do the working-class neighborhoods dominated by a particular immigrant group you see in a big metropolis. And all these types of places occurr in every region of the U.S.

  29. January 11, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    On that note, Metropolitan Market and PCC have always made it insanely easy to access ethical meat.

    Yes! I live across the street from a MM, which is awesome for convenience and access to delicious, fresh produce, but terrible for my budget. And a PCC started carrying ethically sourced kosher meat about a year ago! It’s incredibly expensive, but it exists! In a store! That is near my apartment!

  30. LotusBen
    January 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    Yeah Angel. . .I was fortunately only on the street for a month before I landed an apartment so I was able to hold out being vegan. But I’m sure if I had been homeless for much longer I would have cracked. There’s some cities that have a lot of Food Not Bombs, which serve free vegan food in public parks, so that makes it easier if you’re vegan and homeless. But the city I was living in only had Food Not Bombs twice a week so that wasn’t much to go off of. I think it’s pretty terrible the sorts of unhealthy, nutritionally deficient food that the standard shelters and places serve. Of course, it’s cheap, so that’s why it’s like that. Just another example of how poor people get fucked over in this country; basic nutrition should be a human right in my mind, but that’s not how our society works.

  31. EG
    January 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    I think it’s pretty terrible the sorts of unhealthy, nutritionally deficient food that the standard shelters and places serve. Of course, it’s cheap, so that’s why it’s like that.

    I suspect another factor is needing large amounts of things that have a long shelf life and won’t go bad.

  32. LotusBen
    January 11, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    I suspect another factor is needing large amounts of things that have a long shelf life and won’t go bad.

    Yeah, that’s a big part of it. Also, a lot of the food is just stuff that no one else wants, like stale bread or bagels or donuts from local groceries or coffee shops they can’t sell anymore so they donate it to charity.

  33. Kristen J.
    January 11, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    @LotusBen,

    Thank you so much for bringing that up. I feel like an ass for missing something so obvious, but I’ll put it on the agenda where I volunteer. We make special meals for people with allergies/dietary restrictions, but I never considered incorporating vegan options.

  34. January 11, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    I’m from Indianapolis, originally, and I totally get how eating vegetarian there is MUCH harder (despite the fact that I’m an omnivore.) And this is the second biggest city in the region–so I know it’s even worse in other areas. I had a friend (my one veggie friend!) who essentially ordered 2 sides at every meal.

    I got that it was frustrating to her, but I didn’t see how bad it was until I moved to Austin a few years ago…almost every place has a filling real vegetarian option here. I know because 50% of my friends are vegetarians.

    I wonder if it’s a chicken-egg situation (pun TOTALLY intended). Are there more options because there is more demand? Or do the options draw the people in?

  35. January 11, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    As someone who has never liked meat much and is transitioning into vegetarianism now, I am happy I live in Minneapolis. You can’t walk down the block without running into a vegetarian or vegan-friendly restaurant. And it seems everyone in the city pretty much expects that you are veg*n, or at the very least, is never surprised to hear when you are.

    Of course, cross the city line into the suburbs, and it’s a different story entirely.

  36. LotusBen
    January 11, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    No problem Kristen. What do you know–I’m affecting positive change! I wouldn’t feel like too much of an ass though if I were you. What it’s like to be a vegan isn’t something most people have cause to think or know anything about unless they’ve been one. And yeah, being vegan isn’t as bad as a lot of things, but like a lot of ignored/unpopular minorities, you’re marginalized to a certain extent. Which is the main reason I stopped being vegan. Most of the times you don’t have a choice when you’re marginalized, but being vegan is something I had control over, so I was like–why the fuck am I wasting effort doing this when society doesn’t even want me to be doing it anyway?

    Sorry, this thread brings up a little bitterness for me I guess.

  37. CBrachyrhynchos
    January 11, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    I get really frustrated with the idea that Midwesterners are all uncultured meat-lovers who believe that salad = iceberg lettuce and creamy dressing.

    I also found that aspect of the article to be a bit annoying.

  38. number9
    January 11, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Millennium and Greens in San Francisco are both great vegetarian restaurants. Scratch that, just great restaurants. I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t eat beef or pork and cook about 80% vegetarian meals at home, so I really appreciate a good vegetarian restaurant that doesn’t rely on soy-based protein substitutes (which I try to avoid because my stomach hates them as much as it hates beef). The problem is that these restaurants are in CA and most other states just don’t have that huge variety of local produce almost year-round that CA has. And, of course, these restaurants are expensive. In general, I see a ton of great veggie options on restaurant menus these days but, again, expensive. An affordable veg place is usually all about deep fried, unhealthy, soy-based crap. But, of course, there’s always Indian food!

    In defense of shelters, I worked at one, and the food budget is minuscule. The contortions that the woman in charge of food went through to just keep us stocked with the FDA-required basics every week were something to behold. We depended on volunteers for about 90% of all meals. And if a volunteer is putting up their own food, effort, and time, it’s hard to ask for something different without appearing “ungrateful”. So if you’re considering food donations or making dinner at shelters, please ask them what options they’d like to see. Because, unfortunately, they probably won’t bring it up themselves for fear of offending you.

  39. January 11, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Heh, as long as we’re recommending vegetarian restaurants, I’ll recommend Plum Bistro, Jhanjay, and Pabla in Seattle (there are so many more but those are my faves) and Veggie Planet in Cambridge, MA. How sad am I that Veggie Planet is no longer in my life? So, so sad! I also had lunch recently at Cafe Blossom in Manhattan. It was delicious!

  40. Justamblingalong
    January 11, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    I think it’s pretty terrible the sorts of unhealthy, nutritionally deficient food that the standard shelters and places serve. Of course, it’s cheap, so that’s why it’s like that.

    I’ve worked at a hybrid food bank/soup kitchen before and can definitely attest to this. I spent a looong time working on trying to find a way to get fresh fruits/vegetables on the menu, but considering that you’re basically at the mercy of local charities and supermarket’s excess/defective goods, there’s not a lot of wiggle room. Even when we had extra cash, healthy food is significantly more expensive and it’s awfully difficult to turn away desperately hungry people so as to buy marginally more healthful meals for the lucky few (and there were always more people hoping for food than resources).

    Here’s the part I’m sure will draw flak: the triage that we did in terms of food types/dietary restrictions was hard but completely morally correct. Providing hilal/kosher food to one person would have meant two other people without the restrictions didn’t eat that week. Same goes for a lot of other things, including vegan substitutes.

  41. January 11, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    I get really frustrated with the idea that Midwesterners are all uncultured meat-lovers who believe that salad = iceberg lettuce and creamy dressing.

    and….

    I think part of the problem is terms like “the Midwest,” “the South,” or “the East Coast” and really broad and vague and don’t correspond as much to reality as many people think they do. I mean Detroit, Michigan and Fargo, North Dakota are probably about as dissimiliar of places as you get can in America, but they are both part of the “Midwest.”

    THIS. “The Midwest” isn’t just the descendents of Scandinavian farmers. I’ve been a midwesterner all my life, and haven’t had any problem finding vegetarian food (though I’m not vegetarian—just eat a lot of vegetarian meals). Where I come from, omnivores don’t usually think of a lot of vegetarian meals as such—it’s just traditional food from the Mediterranean, Middle East, Asia, Mexico, etc. When people say “vegetarian food” here, they’re more likely to flash on what I like to call (jokingly) “hippie cuisine”—which, to my palate anyway, tastes like a hipster version of the dreaded midwestern casserole. Translation: mushy and very bland.

    So while you won’t find many exclusively vegetarian restaurants in the midwest, there’s still a lot of vegetarian food—as long as you look for traditional cuisine (which my ‘foodie’ friends refer to as “peasant food”, usually while salivating over it).

    Vegan is a different story, tho. :)

  42. Yan
    January 11, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    There was a decent Indian restaurant with good veg options in Fargo, ND last time I was there, a Thai place right across the river in Moorhead, MN, and I sent a pizza gift card to an NDSU freshman for a place that makes traditional pizza, or gluten-free pizza with vegan cheese.

    So the world is changing as far as food options.

    I ended up returning to eating meat, though still on a very limited basis, when I had to give up eggs, dairy, soy, and gluten. It’s worked and I’m healthier, but I’ve learned to cook all over again.

  43. FashionablyEvil
    January 11, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    I’m appalled by the way some people treat another person’s dietary restrictions as an insult.

    Are you surprised? I think there’s something elemental about eating a meal with someone and if they can’t eat with you for whatever reason, it can feel insulting.

  44. Computer Soldier Porygon
    January 11, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    [quote] I have a friend who grew up in rural East Texas who believes the only two ingredients in a salad should be lettuce and ranch dressing.[/quote]

    I’m from rural East Texas and I grew up eating legit salad. Whatever.

  45. Mr. Kristen J.
    January 11, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    There’s some cities that have a lot of Food Not Bombs, which serve free vegan food in public parks.

    I usually make a bunch of the “sack” lunches that volunteers take to deliver around here. I don’t want to derail Jill’s thread, but if you have a moment I would greatly appreciate any suggestions on vegan food that would be good for a sack lunch. You can email us at mskristenj at gmail dot com. Thanks.

  46. January 11, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    I’m a vegetarian — former vegan — and I live in the Midwest. Finding restaurants that serve vegetarian meals isn’t hard, but a lot them cluster in my city’s “hipper” (read: expensive) enclaves making difficult for those of us who don’t have the cash to eat at those places. I learned to cook. It’s probably one of the best things I’ve done for myself, but cooking every meal isn’t an option for everyone, I know. (A lot of the time it isn’t even an option for me, so yeah, I eat more gardenburgers than I’d care to admit.) And only in the past five years or so has the mainstream supermarkets catered to vegetarians, so I don’t have to shop at Whole Foods, which is a plus.

  47. January 11, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    I attended college in Gainesville, GA, a tiny town which happens to be Poultry Capital of the World. One of my best friends while in college, and one of only two of us with a car, was vegan. We had a BITCH of a time finding restaurants where she could eat something–anything–and one of those happened to be Taco Bell, and since it was cheap and open late, we went there a lot. Then one night we went through the drive-thru three times trying to get her a bean burrito with no cheese, like she had ordered. When she finally went inside to see what the hell was going on, she discovered the source of the problem: the (white) manager took her burrito, turned to the (entirely Latino) staff, and said “ok, guys, for the last time, I need a bean burrito with no cheese, just queso.”

    We didn’t go to Taco Bell anymore after that.

  48. January 11, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    HA at stonebiscuit!
    I love love love veggie restaurants, provided they serve tasty food, because it is SO NICE to be able to actually order anything on the menu and not have to ask if something is cooked in whatever. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 8 and I’m 26 now, so its been kind of a long time, and it’s a relief to not have to question the menu sometimes.

    Also, if youare in DC, STICKY FINGERS!

  49. January 11, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    Midwesteners, I have one OMGWTF? for you…freezer coleslaw. What is that shit?

    From the little time I’ve spent visiting relatives in Minnesota, Iowa, Bakersfield (yes, it’s the part of the midwest that’s in California), and Missouri, I can say that not only is it hard to get vegetarian food at restaurants, but it’s also as difficult to get it in their homes. Also, they seem to be completely incapable of understanding my dairy allergy. It is apparently impossible to have a vegetable without cream, butter, or cheese.

    Creamed celery FFS.

    Thankfully Mexican food is becoming universal, so I can usually find a taco stand and ask for a vegetarian burrito sans dairy, but in the midwest, they only have one kind of beans – refried.

  50. January 11, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    I should add, since we’re sharing some options, if you’re in Athens, GA, check out The Grit, and in Atlanta, R. Thomas’. I used to live within walking distance of the latter. It’s fabulous for omnivores and veg*ns, and it’s 24/7, AND they have the greatest decor in the city.

  51. archie
    January 11, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    Best meal in Athens 2004 was at a Vegetarian restaurant. The old Greek diet is not entirely vegetarian, but meat is used sparingly, and only on occasion. It isn’t a staple. Religious fasts are common for advent and lent, and follow vegan rules – nothing from an animal. The rest of the time, it’s legumes, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, garlic, yogurt, potatoes, etc., with the occasional chicken or lamb.

    Oh how I love vegetables! The flavors – so much more intense and bright than mmmmeat. The textures so varied, from crunchy to slimy to foamy to firm. Oh how I love them all – (except for ubiquitous onions which can be a problem) – delicious!

    And cooking vegetables is so easy, why, half the time you don’t have to cook them at all to enjoy them. Oh vegetables, how I love you!

  52. archie
    January 11, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Oh, I meant to add, the Greek part of my family is from the midwest – Indiana to be exact.

  53. Jjuliaava
    January 12, 2012 at 1:23 am

    “Do you mind if I ask why you’re a vegetarian? This isn’t to set me up for a rant on the benefits of meat-eating, I’m genuinely curious; it seems people break down roughly evenly into ‘ethical’ or ‘animal-rights’ vegetarianism and just not liking meat (or the way they feel after eating meat”
    Um, yes I do mind. IF I HAD A DIME FOR EVERY TIME I AM ASKED THIS QUESTION–WHY, I’D BE RICH!!
    See, if you don’t know; its a click away; plus it is amazing the ignorance associated with meat industry. watch food inc. visit peta.org or something. (I know a lot of feminists don’t like peta, so find an equivalent source maybe)
    Your delicious burger came from somewhere? Where did it come from? You should find out before you eat another bite. If you think it came from a good Christian family of farmers? You’re wrong.
    I learned in 1st grade to not ask a question if I am capable of answering a question for myself — there is no need to ask someone else.

  54. karak
    January 12, 2012 at 2:03 am

    @Jjuliaava:

    While its arguably rude for strangers to pry into your privacy… there are a multitude of reasons to be vegan/vegetarian/pescetarian. Maybe you’re a devout Buddhist or Hindi. Maybe you have PKU. Maybe you have a moral objection to slaughterhouse conditions. Maybe you happen to know that the meat at *this* location is poorly prepared. Maybe you find the texture/taste of meat massively unpleasant. Maybe you gave up meat for Lent or some other kind of temporary religious celebration.

    There are a LOT of reasons. If you think it’s obnoxious people are prying, fair enough, but you can’t get pissed people can’t read your mind.

  55. afb1221
    January 12, 2012 at 3:19 am

    Jill, as a vegan, I just had to jump in and agree with this:

    “I just find that more often than not, all-vegetarian restaurants are significantly less tasty than the vegetarian options at an all-around delicious restaurant, so when I was a vegetarian I would generally eat out at “regular” restaurants that were well-regarded, since the chances of getting a good meal there were higher. ”

    SO TRUE.

  56. demonhellfish
    January 12, 2012 at 4:23 am

    @34, [B]asic nutrition should be a human right[.]

    Absolutely. Except you weren’t talking about basic nutrition. You were talking about eating vegan. That’s a voluntary lifestyle choice that turns down a wide range of foods that provide basic nutrition.

    @21, I’m appalled by the way some people treat another person’s dietary restrictions as an insult.

    It’s probably got a lot to do with the sort of equivocation above. If not helping somebody else engage in their expensive tastes is described as denying a human right, that’s pretty insulting. Also, see @58.

    And not all dietary restrictions are the same. Having an allergy isn’t voluntary, and most people will try (with varying degrees of success) to accommodate people who would be harmed by unrestricted food. Why should voluntary restrictions be treated at all the same?

  57. Norma
    January 12, 2012 at 6:45 am

    One great thing I’ve noticed in the past 10 years is a noticeable increase in the amount of vegetarian options available in fine dining. Top young chefs–with some exceptions, like David Chang– have vegetarian options on the menu and are flexible with substitutions, and some lean heavily pescetarian. The popular focus on getting ingredients from small, local farms/fisheries is good for animals too.

    Unfortunately, everybody continues to serve freakin’ foie gras, veal, and threatened fish. I think this is where the omnivores have to step up and stop ordering.

  58. January 12, 2012 at 7:44 am

    Creamed celery FFS.

    Oh c’mon…that’s not really A Thing. (is it? *shudders*)

    I always thought the propensity for putting cream/butter/cheese on vegetables (along with boiling the shit out of them) was a Northern European thing, not midwestern. Mediterranean folks tend towards olive oil and keeping them crunchy. But I know what you mean—I visited family for Christmas this year, and my aunt must have been trying to impress her boyfriend; every damn vegetable had some sort of crap on it. Even the salad was all gunked up with crap (instead of having a civilized vinaigrette). I ate meat, bread and dessert. Certainly wasn’t expecting that! (it was a pretty dramatic departure from the usual fixings)

    I think there’s something elemental about eating a meal with someone

    Yes. Eating a meal is intimate; one’s choice of food is intimate. That’s exactly why the questioning about diet choices/practices and pushing people to a certain conformity at the dinner table is so rude.

  59. Brandy
    January 12, 2012 at 7:45 am

    Heh, as long as we’re recommending vegetarian restaurants, I’ll recommend Plum Bistro, Jhanjay, and Pabla in Seattle (there are so many more but those are my faves) and Veggie Planet in Cambridge, MA. How sad am I that Veggie Planet is no longer in my life? So, so sad! I also had lunch recently at Cafe Blossom in Manhattan. It was delicious!

    Shoshie, the people who own Veggie Planet have opened an additional restaurant called Veggie Galaxy that serves awesome diner-style food (and has a bakery). Maybe it’s time for a Cambridge visit? :)

  60. January 12, 2012 at 8:37 am

    PeggyLuWho-

    I can’t say that I’ve actually heard of freezer coleslaw. I googled and it looks like…coleslaw? That one stores in the freezer until it’s time for a picnic? I dunno, I do that with lots of stuff. I have some frozen blackberry pie filling in my freezer right now.

    And, um, the whole Bakersfield = Midwest thing is exactly what folks were talking about. No, Bakersfield is on the West Coast. It may not be a big, liberal city, but it’s still on the West Coast. Midwestern is not a synonym for uncultured.

    I’ve also noticed that a lot of complaints about Midwestern food feel very classist to me. When I’ve made my grandmother’s recipes, which are awesome comfort food to me, I’ve had friends turn their noses up and make awful classist remarks. Yes, it uses canned vegetables. Yes, that was the most convenient option for my grandmother, the working mother who couldn’t drive. Yes, I think it’s delicious, even though I know what kale is. Suck it, elitist coastal people!

  61. Toni
    January 12, 2012 at 8:46 am

    As long as we’re making vegan/veg-friendly restaurant suggestions, in Philadelphia there is the amazing and completely vegan Mi-Lah, with vegan french toast better than regular french toast (I’m a foodie omnivore who also cooks largely vegetarian/vegan at home.) Also in Philadelphia, the recently renovated omnivore Khyber Pass Pub has a spectacular menu with daily specials – and about 50% of the food is vegan/veg friendly. You can get bacon grease popcorn, and you can get vegan buttered popcorn with cajun seasoning. Plus every delicious beer under the sun.

    I’ve also noticed that most delicious restaurants worth their salt have yummy vegan/veggie options (like the mouth-watering Southwark.) As an omnivore, I really adore cooking vegan and/or vegetarian because I find that restrictions lead to more creativity with food, and also to exploring new varieties (sunchokes ftw!)

  62. William
    January 12, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Your delicious burger came from somewhere? Where did it come from? You should find out before you eat another bite. If you think it came from a good Christian family of farmers? You’re wrong.

    Not everyone who eats meat is ignorant. Not everyone who makes a different moral decision from you is lacking information. Some people just plain believe different things”Nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” and all that. Hell, I’m reading this thread as a meat eater to get ideas of things I could make for my wife who just plain has trouble with meat sometimes.

  63. Crys T
    January 12, 2012 at 9:25 am

    Lots of good points, but there are a couple of things really nagging at me. Can we just put some silly stereotypes to bed once & for all? For example, the one that says having a healthy vegetarian diet “takes work.” Got news for everyone: ANY healthy diet takes work! Most omnis don’t have anything like balanced diets, so expecting veg*ns to automatically do better is just a double standard. If your life has been so centred on slab-o’-meat meals that you literally cannot conceive of how to eat as a veg*n, well, there are more than a few resources to help you.

    Also, can we get rid of the idea that veg*n diets are somehow deficient in protein? Look it up: ALL of us in the West outeat our protein requirements, even (gasp!) most vegans.

    And as for the idea that vegetarianism/veganism are somehow “restrictive,” just NO. It’s been my experience that getting into veg*n food has immeasurably expanded the range of foods that I eat. This is also one of the most commonly-expressed benefits I’ve heard from veg*ns talking about their own experiences.

    Finally, this:

    if a “raw vegan” friend can only eat at a “raw vegan” restaurant and won’t eat, say, a salad at a normal restaurant to accommodate the five other people we’re dining with? Eh. Not gonna go out with that person much.

    Yeah, because it’d be my idea of a good time to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a half-arsed salad* that I probably couldn’t even have any dressing on because the restaurant had nothing to suit my dietary needs. Why is the assumption that omnis *have* to have meat at every damned meal? Why can’t they be expected to suck it up & accommodate for a goddamned change? Hell, from what I’ve seen, there are a lot of raw food restaurants turning out some amazing food, but some poor widdle omni might have to (horrors!) try something new….something that might even be good? Oh poor diddums, having to try something new (shudder)!

    *can I say that, as a veggie, the next time someone offers me freaking salad as my one and only meal option, there will be blood?

  64. January 12, 2012 at 9:50 am

    Shoshie, the people who own Veggie Planet have opened an additional restaurant called Veggie Galaxy that serves awesome diner-style food (and has a bakery). Maybe it’s time for a Cambridge visit? :)

    GAH I WAS JUST THERE SADFACE. I *did* stop into Veggie Planet, though, and got Henry’s Dinner, which is just the best, especially since Mr. Shoshie won’t eat squash. Who doesn’t eat squash?! He also won’t eat bananas or POTATOES. Yes, that includes fries, chips, mashed potatoes, roasted with rosemary, any kind of potatoes. He’s such a weirdo.

  65. EG
    January 12, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Yeah, Crys T, I can’t see why anybody wouldn’t want to eat with you. It’s the way you’re so respectful of other people’s dietary decisions and experiences–I mean, wow, everybody in the western world outeats their requirement of protein? That’s such good news. I guess that means I’m wrong when I go four hours without eating protein and fat and my head aches, I feel exhausted and surly, and my body just doesn’t feel right, but somehow these symptoms clear up remarkably quickly as soon as I eat some combination of protein and fat. Good to know. Next time I’ll just inform my body that everybody in this country gets far more than enough protein.

    And how disingenuous to pretend that all that vegans are giving up is huge “slabs of meat.” First of all, cooking a huge slab of meat for one person is very inefficient, so you want to think more of lots of small pieces of meat in a stew or a stir-fry or something. Second, yogurt, eggs, cheese and honey. As for vegans having many sources of protein…go ahead and tell your restaurants, then, because the ones I’ve been to are all soy, all the time, which, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m supposed to avoid whenever possible (also, soy protein does not taste as good to me in the slightest). Off the top of my head, that leaves nuts and beans, and for the latter to really be appealing to me, I gotta put some bacon in there.

    Next, vegan diets are more restrictive. You can’t have it both ways, you know. You can’t say “I can’t eat at your horrible omnivorous restaurant” and then in the next breath say “my dietary choices are not more restrictive than yours.” Well yes, yes they are. Someone following vegan dietary restrictions won’t be able to eat a whole chunk of the foods I regularly eat, whereas there is nothing preventing me from eating any of their food.

    some poor widdle omni might have to (horrors!) try something new….something that might even be good? Oh poor diddums, having to try something new (shudder)!

    Oh, go to hell. I’ve been to a raw vegan restaurant, one that I’d heard vegans raving about. There was nothing particularly new there. Nor was there anything particularly filling or tasty. The vegan restaurant I would sometimes go to before the soy became an issue was all right, except for the desserts, which were dreadful.

  66. January 12, 2012 at 9:59 am

    EG- Have you tried seitan? IMHO, it’s way tastier than soy protein, and much closer to meat texture. It’s made from wheat gluten, and is also pretty easy to make, if you have a source for vital wheat gluten.

    Crys T- Pretentious much?

  67. EG
    January 12, 2012 at 10:09 am

    Thanks, Shoshie. I have tried seitan, and I quite liked it. I was able to get it at my local grocery store back in Philly, but somehow haven’t spotted it since I moved back to NYC (go figure). What I really used to like was tempeh; it had flavor and I liked the firmer texture as well (baked tofu has a good texture, but I found it rather less flavorfull). Anyway, I’ll have another look for seitan when next I go shopping–thanks for the reminder!

  68. Safiya Outlines
    January 12, 2012 at 10:26 am

    These food theads are like Waynestock for arsey vegans.

    “If you build it, they will come…”

  69. Esti
    January 12, 2012 at 10:33 am

    @ Crys T

    One of my best friends switched from vegetarian to vegan this fall. It’s definitely limited our restaurant options — as EG points out, it’s just true that vegan diets are more restrictive (which is different than saying that vegans eat less things than any given omnivore; many omnivores eat much less than the full range of food available to them) — but there are still plenty of places we can go. We get Ethiopian, or vegetarian sushi, and sometimes if there’s a group thing planned at a non-vegan-friendly restaurant, she’ll compromise by ordering a vegetarian entree and asking them to remove the cheese (knowing that it probably still contains butter).

    If my friend wanted to go to a raw vegan restaurant one night, I’d say sure, regardless of whether I particularly liked the food. But if, as in the statement of Jill’s you quoted, my friend would only eat at raw vegan restaurants? Then we would probably get dinner together less often, and opt for drinks or the movies or other non-food activities. And if my friend was half as obnoxious and sanctimonious as you about her vegan diet, we wouldn’t do anything together.

  70. January 12, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Wow. Writing about food really pisses some people off.

  71. Kari
    January 12, 2012 at 10:46 am

    I’ve been a Midwestern vegan for 7 years. My hubby’s been a Midwestern omni all his life. We have a limited budget so we cook a lot at home. I eat a lot of grains and beans. He eats a lot of grains and chicken. We don’t have time to cook fancy stuff or buy a ton of pricey veggies or ingredients. When we do eat out, we tend to go to a Vietnamese restaurant and a Lebanese deli we both love. Both are cheaper dining choices. We are fortunate to live in a city with a lot of dining options at many price ranges. Overall, I’d say our food is simple and tasty. I don’t know. It works for us, though I think we have it pretty good.

  72. Kristen J.
    January 12, 2012 at 10:59 am

    @EG,

    M is hopping up and down for me to tell you about quinoa which he refers to as the “magic” protein. He wants me to point out that you can make risotto out of it (as if people have time for that) and that its easy to make (if you have a rice cooker) and that it makes awesome stir fry (which it does).

  73. MacaroniGalaxy
    January 12, 2012 at 11:15 am

    Shoshie, the people who own Veggie Planet have opened an additional restaurant called Veggie Galaxy that serves awesome diner-style food (and has a bakery). Maybe it’s time for a Cambridge visit? :)

    The place is fairly close to my Job and I think it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Avoid the Chocolate Cheesecake like the plague, it’s basically just brown brick. I felt like I was eating the result of some failing to follow the instructions on a box of brownie mix.

  74. January 12, 2012 at 11:15 am

    Crys T., one thing to keep in mind about the ‘work’ involved in being vegan *in most of the US midwest* is….the number of little things that add up to making the everyday chores of shopping, cooking, or going out to eat more difficult than it is many other place.

    Little things like no nearby/neighborhood grocery stores, inadequate or nonexistent public transport, long working hours (and highly irregular working hours for most service industry jobs—which means no ability to plan ahead), long commutes because affordable housing is located far from where the jobs are, and…….the bitter truth of living in an area of rich farmland but not having access to fresh veggies due to monoculture. Our veggies get trucked in from quite some distance, so tend to be in poor shape when they get here—and have no shelf life left. Add in the fact that almost all access to groceries is via chain supermarkets that have a tracking system for quality food distribution (“upscale” areas get the higher quality/longer shelf life veggies; “downscale” areas get the stuff that is poorer quality or even already spoiled)…..

    And yes, it is work. Real work. Because these are *systemic* issues, not individual ones. Farmer’s markets? Here, where I live, not very accessible because only one is open on the weekend (Saturday morning only). Only one weekday farmer’s market has (a limited amount of) after-work hours. CSAs are the same way—a boutique product for a boutique market (yep, boutique prices too). CSAs where I live don’t deliver—it’s set up as food tourism, so you pick up after driving way-the-hell out to the farm (during the work week).

    Just sayin’. Systemic problems require systemic solutions, not individuals just *working harder*.

    • January 12, 2012 at 11:42 am

      And as for the idea that vegetarianism/veganism are somehow “restrictive,” just NO. It’s been my experience that getting into veg*n food has immeasurably expanded the range of foods that I eat. This is also one of the most commonly-expressed benefits I’ve heard from veg*ns talking about their own experiences.

      Huh? Sorry, but that literally makes no sense. Unless we’re working with different definitions of “restrict.”

      It’s not a bad thing to not eat certain foods. But it is, by definition, restrictive since you can’t eat certain foods. And it’s great that being vegan has expanded what you eat. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not restrictive. Restrictive =/ “bad.” We can support vegetarianism and veganism without divorcing ourselves from reality.

      • January 12, 2012 at 11:46 am

        Yeah, because it’d be my idea of a good time to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a half-arsed salad* that I probably couldn’t even have any dressing on because the restaurant had nothing to suit my dietary needs. Why is the assumption that omnis *have* to have meat at every damned meal? Why can’t they be expected to suck it up & accommodate for a goddamned change? Hell, from what I’ve seen, there are a lot of raw food restaurants turning out some amazing food, but some poor widdle omni might have to (horrors!) try something new….something that might even be good? Oh poor diddums, having to try something new (shudder)!

        If anyone said that, you would have a point. What I said was:

        if a “raw vegan” friend can only eat at a “raw vegan” restaurant and won’t eat, say, a salad at a normal restaurant to accommodate the five other people we’re dining with? Eh. Not gonna go out with that person much.

        Point being, everyone needs to compromise. The people who are not raw vegans need to go to a place where the raw vegan has options. But the raw vegan also needs to compromise, and maybe not demand that the entire group go to the one raw vegan restaurant in town every time they hang out. Sorry, but if you’re a person with a dietary restriction by choice, you have to realize that your choices are going to be restricted. When I was a vegetarian I had fewer choices than omnivores; that was a choice I made, and so as not to be a giant pain in the ass to everyone else (not to mention a self-centered jerk-face) I went to restaurants even if they only had two or three options for me to choose from. Because my friends are not jerk-faces, we would choose restaurants that had at least two or three options for me to choose from. Etc etc.

      • January 12, 2012 at 11:47 am

        …and also, while we’re supposedly pushing back on stereotypes, may I point out that this is perhaps why people think some vegans are sanctimonious and obnoxious?

      • January 12, 2012 at 11:49 am

        M is hopping up and down for me to tell you about quinoa which he refers to as the “magic” protein. He wants me to point out that you can make risotto out of it (as if people have time for that) and that its easy to make (if you have a rice cooker) and that it makes awesome stir fry (which it does).

        QUINOA OMG. So so so good. Also: A healthy alternative to pasta. Literally so good if you cook it and then mix tomato sauce in, especially if you add some chopped veggies (I also like to add some chicken sausage to make it extra-hearty — I’m sure you could sub veggie sausage in there).

  75. January 12, 2012 at 11:42 am

    I should add, since we’re sharing some options, if you’re in Athens, GA, check out The Grit,

    Yes, yes, oh God yes. Score another one for the hippie college town. Every Sunday, I would march directly across the street after church for stir fry and a slice of coconut cake. I’m salivating right now just thinking about it, and I’m an omnivore.

  76. LotusBen
    January 12, 2012 at 11:58 am

    I sorta understand what Crys T is saying about going veg*n expanding the variety of one’s diet. I know that when I first became vegetarian, and especially vegan later on, I had to start cooking a lot more, and I liked that. And my cooking became more varied and inventive. I got more into different types of ethnic food; I got more into fruits or vegetables I’d never even eaten (or heard of) before. And quinoa, as Kristen points out. All that was awesome.

    That said, being veg*n is definitely restrictive. Increasing the variety of my food was a way of coping with it being restrictive. Everything is easier when you’re not veg*n–it’s easier to eat cheaply, it’s easier to eat conveniently, it’s easier to eat nutritiously, it’s easier to eat food that’s tasty. It’s was really fucking hard for me, and not in an obvious way. It was pretty easy to make the switch. It was exciting at first. But every year it drained on me a little. Always having to spend more money on food than the other people who worked at my minimum wage jobs with me. Seeing the TV commercials for meat, the billboards for meat, being triggered by them and not being able to act on the appetites they manipulated me into having. Going out with friends to bars or restaurants and not being able to eat anything–maybe pretzels, maybe french fries. I pretended I didn’t care, that it was OK because I was helping save the world, doing what was “right.” But it fucking sucked. And no one wants to hear that it sucks. Omnivores can’t relate, and they think you’re whiny and self-righteous. And other veg*ns don’t want to hear it either because they are similarly psychologically invested in pretending it doesn’t suck.

    If you’re any kind of activist it will suck. If you deviate from the norm in any way, whether through an inborn characteristic or a chosen lifestyle, it will suck. And there’s nothing you can do about that–there’s nothing you can tell yourself, and there’s nothing you can do as an individual that will impact the system at all, either.

    We’re powerless individuals in a violent, delusional, racist, sexist, classist, ableist, heteronormative, speciesist, environmentally destructive society that has been slowly destroying itself for thousands of years. And I’m not above it; I’m in it, and I’m (willingly and unwillingly) helping create it. And so are all of you. And that sucks. Oh well.

    It’s almost lunch. It’s time for me to go to Whataburger.

    *gets off soapbox*

  77. Norma
    January 12, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Also, can we get rid of the idea that veg*n diets are somehow deficient in protein? Look it up: ALL of us in the West outeat our protein requirements, even (gasp!) most vegans.

    Protein hasn’t been a problem for me, to my knowledge, but I’ve had vitamin deficiencies multiple times on a vegetarian diet. I’m still vegetarian, but yes, getting the right nutrition “takes work” for me. There are nutritional risks with any diet that limits access to all types of foods. I don’t see why this should offend or threaten vegetarians/vegans.

  78. LotusBen
    January 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Your delicious burger came from somewhere? Where did it come from? You should find out before you eat another bite.

    Ethical consumerism is a load of crap. Consumers aren’t in control of the market. . . the market is created by politicians, corporate boards, and advertising execs. Ethical consumerism, including ethical vegetarianism, is just a way for people to feel like they matter when they don’t. The labor movement changed the world. Various ethnic nationalist movements changed the world. The feminist movement changed the world (1st and 2nd wave). But to change the world there needs to be some form of social organization, which is now impossible in the West due to the spectacle we all live in. People are divided, alienated, and self-absorbed by suburban housing, driving around in their individual automobiles, 24/7 media saturation in different niche markets, and the intrusion of the market into every aspect of human life. The only way for this to change is for the economy to completely collapse.

    Individual consumers are never going to affect any sort of meaningful social change.

  79. January 12, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    If not helping somebody else engage in their expensive tastes is described as denying a human right, that’s pretty insulting.

    FSM above, can we let this “veganism is expensive and elitist” trope die in a fucking fire already? Peanut butter and dried beans are not nearly as expensive as meat, even the subsidized kind. If being a vegan is anything inherently in run-of-the-mill American society, it’s difficult, both logistically and socially. But inherently expensive? No. Just because someone can make it expensive by buying only the most expensive meat substitutes and shopping at the most expensive organic groceries does not mean that eating a vegan diet is per se expensive. I mean, in many parts of the world, that’s what poor people eat because they can’t afford meat.

    Mr. Kristen J, if you’re interested in good, easy lunch-box options for vegans, peanut butter and jelly is always a good place to start. All kinds of sandwiches can be made from beans or chickpeas mashed with oil and seasonings — I rather love chickpeas with lemon, garlic and olive oil. Depending on utensil availability, you could also do cold noodles with sesame or peanut sauce, bean salad, baked tofu sandwiches, etc. You can also do Indian-spiced chickpeas and rice.

    There used to be a restaurant in Fort Greene, though I think that location is closed and maybe just the Harlem location is still open, called Red Bamboo. That place had Caribbean vegan food, which was quite lovely. Really, if you look, there are a lot of “ethnic” places with good vegan options, or at least good vegetarian options. Any Buddhist Chinese place will be good for vegans AND have good food, and many Indian restaurants will at the very least have vegetarian options because there is already a high demand for vegetarian Indian food. Some of those places, seeing a market, will accommodate vegans by switching out cooking oils, so ask around.

    Finally, a good seitan recipe.

  80. Sheelzebub
    January 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    As far as vegetarian/vegan cooking goes, we should give thanks and praise to the internet, which brings sites to us like allrecipes.com and epicurious.com. I found South Asian, Mexican and Mediterranean cuisines have a lot of vegetarian and (sometimes) vegan options. I’m not vegetarian or vegan, except accidentally on weeknights because I’m fucking tired after dragging my ass home in an hour-plus commute. M-F is when I’m cooking dinner and need to throw something together quick. Black bean salad or bean burritos with cilantro lime rice and salsa or herbed cannelloni beans with bitter greens and polenta or curried lentils, potatoes and peas have become my staples. Except on really lazy days, where it’s pasta and tomato sauce or pesto or boxed mac n cheese.

  81. demonhellfish
    January 12, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    @88, The cost of individual food products isn’t particularly informative as to whether a whole diet takes more or less investment by the eater. This whole thread is about how being non-omnivore is more difficult. I suppose I should have said “costly”. A restrictive diet is costly. A voluntary restriction is not anybody else’s cost to pay.

  82. January 12, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    The cost of individual food products isn’t particularly informative as to whether a whole diet takes more or less investment by the eater. This whole thread is about how being non-omnivore is more difficult. I suppose I should have said “costly”. A restrictive diet is costly. A voluntary restriction is not anybody else’s cost to pay.

    It shouldn’t be anyone else’s cost to impose, either.

  83. LotusBen
    January 12, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Absolutely. Except you weren’t talking about basic nutrition. You were talking about eating vegan. That’s a voluntary lifestyle choice that turns down a wide range of foods that provide basic nutrition.

    OK asshole, I see you had trouble understanding what I was trying to communicate so I will elaborate it for you. I was *gasp* talking about two different things in the same post. While I was homeless, I noticed that it was extremely difficult just to get enough calories per day being vegan. And on top of that, I also noticed that the shelters were denying people healthy food and everyone there, vegan or not, was lacking in proper nutrition.

    So I wasn’t being insulting. You were reading something into my posts that wasn’t there, God knows why. But I’ll be insulting now.

    Go fuck yourself.

  84. demonhellfish
    January 12, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Silly me for thinking the last sentence in your post was related to the rest of what you’d said. I’ll try to avoid such mistakes in the future.

    So, if you were having trouble with basic nutrition at that time, why were you choosing a more restrictive diet?

  85. Norma
    January 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    A restrictive diet is costly.

    Do you restrict yourself from eating the cheapest food available– fast food, highly processed/frozen convenience store food– because you think it’s bad for you or tastes disgusting? If so, you know that restricting yourself like this is expensive, right? But I’m guessing you’d put up a shit fit if someone told you that you had no right to fresh, healthy food.

  86. Norma
    January 12, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    So, if you were having trouble with basic nutrition at that time, why were you choosing a more restrictive diet?

    Consistent ethical standards?

  87. January 12, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Is this really about the Midwest vs. coastal cities or something else?

    I make an ongoing effort to limit my meat consumption. I am not a vegetarian, but seek out vegetarian options on menus. There are some great dining options near me, including a phenomenal food truck that serves good, locally-grown whole foods, heavy on the vegan and vegetarian options, near my job, and a kick-ass Indian food place around the corner from my house. You can even snag a veggie burger at BK. And here’s the thing: I live smack dab in the middle of Indiana. I know several vegetarians and they note the diverse dining options here.

    Now, travel an hour or more outside of Indianapolis and into more rural areas and small towns and your dining choices may narrow. But the same could likely be said about small towns and rural areas on the coasts. Less populous areas tend to have fewer dining choices; more populous areas have more.

    As a lifelong Midwesterner I do get my dander up about the prevalence of coastal-bias. It is unfair to compare the food offerings in Seattle with those of some tiny town in rural Illinois. A better comparison would be to the vegetarian options in Chicago. The relevant factor, I think, is size of city, not whether the city is located in the mayonnaise and casserole-eatin’ Heartland.

  88. LotusBen
    January 12, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Silly me for thinking the last sentence in your post was related to the rest of what you’d said. I’ll try to avoid such mistakes in the future.

    So, if you were having trouble with basic nutrition at that time, why were you choosing a more restrictive diet?

    It wasn’t the last sentence. It was the last three sentences that had to do with another topic. In retrospect, I should have made the last three sentences into a separate paragraph for enhanced clarity of reading. I sincerely apologize for the formating error.

    Why was I choosing a more restrictive diet? A mixture of compassion for suffering animals and moral fantaticism I suppose. I had already been a vegan for a year and a half before I became homeless, and I didn’t have problem with basic nutrition before I became homeless. I suppose I didn’t realize how hard it would be like to be homeless in a variety of ways before I became homeless, having never been homeless before.

    But yeah, since I could have avoided this suffering by not becoming homeless or stopping being vegan while I was homeless, I guess I shouldn’t even be talking about it. Oops.

  89. Tracy
    January 12, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    I’m mostly annoyed because I live in Kansas City and that article is complete BS. There are tons and tons of vegetarian options, both vegetarian only (there are more than 2 vegetarian only restaurants in KC) and in regular restaurants. There are some great Indian, Ethiopian, Korean, Vietnamese … all the kinds of cuisine he claimed he couldn’t find.

    The problem is, he’s not going to the kind of place he’d go to in New York (of which there are MANY) – he’s basically going to the equivalent of a hot dog stand – places that specialize in only one thing- and then getting upset that because he doesn’t want a hot dog.

    And I really saw red when he claimed that there was no fresh produce. KC also has an extremely robust CSA and slow food movement, and there’s just – there are so many options.

    The food culture here is one of the best things about the city (which definitely has minuses on the public transportation side) and the reason friends and family love to visit me.

  90. January 12, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Norma—exactly. It’s more expensive to cook decent, healthy *and tasty* meals than it is to pick up fast food (whether from a drive-though or frozen prepackaged meals from a store freezer), but most folks who can afford to do so, because it isn’t unreasonable to want eating food to be a *pleasureable* experience.

    Zuzu @ 88: yeah, peanut butter and dried beans are cheap—but decent tasting bread to spread the peanut butter on is not (unless you bake it yourself), and spices/veggies to add to the dried beans to make them tasty are not. My UU congregation cooked the New Year’s Day meal for the overflow homeless shelter in my city (it serves those who’ve been turned away elsewhere), and I cooked a bigass pot of (vegan) black-eyed peas for 70 people. (The entire menu wasn’t vegan or vegetarian; we just made sure to include those options). They were delicious and cheap—but the reason they were delicious is because of the not-cheap ingredients I added (peppers, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary).

    Spices aren’t cheap. I don’t blame folks for picking up Mrs. What-the-fuck frozen meals at the dollar store instead of eating dried beans boiled with salt over rice boiled with salt. I’d do the same damn thing if I didn’t have cooking tasty homemade as an option. People crave umami flavors and toothsome texture.

    What I was trying to say earlier is that food deserts are real. I live in one. For me, it’s no big deal because I have a car. For the 40% of the folks in my neighborhood who fall under the federal poverty line, it *is* a big deal. Most of them don’t have cars and/or can’t drive. There isn’t anywhere in the neighborhood within walking distance (or motorized scooter distance) that sells vegetables to cook with. But there is a KFC; a pizza joint; a McD’s; a couple of dollar stores, a couple of pharmacies, a few gas stations and a few package liquors where you can get sandwiches and/or TV dinners.

    It wasn’t always that way. There used to be nearby grocers. Mal-Wart took care of that though; now all the grocers are out by (or fairly close to) the highway interchanges in order to compete with Mal-Wart. Midwestern urban areas are hollowed out—white-flight suburbs surrounding a pretty-much-abandoned urban core. Small towns are worse; those are commuter villages with usually no grocery (since the residents commute to the nearest city to work, hence the urban grocery stores moving to the interchanges).

    I wouldn’t eat beans and rice (with salt as the only flavoring) if I had the alternative of burgers-and-fries, or pizza, or TV dinners, so I can’t recommend that anyone else sacrifice the small pleasure of flavor or texture in their meals either. I mean hell, why is it so radical a notion that food should be sensual? (Which I know isn’t where you we’re going, zuzu, but I’ve been in these conversations before and it does go there—the “if they’re poor, they could save more money by going without the luxury of taste! Thrift! Bootstraps! Delayed gratification!” Bah. I’m just tired of seeing the tumblr-vegan “look how cheap and easy!” pictures that don’t contain spices, oils, or other staples necessary for *taste*, but that make the total cost comparable to cheap quickie food. Also tired of the photos of “look what I got at the farmer’s market!” from non-midwestern folks, when the same thing here costs at least three times as much.)

  91. LotusBen
    January 12, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Great points La Lubu. I think many people in the vegan movement could stand to do some thinking about intersectionality. In their zeal for their single issue, a lot overlook the ways in which what people eat is shaped by particular circumstances. The ethical assumptions of mainstream veganism in some ways continue those of Christianity or liberalism by saying there’s a universal ethical framework that everyone should adhere to and everyone will benefit from. This way of thinking ignores individual differences. What people eat intersects with their economic level, degree of education, where they live, cultural background, individual health issues, and bunch of other factors. Not to mention simply what tastes good to different people! So I don’t agree with any sort of universal prescription for how people should eat.

  92. Sheelzebub
    January 12, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    LaLubu, agreed. Decent herbs and spices are pricey, as is decent bread. And getting to and from the store is well-nigh impossible for people without access to transport if they live in a food desert (and a giant hassle time-wise even if you have a car). Also, while I eat a lot of beans, I’m not a fan of beans and rice (unless it’s cilantro-lime rice, and it’s wrapped up in a burrito). Beans and rice just taste like fucking paste to me.

    I also tear my hair out at the spotty access to truly fresh, healthy, and delicious food. Food deserts, high prices, and turning food into a hip boutique item make it hard enough–then you have a dearth of time (thanks to jobs, commutes, other household and childcare duties, etc.) and well, forget it.

  93. January 12, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Zuzu @ 88: yeah, peanut butter and dried beans are cheap—but decent tasting bread to spread the peanut butter on is not (unless you bake it yourself), and spices/veggies to add to the dried beans to make them tasty are not.

    Decent-tasting bread and spices/veggies aren’t unique to vegan cooking, though, so I don’t really understand your argument, unless you’re setting up a false choice between utterly unspiced cheap beef on white bread vs. gourmet organic vegan cuisine. I also don’t get why you think that the highest-quality (and -cost) organic produce is required. Cheap is not the enemy of tasty.

    There’s really nothing unique to vegan diets that require expensive ingredients that aren’t also used in omni cooking. I mean, what makes a sausage chorizo vs. a hot link vs. kielbasa is in the seasoning. Now, if you want variety in your protein sources, you may in fact want to branch out to less-commonly-available, and therefore more expensive, items such as tempeh or prepared seitan, but just like free-range organic chicken, that isn’t something someone on a budget is going to be able to afford all the time.

    I wouldn’t eat beans and rice (with salt as the only flavoring) if I had the alternative of burgers-and-fries, or pizza, or TV dinners, so I can’t recommend that anyone else sacrifice the small pleasure of flavor or texture in their meals either. I mean hell, why is it so radical a notion that food should be sensual? (Which I know isn’t where you we’re going, zuzu, but I’ve been in these conversations before and it does go there—the “if they’re poor, they could save more money by going without the luxury of taste! Thrift! Bootstraps! Delayed gratification!” Bah.

    Who’s advocating that? Who’s saying that cheap food has to be awful, tasteless or equivalent to taking your medicine? Lots of immigrants are turning out very tasty vegetarian/vegan food with bulk spices for very little money because they don’t have much. I mean, is your cheap burger really all that transcendant, or is it just familiar and therefore satisfying on a level you don’t perceive beans and rice to be? If you’d grown up eating tofu, or beans and rice, wouldn’t you find that to be familiar and satisfying in a way that pizza or a burger wasn’t?

  94. Sheelzebub
    January 12, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    I’m not seeing either of you disagree with each other–actually, LaLubu acknowledged that you weren’t going in that direction but that she’s seen other people go there in these conversations. I think she was trying to head that off at the pass? (But if I’m speaking out of place then please feel free to tell me to STFU, LaLubu.)

    I think lack of access plus lack of time plus expense for decent flavorings can often result in “oh holy fuck I’m stopping for a 99 cent meal on my way home from work because right now I can’t even.”

  95. LotusBen
    January 12, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Cooking beans and rice tastes time. Especially from scratch. And if you’re using canned beans and Rice-A-Roni, no, that’s not that much cheaper than McDonald’s calorie for calorie. Going to the grocery story, cooking food–these all take time, and time is money, especially for poor people who get paid by the hour. There’s just no way to say that succeeding at being vegan isn’t helped along by class privilege, at least in the U.S.A. Things are obviously different in a lot of the Third World where people are vegan by default.

    There’s no inherent reason for being vegan to be more expensive. It generally uses less natural resources than an omnivorous diet, especially if you avoid soy. But it is more expensive in America. Even if you aren’t eating boutique products. McDonald’s has 99 cent cheeseburgers. There’s really no way a person on a vegan diet can get the same amount of calories for the same price, while having them balanced in macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbs), relatively quick to procure, and borderline edible. There just isn’t. Yeah, being vegan can be cheap, but you either have to have a lot of time to buy and prepare food or sacrifice taste or basic nutirtion.

    And I know this from personal experience, having been both middle class and vegan and also poor and vegan. I think a lot of vegan people, in their desire to advocate for the lifestyle, aren’t entirely intellectually honest about the real pros and cons of it.

  96. shfree
    January 12, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    I think lack of access plus lack of time plus expense for decent flavorings can often result in “oh holy fuck I’m stopping for a 99 cent meal on my way home from work because right now I can’t even.”

    And there just are sooo few “Oh holy fuck I’m stopping for a 99 cent meal on my way home from work because right now I can’t even.” veggie options. Even in a non-food desert. And while I might have been content to live on an 69 cent avocado spread (though since I left Chicago those cheap avocados don’t exist) on a 99 cent Mexican crusty roll with some salt and pepper on top for dinner, I can’t really feed that to my daughter and be responsible. And she hates eggs scrambled with tortillas in them. (I probably could bring back the tomatillo sauce then, though the cheese still can’t happen because of the rennet) Those were my go to when I didn’t feel like real cooking, and I could get them easy on my way home.

  97. January 12, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Zuzu, I know immigrants are cooking up great vegetarian and vegan food. *my own family* was among them. I’m Sicilian—I didn’t grow up on the big ol’ slab of beef meals. I know how delicious vegetables can be; I love to cook and do it often. And I believe I mentioned upthread that a whole helluva lotta people, *including* the ones who *did* grow up on the big ol’ slab of beef meals, consistently eat vegetarian and even sometimes vegan meals because they don’t think of those meals/dishes *consciously* as being such—like lasagna, stuffed shells, falafel, ratatouille, dolma, etc. Why is that? Because those meals have the same level of umami and texture that meat-based meals have.

    No, spices aren’t *unique* to vegan cooking. But frankly, a pork chop has more umami with plain salt-and-pepper than dried beans. For beans to have that same mouthfeel and flavor requires more spices and added vegetables. But while that’s a part of it, that wasn’t my main point—the main point is that *getting to a grocery store* is harder than ever for the average midwesterner—and is hard as hell for poor people. My city finally has evening bus service; before that, a trip to the store was *impossible* for those without a car during the workweek.

    In my neighborhood, there is no place to buy vegetables. Not yet. We’re hearing talk of getting a grocery store in what is a food desert right now, but we’ll see. In the meantime, the easiest, cheapest way to get vegetables in my neighborhood is via the Mrs. Whatafuck’s frozen dinners at the dollar store. Or the sub sandwiches at the package liquor joint. Or a pizza. I’ve got options other than that, but a lot of people don’t. And hell, a quick trip to the store is about an hour for me (mostly drive time). I do it not because I’m a saint, but because *I like the taste a lot better*. And I’m saying that people more strapped than me are making conscious decisions *just like I am* based on their needs and desires too. (Also upthread, I believe I mentioned that vegetarian meals were a lot easier to come by than vegan meals, mostly because while there are cuisines that are vegetarian (or mostly so) for reasons of religion or poverty, there aren’t any *indigenous* vegan cuisines. Most vegan meals are that way by default—like ratatouille).

  98. January 12, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    I suppose I get tired of the implicit argument that because of the existence of food deserts, it’s impossible for anyone to eat a vegetarian diet at a reasonable price. Which therefore means that vegetarian diets are inherently expensive and elitist (or simply taste like cardboard).

  99. Mr. Kristen J.
    January 12, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    @Zuzu,

    Thank you for the suggestion. Peanut butter and jelly with carrot sticks and an apple may have to do this week, although I’m finding it hard to find vegan bread. I may have to see if my better half might bake some.

  100. January 12, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    I suppose I get tired of the implicit argument that because of the existence of food deserts, it’s impossible for anyone to eat a vegetarian diet at a reasonable price. Which therefore means that vegetarian diets are inherently expensive and elitist (or simply taste like cardboard).

    I understand. From my perspective, I get tired of hearing from folks from some coastal metropolis about farmer’s markets, or neighborhood grocers, or CSAs. Don’t get me wrong—I think all of those things are fabulous, and I hope that someday they will exist here, too (real CSAs that deliver, or at least deliver to a central location in the city; not the kind where you have to drive out to hell’s half-acre). I’m tired of going to the grocery store and seeing anemic, wilted and/or half-spoiled fruits and veggies for full price. And as someone who cooks on the regular (including some vegan meals, although those are vegan-by-default), it really is getting more expensive to cook—even meatless meals. It really is cheaper to eat Mrs. Whatafuck’s frozen shit, and a trip to the grocery store is starting to look a lot goddamn like Soylent Green.

  101. CBrachyrhynchos
    January 12, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    One of the things I’ve found now that I’m returning to a low-meat omni diet after several years of fairly strict vegetarianism is that most meats taste overly greasy and strong to me. I had the same experience going soda-free in that I notice hidden sugar in baked goods a lot more than before, and overly-sweetened products are cloying after a few bites.

    Pivotal to the economics here is that even cheap meats benefit from heavy government subsidies, both for the meat producer and for the production of not-for-human-consumption corn and soya that consumes more than half of our cultivated land.

    Some people can be elitist jerks about it, and I learned to keep quiet about my pragmatic decisions to get food-bank dairy and bread, or not ask questions of freely given family meals. But thankfully, those people are fairly rare.

  102. Athenia
    January 12, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    It’s not just a rural issue. Traveling, in general, is not particularly agreeable to every diet out there.

  103. PosedbyModels
    January 12, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    I just want to jump in to declare myself another very content meatless Midwesterner. In my experience, and like April said at 49, the Twin Cities is a really great and friendly place to be both a vegan and a vegetarian. I do sort of gravitate towards all-vegetarian restaurants as my go-to places (and there are so many! it’s wonderful), but none of the spots I frequent fall into the “flavorless mush” trap, and there are a good number of “regular” restaurants I go to which are very accommodating of vegan and vegetarian diets.

    I guess I just wanted to brag about how where I live is cool.

  104. Jen
    January 12, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    Articles like the on in the Times can be frustrating for someone who actually lives in a Midwestern city, all the time, eats mostly vegetarian and knows where to go and eats well. The Midwest is not some “strange curiosity.”

    Granted, the Upper Midwest is a bit different from the “regular Midwest.” Milwaukee is an excellent town for foodies, including vegetarian ones. There are at least a few restaurants that are entirely vegetarian, including one amazing food co-op cafe. There are 3 or 4 restaurants that focus on locally-grown “slow food” with significant veggie options. There is a wide range of ethnic cuisine. You can get a vegan kielbasa, no joke. And every brewpub has a veggie burger, along with awesome locally-made microbrews.

    Anyway, that’s my experience in Milwaukee, and Minneapolis, Madison and Chicago are similar. I read the NY Times religiously, but I tire of the way they stereotype the Midwest as quaint while simultaneously looking down on us. It’s a broad and varied landscape. For shiggles, here’s a travel guide to Milwaukee from a recent Guardian article:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2011/jul/25/usa-city-breaks

  105. Annaleigh
    January 12, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    And, um, the whole Bakersfield = Midwest thing is exactly what folks were talking about. No, Bakersfield is on the West Coast. It may not be a big, liberal city, but it’s still on the West Coast. Midwestern is not a synonym for uncultured.

    True, and also (I live in Delano, a few miles north of Bakersfield), we’re not culturally influenced by the “Midwest” to begin with really (unless one considers Oklahoma and Arkansas to part of the Midwest culturally), rather there’s much more of a Southern diaspora influence instead, so Bakersfield = Midwest is really inaccurate to begin with.

  106. Annaleigh
    January 12, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    Personally, I am really interested in cutting down on my meat intake, and upping my vegetables, and trying dishes that are considered vegetarian or vegan, but it honestly is not that easy. As I alluded to a comment ago, I live in the cruelly ironic food desert/veggie basket of America, California’s Central Valley.

    Here in Delano, for the first ever, we had a temporary farmer’s market this summer. But it was only for the summer, and I never ended up going because I would have to take a taxi to go and come back, as the farmer’s market starts after the buses shut down (which they do at 6PM), and between strange men and random dogs, I would never feel safe trying to walk home after the farmer’s market. I found small little juice box size containers of soy milk at a 99 cent store, tried some and really liked it, but the price of a carton at the grocery store is offputting (horchata is a decent alternative for drinking, although I haven’t heard of anyone using horchata for cooking and baking…maybe I should google it).

    There are all these obstacles for people in my part of California just to eat more fruits and vegetables, so to have vegans like Crys T tut-tutting people who can’t or don’t want to become vegans meanwhile people in my community who are picking the fruits and vegetables that many vegetarians and vegans are enjoy cannot get much fruits and vegetables for themselves (except for the stuff that they get for free while picking…no one can make a healthy diet on one type of fruit or vegetable alone) is just gross. Does veganism in the U.S. entail a certain level of privilege that it doesn’t necesarily entail in other parts of the world? Heck yes, I think it does.

  107. January 13, 2012 at 1:41 am

    And, um, the whole Bakersfield = Midwest thing is exactly what folks were talking about. No, Bakersfield is on the West Coast. It may not be a big, liberal city, but it’s still on the West Coast. Midwestern is not a synonym for uncultured.

    Nope. Bakersfield is nowhere near the coast. Not only is it a geographically not on the coast, it is a completely different culture than the coast. The middle part of California is socially and politically more conservative, and it’s a town that was built up by folks who migrated from the Midwest. It’s not uncultured; it’s a very rich and vibrant culture, but to lump it in with San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Portland, and Seattle is just damn inaccurate as all get out.

    And they do put cream on every damn thing.

    I guess maybe Oklahoma may be considered more the South than the Midwest, but it seemed more culturally similar to Iowa to me than South Carolina, so I put it in the Midwest.

    And yes, I came from a long damn line of Okies, but I was born and raised in the Bay Area, so don’t go telling me that I don’t know what I know.

  108. Annaleigh
    January 13, 2012 at 2:38 am

    I guess maybe Oklahoma may be considered more the South than the Midwest, but it seemed more culturally similar to Iowa to me than South Carolina, so I put it in the Midwest.

    And yes, I came from a long damn line of Okies, but I was born and raised in the Bay Area, so don’t go telling me that I don’t know what I know.

    Fair enough, but the community surrounding Bakersfield is not just comprised of migrants from Oklahoma. Also Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, etc. I won’t argue with you about your perception of Oklahoma culture, and I’m not sure where the ancestors of your Okie family migrated to Oklahoma from, but mine migrated to OK from Texas and Alabama, and before making it to California, they spent some time in Tennessee, then they made the trek to CA in tandem with a family from Arkansas where my Tennessee-born father met and married my CA born but Texas rooted mother; and Merle Haggard’s (a distant relative of my father) family came to OK from Arkansas, and before that Tennessee, etc. I’m rambling here, but what I’m trying to get at is that I think that the pull of Southern diaspora is stronger, even when speaking of the Okie community, than the Midwest, because most of the migrants came from the South in general.

    I wasn’t attacking you for your viewpoint, I just disagree that the Midwest is really an influence on the Central Valley. That’s all.

  109. Athenia
    January 13, 2012 at 9:37 am

    I think part of the problem is that Midwesterners generally eat at home—there is no need for restaurants to cater to different diets because generally people don’t go out to eat regularly. (It’s a bit chicken/egg, agrument, right?) Moreover, the greater Midwest does not have the concentration of space and people that necessitates a variety of options.

    I’m not saying Midwest restaurants shouldn’t offer these options or can’t, but my hometown isn’t exactly New York City in terms of space and number of people. Going out to eat in New York City is simply easier than going out to eat in the Midwest.

  110. January 13, 2012 at 9:43 am

    It’s not just a rural issue. Traveling, in general, is not particularly agreeable to every diet out there.

    This. I mean, with our kashrut issues, that’s the very first thing we consider when we decide to travel. We tend towards staying in places with kitchens and access to fresh produce, dairy, and fish, because there’s rarely a guarantee that there will always be a close place for us to eat at, if we venture outside a major city in the US, Canada, or parts of Europe. There’s actually a blog dedicated to discussing travel options for people who keep kosher.

    It’s not uncultured; it’s a very rich and vibrant culture, but to lump it in with San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Portland, and Seattle is just damn inaccurate as all get out.

    So…it’s the west coast like Spokane is the west coast. Or Buffalo is the east coast. I don’t know if people who live there tend to ID as from the west coast or just from the west. But’s still, not the midwest.

    And yes, I came from a long damn line of Okies, but I was born and raised in the Bay Area, so don’t go telling me that I don’t know what I know.

    Aaaaand, I’m born and spent most of my life in the Chicago area, with two parents born, raised, and living in Chicago. What, are you trying to out-pedigree me or something? I don’t really care where your family is from, Bakersfield is a long distance from the midwest. And midwestern != putting cream in everything. Nobody I know from the midwest puts cream in everything.

    Though I’m also on board with what Jen said about the upper midwest being a bit different than other parts.

    But regardless, I still stand by my original statement. Nothing in California is actually part of the midwest. It may have midwestern influences, but then, a lot of cities have influences from other places. Chicago has a strong Polish influence (hells yeah Pulaski day!).

  111. January 13, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Aaaaand, I’m born and spent most of my life in the Chicago area, with two parents born, raised, and living in Chicago. What, are you trying to out-pedigree me or something? I don’t really care where your family is from, Bakersfield is a long distance from the midwest. And midwestern != putting cream in everything. Nobody I know from the midwest puts cream in everything.

    No, just putting out there why I feel like I might know a thing or two about Bakersfield, and also taking a little bit of umbrage at the notion that I was just looking down my snotty west coast nose at the midwest and Bakersfield. I have spent a good amount of time in parts of Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, and Bakersfield. They’re very similar. Bakersfield is a lot more like Boone than it is like Oakland. My family in Bakersfield would be a lot more comfortable with being put into a category with Missouri than being put in a category with San Francisco. I’m reminded of this daily in my Facebook feed. We’re just that disgusting lot responsible for Nancy Pelosi’s existence.

    I wasn’t being literal about Bakersfield being in the midwest. However, there’s a theory that California is a microcosm of the rest of the nation, where different regions of California correspond culturally (as well as climate and terrain) to other parts of the continental US. It’s taught in history and sociology courses. In this theory, the lower central valley of California corresponds to the lower midwest. There’s also a lot of time in those courses devoted to the depression, and the influx of folks from the midwest, and the culture they brought with them. And the food. I have an amusing story about Dr. Pepper as it relates to one of these lessons.

    I totally believe you that no one you know from the midwest puts cream on everything, and I’m not questioning that. But seriously, everyone I know does. I’m not just talking folks from Bakersfield. I’m talking Minnesota and Iowa and MIssouri, too. Yes, I’ve got family in all those places. Yes, I’ve spent time there. Yes, my stepmother puts as much butter in her spaghetti sauce as she does tomatoes. Yes, it’s disgusting. And yes, I did have a really challenging time in Iowa and Missouri trying to find vegetarian and/or dairy free fair. [used to be veg, still have a dairy allergy]

    Admittedly, the areas I’ve visited are more rural areas. (Boone, IA, Pequot Lakes, MN, Mountain Grove, MO) Maybe it’s a difference between cities and rural areas?

    And obviously if Bakersfield and Oakland can be so disparate being in the same state, Chicago and Boone can be, too.

  112. January 13, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Fair enough, but the community surrounding Bakersfield is not just comprised of migrants from Oklahoma. Also Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, etc. I won’t argue with you about your perception of Oklahoma culture, and I’m not sure where the ancestors of your Okie family migrated to Oklahoma from, but mine migrated to OK from Texas and Alabama, and before making it to California, they spent some time in Tennessee, then they made the trek to CA in tandem with a family from Arkansas where my Tennessee-born father met and married my CA born but Texas rooted mother; and Merle Haggard’s (a distant relative of my father) family came to OK from Arkansas, and before that Tennessee, etc. I’m rambling here, but what I’m trying to get at is that I think that the pull of Southern diaspora is stronger, even when speaking of the Okie community, than the Midwest, because most of the migrants came from the South in general.

    Mine came to Oklahoma from Iowa, Minnesota, and Ohio, and then on to Bakersfield.

  113. January 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Admittedly, the areas I’ve visited are more rural areas. (Boone, IA, Pequot Lakes, MN, Mountain Grove, MO) Maybe it’s a difference between cities and rural areas?

    I think this is the big difference. Chicago and San Francisco have more in common than Chicago and rural downstate towns. And I’ve had a hard time finding vegetarian fare on, say the Olympic Peninsula, even though Seattle is great for vegetarians, and just a couple hours away by car.

  114. January 13, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    And, I’m sorry I got so cranky. after spending four years in Boston and another four in Seattle, I’m used to coastal folk getting all snooty when they talk about the midwest and comparisons to the midwest being mostly derogatory.

  115. William
    January 13, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    And, I’m sorry I got so cranky. after spending four years in Boston and another four in Seattle, I’m used to coastal folk getting all snooty when they talk about the midwest and comparisons to the midwest being mostly derogatory.

    I’ve always wondered how much of that is less an East Coast v. Midwest thing and more a WASPs v. Immigrant Culture thing. The midwest was populated by Poles and Germans and Swedes and Norwegians and Greeks and Bohemians. I know that if you trace back my father’s side of the family you don’t have to go more than a couple of generations to find immigrant German farmers who cleared an uninhabited tract of land to plant on in what is now Elmhurst and barrel makers fleeing Eastern European serfdom. It breeds a very different culture than more established coastal communities in the east or west coast boom towns.

    When I hear people talking about midwestern cuisine what I tend to actually hear are people mocking the perceived crudeness and lack of sophistication in immigrant cuisines that don’t suit Western European sensibilities. It feels like a class thing in the same way derision directed at southerners for cooking everything in pork fat (which, really, is a shot at soul food and the poor folk who eat it as much as anything) feels like a class attack more than a food attack. I mean, French cooking uses a lot more cream than German or Polish fare, but the narrative is quite different.

    But, really, fuck em’. If they never know the glory of potato pancakes with sour cream, a good mushroom and sauerkraut pierogi (one of my students has a vegan recipe for these and goddamn if its not heaven), rouladen with fried spatezle, or a bohemian roast duck flavored with caraway seed…well…thats on them.

  116. LotusBen
    January 13, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    That’s funny William. I guess that just shows how subjective these things are. I agree the attacks on Midwestern cuisine are often classist, but I’ve never before seen them as ethnically bigoted. If anything, I saw them as attacks on a stereotypical Anglo-American “redneck” white bread mentality that was less inclusive of the immigrant contributions than the more diverse coastal regions.

    For example, I think it’s factually accurate that more non-WASP immigrants settled in the Northeast than anywhere else. The region has the highest concentrations of people tracing their ancestry back to Ireland, Italy, Russia, Portugal, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and tons of other places. And I mean New York City? Come on! It’a both the quintessential “snooty” coastal foodie city AND the quintessential destination for new immigrants.

    Anyway, not saying your perspective is wrong. It might very well be right. It just never occurred to me before, and I wanted to share a different take.

  117. ahimsa
    January 13, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Re: vegetarian restaurants, my husband and I are both lacto-vegetarians (he was raised vegetarian, I’ve been vegetarian for 27 years) so I thought I’d add a comment about vegetarian restaurants.

    Most of the vegetarian restaurants near our home rely too much on various kinds of “fake meat” (seitan and soy based products). These foods are okay for a change, and it’s nice not to have to worry about any meat sneaking into any dish by accident, but I don’t care for the taste that much. Now, if you are talking about a restaurant that serves Indian food *and* is also 100% vegetarian, then that’s another matter. Give me some spicy daal with egg-free naan, or a masala dosa with sambar, and I’m a happy camper.

    I can’t believe how many people in the USA think that if you are vegetarian you automatically love tofu/tempeh/seitan. There are so many other vegetarian options! Just to take one example, these products are never used in traditional Indian vegetarian dishes. (brief tangent, “Indian food” is an oversimplification because each state – Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra, etc. – has its own local recipes, but that’s a much longer discussion) My father-in-law, a life-long vegetarian, never ate any soy. He once said he thought soybeans were food for cattle.

    I’m lacto-vegetarian, not vegan, because dairy is a big part of Indian cooking (milk, butter, ghee, paneer). It’s hard to avoid it when we visit India. It’s very easy to be vegetarian in India but harder to be vegan.

  118. January 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    If anything, I saw them as attacks on a stereotypical Anglo-American “redneck” white bread mentality that was less inclusive of the immigrant contributions than the more diverse coastal regions.

    Well, yeah…but that also erases the variety of cultures that are here in the midwest (especially in the Great Lakes region, and particularly the urban rust belt—which isn’t just Chicago and Detroit, btw). Hence, the author in the original article complaining about the lack of vegetarian cuisine in the midwest, when what he really meant was “vegetarian cuisine as according to white hippies.” In certain circles, the midwest seems to exist to play a role in a game of one-upmanship for white people; the insistence on a certain stereotype of anglo-americana as representing the midwest is necessary in order to use “midwest” as a shorthand for “all that I am not, even though I have the same background.” Reminders of midwestern diversity fuck up that narrative—make it so the would-be one-upmen (or women) have to resort to more naked classism.

  119. Irene M.
    January 13, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    As a vegetarian originally from the Midwest, I had very similar feelings the first time I visited Texas. It seemed like everything had steak in it. Even the local Thai place didn’t have a single vegetarian option. My smartphone and yelp app made the second visit a lot easier though.

    Finding vegetarian options when you’re not familiar with local food culture can be really tough no matter where you end up.

  120. LotusBen
    January 13, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Good analysis La Lubu; I pretty much agree completely. I liked your comments upthread, too. You really convey the whole picture in a lot of detail, which is interesting to me because the only two states I’ve lived in are Oregon and Texas, so the on-the-ground reality of livng in a Rust Belt city is quite outside my own experience.

  121. William
    January 13, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    LotusBen

    For example, I think it’s factually accurate that more non-WASP immigrants settled in the Northeast than anywhere else. The region has the highest concentrations of people tracing their ancestry back to Ireland, Italy, Russia, Portugal, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and tons of other places. And I mean New York City? Come on! It’a both the quintessential “snooty” coastal foodie city AND the quintessential destination for new immigrants.

    Its true and it isn’t. Most people in the US aren’t from here, but there is still a hierarchy of establishment. You don’t find Daughters of the American Revolution very often in the midwest. Sure, you’ve got a lot of immigrants in and around New York, but they came and integrated in a very different cultural context. The midwest is, comparatively, a much more recently settled-and-developed-by-westerners territory. As a result western immigrants maintained more of their original cultures and formed new cultures that were less dominated by old New England WASP standards. Its a different kind of brew. Midwestern/Farmer “white bread” isn’t the same as New England/WASP “white bread” or Southern/redneck “white bread.”

    I think thats reflected in midwestern food and outside perceptions of it. My grandmother grew up on a farm that her father had cleared. They were poor and sometimes there was only enough meat for her father or for the men of the family to eat because they were the ones doing hard labor. As a result, when the family moved from substance farming to the middle and working class it was a mark of pride to always have meat on the table. During lean times everyone could get a taste by cooking things in or with meat. When you were trading with your neighbors what was available was meat or dairy which turned into cheese and sausage and salt pork and smoked meats because those were foods from back home that were familiar to you as well as foods that were close to you and foods that supported the kind of work you needed to do. That combination of the ethnic background of the people and the land that they live on produced a very different brand of white than what you had in the more urban and settled places like New York or Boston. Different people from different places coming to different lands with different jobs and demands. It produces a different kind of whiteness which, I think, has traditionally been looked down upon by the more established powers of whiteness.

    You also have to consider the effect of African American immigration into the midwest, especially when you’re talking about food. We’re often a virulently racist region (although there are a lot of reasons for that) but one thing that absolutely happened as African Americans moved into the midwest is that the food changed. I don’t think its an accident that both southern food and midwestern food are criticized for being low-class and unpleasant when they’re both deeply influenced by African American contributions. Ours is a cuisine of newcomers, outcasts, and the kinds of people so marginalized that they needed to bypass the urban centers of the East Coast for the outlands.

    LaLubu:

    Reminders of midwestern diversity fuck up that narrative—make it so the would-be one-upmen (or women) have to resort to more naked classism.

    Absolutely. Its easy to forget just how diverse the midwest is. Germans aren’t Norwegians aren’t Irish aren’t Poles and thats before you even step back and consider the huge populations of non-white and Latin@ immigrants out here. In Chicago you can completely bypass “vegetarian cuisine as according to white hippies” by heading over to Devon Avenue and walking into any of the dozens of incredible Indian restaurants that only a huge Indian immigrant population can produce and support.

  122. January 13, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    Reminders of midwestern diversity fuck up that narrative—make it so the would-be one-upmen (or women) have to resort to more naked classism.

    I was thinking about this today too because the original article (and actually, Jill’s response too– a single cashier in a rural BK didn’t know that they actually do have veggie burgers, and that’s somehow indicative of “Midwestern” culture?) really irritating.

    The original article didn’t have one single mention of Chicago, even though it’s acknowledged as a great food city by people who care about that sort of thing (I do, a little). Some of the other examples were restaurants he didn’t even eat at– he just didn’t like the signage. People commented on that article from the cities mentioned to point out that the restaurants the author complained about were on the outskirts of the city and probably the first place he passed on his way through, not where people really go. The guy wasn’t even smart enough to go to a diner for some damn eggs if he was so hungry.

    Chicago is really my pet city to skim for, since I live here now, have lived in IL my entire life, and have been at least mostly vegetarian for almost the last 10 years. It’s actually kind of shocking how few articles from NY media even mention Chicago (you know, only the 3rd largest U.S. city and the largest city in the region under discussion), even in articles like this one set in the Midwest and ostensibly about things Chicago does really well, like food.

    On the other hand, I see plenty of writing in NY publications that the authors clearly think are about their specific city but aren’t at all– they describe urbanism generally, and experiences that are common to many people living in large cities. The absence of those other U.S. cities (Chicago bugs me the most, but off the top of my head Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Detroit and KC are also great cities that are insufficiently covered and stereotyped when mentioned) from “national” media is so glaring I’ve started to wonder if it isn’t on purpose. If anyone from New York really engaged with how cool even one of those cities is, they’d have to admit that what they have isn’t so unique after all. Oh noes!

  123. January 13, 2012 at 11:53 pm

    And, I’m sorry I got so cranky. after spending four years in Boston and another four in Seattle, I’m used to coastal folk getting all snooty when they talk about the midwest and comparisons to the midwest being mostly derogatory.

    I’m sorry, too.

    I was only ever in Chicago one afternoon when I was 15. It seems like a nice place. I hope to get back there.

  124. EG
    January 14, 2012 at 12:18 am

    If anyone from New York really engaged with how cool even one of those cities is, they’d have to admit that what they have isn’t so unique after all. Oh noes!

    Not really. I love Chicago and have spent a lot of time there (lots of family in Chicago), as has my father, who grew up there, though he doesn’t love it. Neither of us has every found it to be much like NYC at all. London is a lot like New York, but Chicago isn’t. It’s a great city, but by no means is it evidence against the “NYC is unique” argument.

    I don’t think its an accident that both southern food and midwestern food are criticized for being low-class and unpleasant when they’re both deeply influenced by African American contributions.

    All the foodies and food writers I’ve ever met or read sing the praises of southern food, particularly its African-American aspects. The only people I can even imagine dissing southern food would be white-bread upper-class New England WASPS, and they wouldn’t be dissing it in favor of Italian or Indian food. They’d be dissing it in favor of Velveeta slices on white bread, so…I can’t take them seriously.

    But, really, fuck em’. If they never know the glory of potato pancakes with sour cream, a good mushroom and sauerkraut pierogi

    I can’t speak for the rest of the East Coast, but there’re more Eastern European restaurants in the area of NYC in which I grew up than you can shake a stick at, and there’s some serious overlap with Jewish cooking there as well.

  125. January 14, 2012 at 9:36 am

    It’s actually kind of shocking how few articles from NY media even mention Chicago (you know, only the 3rd largest U.S. city and the largest city in the region under discussion), even in articles like this one set in the Midwest and ostensibly about things Chicago does really well, like food.

    Oh HELL yeah. There is soooo much that Chicago (and other midwestern cities) contributed to the overall history and culture of the United States—-especially in the labor movement. If you just woke up are and lazily surfing the internet with your morning coffee, you can thank all those midwestern industrial workers who brought you the weekend.

  126. Sunset
    January 14, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    I believe this was referenced earlier, but what always gets me is the difference between how religious dietary restrictions are treated and how non-religious ethically motivated restrictions are treated. I have found people who would be perfectly willing to accommodate someone who needed kosher or halal food, but absolutely do not want to deal with non-religious vegetarianism. There just seems to be something different in the perception.

  127. LotusBen
    January 14, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    I see what you’re saying William. This is all a pretty interesting conversation for me to have because I haven’t spent much time in the Midwest and so don’t really even have a gut instinct of what “midwestern cuisine” is. I was lured into this thread by the vegetarian hook, not the midwestern hook, lol.

    I grew up in suburban Oregon during the 1990s. I think most people in my demographic considered themselves very much part of the American mainstream. We were the types of people who believed we “didn’t have an accent.” I think generally there was no conception among my peers of “Oregon food.” Food was what your parents bought at Albertson’s or Safeway or what you ordered at Taco Bell or Denny’s. My environs were also very white, with a few Asian-American and Mexican-American people scattered in too. And we weren’t Polish, or Irish, or German, or Italian. I mean, a great many of us were of those ancestries (I’m mainly German-American). . .but this wasn’t something that was talked about or considered important. We were all intermixed in the same suburban neighborhoods. We believed we were mainstream, middle-class white Americans. And that was evident in the food we ate, which was in seemless continuity with the stuff we saw on TV commercials or could walk past at the food court in a mall, whether our local mall or the Mall of America in Minnesota.

    Fun times.

  128. January 14, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    This is an interesting thread. Like so many others mentioned above, the Midwest is so often glossed over or ridiculously stereotyped, that it becomes really irritating, having lived here for my entire life and knowing full well the vast amount of culture to be found here. But like others have said, I am not sure I really even know what “Midwestern cuisine” really is. I grew up in Minneapolis, eating what I considered pretty “standard” American fare: spaghetti with hamburger, chicken, steak, BBQ’d hot dogs and brats and hamburgers, pizza, the occasional Chinese take-out. Of course there were the things that I only later learned were considered to be wither specifically Minnesotan (“hotdishes”) or “broke-ass” (spaghetti noodles on top of instant mashed potatoes, covered with V8 juice; egg noodles with brown gravy, etc.), but pretty much as soon as I moved out of my mom’s house in Minneapolis and lived on my own in St. Paul and other neighborhoods in Minneapolis, I realized how expensive meat was and immediately became aware of many other types of food that are so readily available, it’s almost funny. There are so many grocery stores and restaurants specializing in foods from outside the US, and even picking the big-box grocery store in the right neighborhood (ours would be Cub and Rainbow, generally) will yield tons of results if you’re looking for more “ethnic” foods that are vegetarian at reasonable prices.

    And can I just say for the record that I don’t know anyone who still goes to the damn Mall of America on purpose? I started avoiding that place about a year after it opened. It’s just… kind of a gross place. Unless, of course, you have a really urgent need to visit three different hologram-themed stores.

  129. Jjuliaava
    January 15, 2012 at 2:26 am

    I live in St. Louis, MO. Every time I mention being veg– not something I boast about– but for example if I am offered a pork chop, I would probably say, ‘no thank you, I don’t eat meat.’ Most indubitably the person I say this to will 99.9% of the time say *shocked like* WHY?
    So yes, sure, there are tons of different reasons to give up eating cows calves pigs chickens ducks fish lobsters turkey flesh. There are a vast supply of reasons WHY? My issue is that WHY is said in such a tone as to infer that being veg is drastic and insane as if I am doing something of harm (irony). The gut reaction to “I don’t eat meat” is WHY? WHY OH WHY would you do something like that!??
    Wanna know WHY I don’t eat meat? It is a combo: masticating flesh is grody, factory farms are unhealthy: disease breeding, environmentally unsustainable, cause mucho pollution, cow factory farms drink up the vast majority of fresh water/fossil fuel plus it takes 14 lbs grain to produce 1 lb cow meat which instead of feeding cattle could ideally feed idonno like all starving children? Cow processing companies are evil to the extreme (I am pretty sure Satan owns the one in Iowa where hundreds of immigrants were kept as slaves). It is religious to me, a spiritual karma dealie, just personal (not Hindu).
    I am aware that my own veg-ness will not have much of an impact on mega cos. like the one that took out Oprah, but still it makes me feel better or as lotus puts it:
    “Ethical consumerism, including ethical vegetarianism, is just a way for people to feel like they matter when they don’t.”
    I mean why do anything if that’s your mentality? Why vote? Why drive a Prius? Why recycle? Why pray to Jesus? Why get out of bed in the morning? What’s the point of anything at all ever? The universe is soooo vast!

  130. igglanova
    January 15, 2012 at 3:25 am

    Ethical consumerism, including ethical vegetarianism, is just a way for people to feel like they matter when they don’t.

    I do take a bit of umbrage to sweeping statements like this. Even if your influence ends up being a drop in the bucket, that ‘drop’ still amounts to the lives of, say, a hundred or so animals in a given year. I happen to believe that each of those lives has value enough that refraining from filling them with misery and torture is a respectable goal in and of itself, and I even say this as a non-vegetarian.

    It’s easy to play this game. I can come up with pithy asshole statements, too. ‘People who sneer at ethical consumerism just do it to feel superior for being too lazy to quit eating meat and stop shopping at Wal-Mart.’ Or that they’re too short-sighted and self-consciously RADICAL! to see the value in anything that isn’t an all-or-nothing game (like small victories over cruel labour practices vs ENDING CAPITALISM FOREVER, BITCHEZ!!!). I mean, really. We might as well start flinging poo.

  131. January 15, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Ethical consumerism, including ethical vegetarianism, is just a way for people to feel like they matter when they don’t.

    I think that’s an unfair sweeping statement, too. Whenever possible, I spend my money with unionized businesses; I don’t feel right using my union-earned dollars (which is why I earn a decent living) with businesses that pay their workers less than a living wage and no benefits. But. I’m also not under any illusion that that particular choice of mine is going to directly or indirectly harm unethical businesses or directly or indirectly assist struggling workers. Consumer choice won’t do that; mass movements will.

    It can’t be said enough: systemic problems need systemic solutions, not individual solutions. Since this is a feminist space, it’s worthwhile to consider that almost all labor and/or civil rights legislation was/is combated by opponents who insist that each transgression, each abuse of power that led to the formulation of said legislation was/is unnecessary—-that if only individuals have/had the “good common sense” to approach the problem(s) in the “right” way, the problem(s) would ‘solve themselves’. History and experience teaches that this isn’t the case.

  132. LotusBen
    January 15, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Even if your influence ends up being a drop in the bucket, that ‘drop’ still amounts to the lives of, say, a hundred or so animals in a given year.

    I’m not even sure I buy this anymore. I used to, during the 5 year period I was a vegetarian or vegan. But, I think someone choosing not to eat meat might very well just cause prices to go down by some minute amount (since there’s less demand), which might prompt some other people somewhere else to buy meat who weren’t because it was out of their price range. That’s just one hypothetical scenario. It could also nudge meat producers to minutely increase their advertising budget, since demand’s going down, which would manipulate others into buying a slight amount of more meat. I know these sorta sound like ridiculous hypotheticals, but in my opinion so is the idea that your consumer choices are directly impacting the amount of animals that industrial farm corporation execs are choosing to raise and slaughter. I think it buys into bogus ideas that the market is some sort of “economic democracy” and dollars are votes.

    The fact remains that when you’re buying meat. . .you aren’t killing animals, you aren’t torturing animals, you’re not even saying you endorse those practices. You’re just buying meat. I believe the market, whether for this product or anything else, is created by those with power, who then set up the system in such a way as to manipulate consumers into buying their products. So, no, you’re buying choices don’t matter.

    Still, I’ll agree with you in a certain sense. My statement that ethical consumerism is “just a way for people to feel like they matter when they don’t” was overly broad and probably inaccurate. I’m sure there’s a large variety of motivations that cause people to endorse or practice ethical consumerism, not just a desire to feel like they matter. I know for me, though, my ethical consumerism came from a desire to feel like I mattered when I didn’t–chiefly, at least.

    ‘People who sneer at ethical consumerism just do it to feel superior for being too lazy to quit eating meat and stop shopping at Wal-Mart.’

    There’s a grain of truth to that. It’s definitely one of the underlying motivating factors for me. I stopped most of my ethical consuming largely because it was too much work. I reject the work ethic anyway; I see laziness as an often sensible conservation of one’s physical, emotional, and intellectual resources, rather than as a character flaw.

  133. LotusBen
    January 15, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I mean why do anything if that’s your mentality? Why vote? Why drive a Prius? Why recycle? Why pray to Jesus? Why get out of bed in the morning? What’s the point of anything at all ever? The universe is soooo vast!

    Lol Jjuliaava. Yeah. I mean that sorta is my mentality. The universe is soooo vast. For the most part, I try to stay focused on my own life and the people who happen to be in my immediate surroundings in any given moment. I don’t vote. I don’t pray. I do recycle because it’s relatively painless in a large, liberal metropolitan area. And it actually has external world impacts. Actual phyiscal objects have to be disposed of somehow–they will either be reused, recycled, go to a landfill, or become litter on the street. On the other hand, I believe that an individual voting, or praying, or not buying meat for ethical purposes, really has no impact on the outside world. Of course, they do impact that individual’s psychology, so since you like that impact, it still makes sense to do it. But I tend more toward the lazy side of things nowadays.

  134. William
    January 15, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    I mean why do anything if that’s your mentality? Why vote? Why drive a Prius? Why recycle? Why pray to Jesus? Why get out of bed in the morning? What’s the point of anything at all ever? The universe is soooo vast!

    I’m not knocking vegans or vegetarians, and I really don’t care what people choose to do in pursuit of happiness. If not eating meat makes you feel good, or works for you, or takes pressure off of your conscience then I’m all for it. My problem isn’t with what people it, but with the ways in which some people justify their behaviors through shaming others. Thats disgusting and dangerous whether its coming from Jerry Falwell or from PETA. Everyone is not the same. Everyone doesn’t, and shouldn’t, make the same decisions about how to run their lives.

    I only vote in local elections because I live somewhere where my vote on the national level has been systematically disempowered.

    I don’t drive a Prius because I don’t have the money for a hybrid and even if I did theres a good chance I’d get something with either a longer track record for reliability or more potential for fun.

    I don’t recycle because I don’t consume many products that come in aluminium and because I have a lot of shit to do and recycling isn’t easy if you live in an apartment building in my city.

    I don’t pray to Jesus because I don’t believe he existed/exists and even if I did I find the things that symbol stands for to be morally repugnant and hostile to human happiness.

    I get out of bed in the morning because I have shit to do, people I care about, and a life to live.

    My life is not yours as yours is not mine. Theres no way we can build mutual respect if we’re constantly supporting ourselves by hurling judgement at one another.

  135. mmy
    January 15, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    I also realized that I would always accomodate others with weird food preferences: blood type diet, gluten free, raw vegan, you name it

    You do realize, do you not, that gluten free isn’t a “weird food preference” — it is a medical requirement.

  136. Anna
    January 15, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    You do realize, do you not, that gluten free isn’t a “weird food preference” — it is a medical requirement.

    For many people, it is. Anecdotally, I can tell you about people who go gluten-free for non-medical reasons that I honestly don’t understand. I ask them why they don’t eat wheat and they give vague answers like, “It makes me tired.” Or some of them have a quasi-paleo, an anti-wheat bee in their bonnet or something. I’d be curious to know, non-anecdotally, how many people on a wheat- and gluten-free diet were actually diagnosed with Celiac disease or some other sensitivity.

  137. mmy
    January 15, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    I’d be curious to know, non-anecdotally, how many people on a wheat- and gluten-free diet were actually diagnosed with Celiac disease or some other sensitivity

    Non-anecdotally? I don’t know who many people who are on the diet were “actually diagnosed” but I do know that medical studies indicate that most people who have the disease have never been formally diagnosed for a number of reasons.

    NIH Consensus Panel Finds Celiac Disease Under-Diagnosed

    Celiac Disease Underdiagnosed

    Only 5% of Patients Correctly Diagnosed With Gluten Intolerance

    It is a serious condition. I am sure that there are people who go gluten free because they tried the diet and felt better–one of the serious problems that celiacs/people who are gluten intolerant have is that many doctors (see the articles I linked to) are so unaware of the condition (or ill informed about it) that they resist actually testing people.

    Since people who are following the diet will show negative in most tests that means that only people who are seriously suffering the disease and not following the diet will even “show up” when tested.

    Since I (and other people I know) have been seriously ill because people who served us food lied to us–that is they lied to us about the ingredients in food they were serving us because they viewed our conditions as a “weird food preference” comments such as that I initially replied to give me chills.

  138. Anna
    January 15, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    I can’t tell whether or not you understand that I’m drawing a firm distinction between people who have a real condition in which wheat will seriously eff them up, and people who are basically faddists for whom a gluten-free diet is an unnecessary affectation. That doesn’t mean that the condition isn’t real or isn’t underdiagnosed.

    And yeah — a lot of people who serve food will lie, whether you profess a “weird food preference” or tell them you have life-threatening allergies. I’ve had it happen to me. A long time ago I just gave up on “normal” restaurants, because even though I know there are places where the waitstaff will go to bat for you, I also know there are places where the waitstaff will tell you what they think you want to hear. I’d rather not deal with it in the first place, just as so many of these places obviously don’t want to deal with me!

  139. mmy
    January 15, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    I can’t tell whether or not you understand that I’m drawing a firm distinction between people who have a real condition in which wheat will seriously eff them up, and people who are basically faddists for whom a gluten-free diet is an unnecessary affectation. That doesn’t mean that the condition isn’t real or isn’t underdiagnosed.

    And I can’t tell whether you understand that you are in no position to decide whether most of the people who are on gluten free diets are “basically faddist” or not. Since at least 1% of Americans ARE celiac/gluten intolerant probably most of the people anyone meets who say they shouldn’t/won’t it eat gluten have a solid medical reason for doing so.

    Also, if you read the literature, an amazing number of people who are living gluten free are doing so not because a doctor told them to but because the diet relieved their symptoms. They don’t have a magic piece of doctor signed paper but they are not food faddists they are just people who found the diet through attempts to relieve their symptoms.

    Since I know that there are people who probably think that I am a food faddist because I don’t have a piece of paper in my wallet to wave in their face when they ask me “why I don’t eat such-and-such.”I have hear exactly the same comments about people who say they have allergies to shrimp, peanuts and soy. Why can’t people accept that although there are small number of people who move from one fad diet to another most of us who are on seriously restricted diets have no choice and would really appreciate not having other people presume that we have “weird preferences.”

  140. Anna
    January 15, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    I never said “most” people on gluten-free diets were faddists — please don’t attribute a claim to me that I so clearly did not make. I have no idea how many people on gluten-free diets are doing so for reasons other than medical requirements, and said that anecdotally I know of a few. Some of them believe they are treating symptoms, like fatigue, and some of them adopt it as a temporary type of “cleansing” diet. I can’t speak for someone’s embodied experiences of fatigue, but the beliefs in wheat as a toxin or a gluten-free diet as a form of cleansing? When they were perfectly fine to begin with? I’m skeptical.

    I’m smart enough to know that these are just anecdotes and not necessarily representative of everyone who is on a gluten-free diet. I’m sorry if what I said upset you, but I don’t think I said anything controversial. I certainly did not say that everyone, or most everyone, on a gluten-free diet is a faddist of some kind.

  141. Mezzanine
    January 15, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    I ask them why they don’t eat wheat and they give vague answers like, “It makes me tired.”

    …you do realise that people with food intolerances will often figure out that they have them purely by going off a specific food for a while and figuring out that the reason they’re always tired (or whatever) is because of that food?

    In other words, just because someone can’t give you a medical certificate with every dietary requirement spelled out in triplicate, doesn’t mean their “vague” reasons should be dismissed as an affectation.

  142. mmy
    January 15, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    Okay Anna, think about it this way — imagine the original statement had been blood type diet, low sodium, raw vegan or blood type diet, low cholesterol, raw vegan or blood type diet, no peanut, raw vegan or blood type diet, no shrimp, raw vegan diets.

    The original poster was including in a list of “weird food preferences” a diet that is often medically indicated. One of those things was not like the other.

    So, yup, I imagine there are a few people out there who avoid peanuts or shrimp or sodium or cholesterol because they are food faddists but I think it would be an actively dangerous thing to spread the idea that requests for food free of those ingredients is mere faddism.

  143. trees
    January 15, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    @mmy
    Thank you so much for that.

    I get the skepticism caused by the whole *new weird trendy food thing*, but the growing popularity means more food options for those with these health concerns. Because it can seem like just another restrictive dieting strategy, I sometimes feel ashamed of sharing my food issues with people. This leads me to on occasion eat things I really shouldn’t, things that are harmful for me.

    I was told that it takes on average about 10 years to get a diagnosis of celiac/gluten intolerance/allergy. A lot of suffers and their health care providers just don’t know. Some people have next to no obvious symptoms, and food intolerances/allergies can mirror other disorders. I hope more tests will be made available for accurate diagnosis, and a general awareness will lead to people taking this issue seriously.

  144. Anna
    January 15, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    I agree with that. I wouldn’t have included gluten-free in a generalized list of “weird food preferences” either. But just because I think that there are some people who adopt gluten-free diets for non-medical reasons (and they DO exist, though I am making no claims about how widespread they may or may not be), does not mean I’m saying that everyone on a gluten-free diet is doing so for non-medical reasons. It does not mean that I immediately suspect that anyone who says they’re on a gluten-free diet is a faddist. (Though, yeah, I do begin to suspect that when I hear words like toxin or cleanse, but that’s a general rule for me and not specific to gluten-free diets. As I said, I’m a skeptic when it comes to food woo, as opposed to physiological realities.)

    I don’t really see where we are disagreeing here. We both acknowledge that gluten-free diets can be medical necessities for some people. We even both seem to acknowledge that there are some people who adopt certain diets out of “faddism.” And we seem to agree that people should be able to get the foods they want because they are entitled to know the truth about the food they’re buying, not because they have submitted proof that they have a medical requirement for it.

    If you want the last word you can have it — I think I’ve explained my position pretty clearly, and I’ve more than emphasized what claims I was and was not making. I feel like I’m having claims misattributed to me, but what I wrote (and didn’t write) is perfectly readable.

  145. mmy
    January 16, 2012 at 11:10 am

    @trees:

    I sometimes feel ashamed of sharing my food issues with people. This leads me to on occasion eat things I really shouldn’t, things that are harmful for me.

    Hang in there.

    In recent days I have come to realize how many isolated celiacs there are “out there.” I have just put up a post on my own blog where I will try over the next week or so to put up links and to swap stories of dealing with the disease.

  146. GraceFace
    January 23, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    Check out Sluggo’s, in Pensacola, Florida :) I went with my bf and a bunch of his Navy friends, and they all liked it–they barely even noticed that there was no meat in their food. Then again, it was love at first sight for me, seeing as I’m a vegetarian, and finding vegetarian options in the Deep South is near impossible.

    ‘I’ll get the beans and rice.’
    ‘Chicken or shrimp in it?’
    ‘Neither, actually. I’m a vegetarian.’
    ‘Well, it’s fried in ham fat…’
    ‘Anything I CAN eat?!’
    ‘Well, we have a salad…’

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