On being vegetarian

What is it that you eat?” one of my work friends asked me the other day, he was of course referring to the fact that I claim to be vegetarian though not strictly vegen. I along with my wife made the decision to be vegetarian some 7 years ago and we would never go back to the way we were before. The decision was fostered in part by a moral feeling that seeing all the trucks on the local highways carrying several thousands cows, pigs, sheep and chickens to their death didn’t jive well with the fact that we kept several pets in our household. You see we (at the time) had six cats, several guinea pigs, a couple of birds, a dozen or so gold fish and 1 turtle rescued from being eaten by Herons at the local park.

Another idea that added weight to the decision was the apparent impurity of the food supply (in particular the meat and poultry industry) and the massively profit run structure of the industry. It was about this time that Canada had suffered it’s latest Mad Cow scare, the book Fast Food Nation was published, the movie supersize me entered theatres and my wife found a book in the second hand stores called Toxin. After a little investigation on our part (isn’t the internet a wonderful tool?) we discovered more about the food supply (filthy poorly managed slaughter houses, little to know inspections, genetic engineering, drugs, hormones and a profit over safety attitude) than we ever wanted to know. That was the end of our meat eating days. We have since that time even reduced the amount of fish and dairy that we consume.

So the questions remains, “what do we eat?”. Well the exact same as you do except there is no meat in our dishes. We still have massive roast veggie dinners with potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, brussel sprouts, lashings of vegetarian gravy and massive Yorkshire puddings. We have also discovered that there is a burgeoning industry in vegetarian food products mostly made of TVP, textured vegetable protein.  There are vegetarian burgers, meatless meat balls, chicken-less nuggets and burgers even Buffalo Wings that have no chicken what so ever in them. The problem is mostly one of education, profit and perception. When we first started down this road we didn’t really know what we might eat either. We have since discovered however that we can eat any number of things from soup to chili to hamburgers to whatever suits our fancy, none of it having any meat.

When we eat at home. Eating out, particularly at fast food restaurants is another story all together. While some of the burger flipping joints offer up the obligatory “veggie” burger, they cook this burger right along side it’s meaty brethren using the same utensils and the same grill. I can’t count the number of people who have told me that for a  soup to have any flavor it must be made with beef broth or chicken stock. I don’t think so! There are lots of vegetarian recipes out there and lots of vegetarian products (more on this in a moment) that provide as rich a food supply as any meat based diet. So contrary to the belief of my friends, I actually eat well, eat much more than lettuce leaves and beans and I am  gaining weight and living a very healthy lifestyle. In fact since becoming vegetarian I have noticed that I don’t get quite so many colds, they are not quite so bad and I haven’t had heartburn in many years. Makes you wonder.

Remember I said there were lots of vegetarian products out there to be found? Well that’s sort of true but it is a challenge. In our city a number of the big stores will carry vegetarian products for a time, hiding them away in some obscure corner of the meat aisles or the freezer sections. Then a month later they will all disappear, the store managers claiming “they didn’t sell well so we took them off the shelf” Well no wonder since they were mostly hidden, not well advertised and overpriced. Both the manufacturers and the stores will tell that they have to be higher priced because there is a smaller market. The smaller market is mostly due to the perception thing.

Vegetarianism and vegetarian products suffer from a huge perception problem. A great many of my “friends” believe emphatically that the veggie burgers must taste like so much sawdust, the chicken-less kievs like some mushy bean pate. Nothing could be further from the truth but have they tried some much as a morsel? No. The never will, believing as they do that it is just cleverly packaged rabbit food. The manufacturers and media do little to erase this perception. Can you remember the last ad you saw on TV or in a mag for chicken-less kievs?

So vegetarian products are not well advertised by the stores that sell them, not in the least respected by the carnivores, not generally advertised by the media?  What about restaurants?  Peruse any restaurant menu, you’ll find 47 meat dishes and oh yes the token vegetarian dish. Have you seen any Burger king ads extolling the virtues of their vegetarian burgers? Doubt it. Even in the medical industry the perception problem persists. When was the last time your doc said to you, “you must eat more red meat! Get some protein into you.” or “if you don’t eat meat, you’ll fade away and die”? Well the only way I am fading is sideways, I have lost no weight since becoming vegetarian. Incidentally have you looked at your teeth lately? No I am not insinuating that vegetarianism gives you better teeth. Compare them to those of your dog (he is a bonified carnivore), you’ll find that he has all manner of sharp pointy teeth for tearing at meat but no molars. We on the other hand have lots of big flat grinding teeth for breaking up vegetable matter. Guess we were meant to be vegetarians after all.

So the next time you sit down to a dinner of steak, think on this, the cow that made the steak probably had mad cow, was drugged up, fed growth hormones, accelerators, disease inhibitors, was inspected by some tired over worked under payed government employee and slaughtered by a company that exists only for the profit to be made from selling every last ounce of that animal to the food supply industry. Bon Appetite!

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