First, I’m not a vegetarian. Vegetables have found me later in life. Potatoes, typically mashed, and corn were the predominant veggies for me growing up. The former is primarily simply starches. The latter is closer to a grain and is seriously deficient unless paired with beans. There’s a reason the two are often paired in Native American and Mexican cuisine. This is not a post about nutrition though. This is just to give you the reader an idea of how limited my herbivore habits were.
I’m not sure whether marriage is the point where my pallet started expanding, but it seems a decent enough demarcation point. It didn’t take long in our marriage before we were blessed with our first child. Just under 12 months later we were blessed with our second child. Between finishing up schooling, formula (for our first born due to a physiological factor after about 6 months), and the rest, a couple of T-Bone steaks or a couple of Rib Eyes became a bit of a luxury. Flank steak and Round steak take more care, but they can taste pretty good with a little work. I’m not a snob, but hamburger doesn’t much do it for me. Presently we go through about 5 lbs of it a month, so it isn’t like we never have it. And I do enjoy hamburgers. Hamburger Helper or a lasagna with nearly half hamburger and barely any cheese just doesn’t have a great appeal. Our household lasagna for example has very little hamburger at all.
For those vegetarians repulsed by the little carnivorous orgy I had there and who are simultaneously wondering how I could be moving to vegetarianism, sit back. As I stated above, I’m not a convert yet, and I probably never will be. I’m passed the point now of wondering how vegetarians get by day-to-day. I always knew a carnivorous diet was more expensive. What I am appreciating more and more however is how hit and miss it can be too. I have never brought home a yam from the store and after cooking it thought, “I wonder what part of the field that yam was raised.” I’ve never faced a point of indecision in the store about whether I should take this yam or that yam and contemplated the matter for a few minutes. We had chicken leg quarters in the home about 3 weeks ago that everyone still remembers here. They were just plain awful. It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then one roasts a bird that it turns out was borderline for making stock even. I’m to the point where I’m thinking about poaching nearly every meal. (Poaching is often confused with boiling. Many recipes that claim to boil foods actually poach them. For the differences between boiling, simmering, and poaching, see here.)
Poaching brings me to a rather large exception to vegetarianism, at least as pointed out during Lent. Poaching fish in a liquid of about half diluted butter is admittedly a sometime treat in our household and rather delicious. I think we and quite a few folks see having to eat fish rather than meat during Lent as a real sacrifice. Even with the fish exception, many of us will catch ourselves breaking the meat abstinence on some Friday during Lent. Meat is ubiquitous in our culture. Seafood is expensive. McDonald’s will give me a double cheeseburger for $1, but the fish fillet is $1.50 on special. Cheap fish start near $5.00/lb in the supermarket and hamburger starts at $1.39/lb with cuts of beef starting around $4/lb. Pork and chicken prices are much cheaper, and the better cuts rarely top $4/lb. I think most Lents growing up we said a small prayer for those who didn’t like fish, because they were basically getting nothing.Even for us poor folks though, there is Tuna Helper. I’m sure there are a few families who are eating nothing but Tuna Helper for the Fridays of Lent. At some point here, some of you have probably thought about screaming that we are fortunate today (or are wimps) because back in the bad old (good old) days, abstinence from meat was maintained throughout Lent. Of course this is very true. It is also true we are eating about a 1/3 more meat today than we did in just the 60s. Given our culinary habits today, we are no longer engaging in an act of solidarity with with the poor among us by giving up meat for 40 days. In fact it is a sign of opulence to engage in the abstinence for the length of Lent if one substitutes seafood for their meat consumption. This is one of those cases where a relaxation of the norm actually lends itself better to the humility the norm originally sought to bestow. There is nevertheless a certain irony that the poor man has greater difficulty being faithful to the meat abstinence than the man of able means.
And this my friends brings us back to the title of this post. Despite it being an ideology among many today, vegetarianism can be and probably should be the ordinary existence. Yes, I am including seafood in vegetarianism, but not in a central role. There are hardly any great vegetarian dishes, but there are plenty of good enough vegetarian dishes. Sweet potato pie would be in the former. Green bean casserole would be in the latter. And while I’ll always have a weakness for grilled lamb chops, I’m coming to appreciate that planning my life either nutritionally or financially around good meat is an uphill battle that is probably not worth fighting. Around the world, most people don’t choose vegetarianism to make a political statement. More often they choose it because the affordable meat that is available to them tastes awful. And yet they somehow survive. I’m not a vegetarian yet, but I’m at the point where meat is a choice, a place I never thought I would be.
Update: Links to vegetarian cookbooks recommended in the comboxes below.
Passionate Vegeterarian by Crescent Dragonwagon.