On being partially vegetarian

Content note: This is just a personal account of how I became partially vegetarian. I won’t say much to defend this decision, although I’ll talk about some of the reasons I did it.

A couple years ago, I decided to eat less meat. First I decided that at restaurants where decent vegetarian options were offered, I would prioritize those. Then I switched out deli sandwich meat for meat substitutes. As for all the dinners I cook for myself, I tried making most of them vegetarian.

I would not say that I am 99% vegetarian, or even 95% vegetarian. It’s really more like 50-75%. At time of writing, the last time I ate meat was… yesterday. There are lots of reasons I might eat meat. Sometimes the vegetarian options at a restaurant are absent or unappealing. Or I’m at a social gathering where the food has meat in it. Or I’m cooking for my boyfriend, who happens to like meat a lot. Or he’s cooking for me. Or I’m just cooking a dish that I haven’t figured out how to make vegetarian yet.

The rationale for becoming partially vegetarian is that I just don’t like meat that much. Why am I spending money on it when I don’t enjoy it, it’s bad for the environment, and causes animal suffering? Better to just not do it. But also, I just don’t care that much. This probably isn’t philosophically defensible when you get down to it. I understand there are some fairly strong arguments for veg*nism. I guess that warrants some minimal effort to change my behavior, but I’m not treating it with any urgency.

There are some nice things about being partially vegetarian.  It incentivizes some creativity in food preparation, but also imposes constraints, reducing choice paralysis.

Being partially vegetarian is made possible by social and institutional support. This town is full of vegetarians, pesco-vegetarians, and vegans. So I don’t feel like I’m doing anything particularly strange. I’ve noticed that omnivores sometimes get weird around veg*ns at restaurants, but the presence of so many veg*ns has diluted this significantly. And there are lots of restaurants that serve good veg*n food. And I have veg*n friends that I can casually ask for advice.

One thing I heard from veg*ns is that sometimes it can cause certain vitamin deficiencies. So, for the first time since I realized vitamin supplements were mostly a scam, I bought some multivitamins. But I don’t really use them because I think I eat enough meat that it’s not an issue. I haven’t really read into the issue.

I have this vague notion, probably acquired from an article I saw a long time ago, that people like me are contributing significantly to the reduction of meat consumption. It’s not necessarily the small number of people who go fully vegan, but the large number of people who make small adjustments in their diets. I am not sure if this account is true, and could not find any sources in a cursory search. I dunno. I would encourage other omnivores to also put in some minimal effort to be partially vegetarian, because just, why not.

I’m don’t think there’s much more to say than that, so I’m going to talk about some food specifics.

I eat a sandwich every day for lunch because it’s easy to prepare in the mornings. I used to use deli meat, but I really don’t like deli meat so I was happy to take it out. I tried some sliced meat substitutes like Field Roast Deli Slices, but I got tired of that too. Finally I hit upon the idea of cutting up vegetarian sausages, and it’s the best thing ever. So now I make sandwiches with grain meat sausages, cherry tomatoes, and cheese.

There are several dishes I’ve had trouble converting to vegetarian. Chicken Adobo, that’s like the Filipino national dish, and you know, it doesn’t really work without the chicken. I found a recipe that substituted tofu, and it just wasn’t the same. I’ll try other things in the future. Mapo Tofu has ground beef, and I haven’t found a good substitute yet. Next time I’ll try substituting mushrooms, lots and lots of mushrooms. I’m optimistic about that. Fried rice certainly doesn’t need meat, but it’s really nice to have something in there to make it just a bit greasy. I like adding longanisa sausage, but maybe not anymore now that the local grocery store stopped carrying them, sigh. Oh, and then there’s spaghetti, which is greatly improved by the addition of meatballs. I could check the grocery store if they have vegetarian meatballs but I forgot to do that last time and now we have a really big bag of frozen meatballs, so maybe next time.  You can see how uncommitted I am to this whole thing, which is why I ate meat yesterday, but not today.

But there are lots of dishes where simply taking out meat worked fine. Honestly, cooking all that chicken was a pain anyway.


  1. rhebel says

    Thank you for this post. I emphasize to my students this same idea. Every reduction in meat consumption will help with sustainability for the Earth, given the ever growing human population. My daughter is a veg*n, and therefore even when we have meat (we are now probably 80-90% vegetarian) we have vegetarian options with all meals. Keep up the good work!

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    I’ve long felt that light carnivory makes most sense for humans, but am not enough of a foodie to argue much about it. The environmental case is even stronger, though the purists tend to show up and make a hash out of everything.

    For whose sake do you asteriskize that “a” in the v-word?

  3. says

    @Pierce R. Butler,
    “veg*n” is a common term to refer to vegetarians + vegans. Or at least, it’s common around here?

  4. mcbender says

    Interesting post, thanks for sharing your experience.

    I’ve been vegetarian (but not vegan) since I was nine years old, and somewhat like you describe it definitely started off because I just didn’t like meat very much and didn’t want to eat it any more. I didn’t start thinking about the ethical reasons until I was a bit older. But I don’t think this is a path to vegetarianism people talk about often, and I also think it’s a good contrast to people who talk about it as if it were some kind of great struggle and sacrifice; for me it really wasn’t. I’ve never felt the slightest temptation to return to meat-eating.

    Anyway, the main reason I wanted to comment on this was actually because of your offhand mention of Ma Po Tofu. I’ve had some success with a recipe I found that suggested using chopped roasted cashews in place of shredded pork or beef. I’ll admit the dish is not a high priority on my list of things to replicate, but it seemed to work reasonably well and could be worth trying if mushrooms don’t work out for you.

  5. sennkestra says

    @Siggy I have to admit, I had only seen” veg*n” like once or twice before and at the time I had assumed that it was just a censoring thing by someone who really hated vegans (ala f*ck). Cool to know what it actually means!

    As for mapo tofu, have you ever tried just not including any ground meat or ground-meat-substitute at all, or is that not satisfying? I actually skip the ground beef/pork a lot of the time when I make mapo tofu (since I often already have all the other ingredients in house but getting ground meat would require a grocery trip) and I think it’s pretty good, but that might just be because I grew up eating it that way a lot so it doesn’t seem weird to me.

    Also, if you have a mapo recipe that uses chicken stock, I’m a big fan of the better-than-bullion fake chicken version for making a few tablespoons of veggie chicken stock alternative on demand – I used that a lot when I had a vegetarian roommate. It’s also good for adding a bit of flavor to fried rice and things like that.

  6. says

    The issue with Mapo tofu is I still haven’t figured out the sauce. I’m used to the packaged sauce, but it’s difficult to find. When I’ve tried to make it from scratch, I’ve had mixed success. The problem is that every recipe seems to call for *key* ingredients that are even harder to find than the packaged sauce, or maybe I don’t even know what the ingredient looks like, and maybe this thing I found works or maybe it’s completely different? And even if I were to reproduce the recipes perfectly, there seem to be multiple traditions of Mapo tofu with different ideas of how it’s supposed to taste, and also several of them are way too spicy for me. It’s a communication nightmare, and I just don’t cook this dish frequently enough to figure it out.

    Anyway, it’s hard to experiment with the beef substitute when I’m also experimenting with the sauce.

  7. Knayt says

    The vast majority of my cooking is vegetarian (and a pretty significant fraction vegan), and I’ve generally found that making meals that are intrinsically vegetarian works a lot better than trying to alter meat dishes to make them vegetarian.

  8. anat says

    Is most of your cooking adaptations of meat recipes or is it mostly dishes designed to be vegetarian in the first place, with only some favorite meat dishes you are trying to convert? I find it more pleasing to do the former – no comparison, no perception of inauthenticity.

  9. tecolata says

    My meals I prepare are nearly always vegetarian, often vegan (but I do keep eggs & yogurt). Occasionally cook chicken or fish on a weekend. But when I go out I eat carnivore. I guess that’s my treat, like getting a cocktail and ordering dessert, two things I don’t do when eating at home.

  10. says

    @anat, Knayt,
    My usual approach to cooking is to start from some generic template (e.g. fried rice, stir fry, curry) and just throw ingredients together as I feel like it. It doesn’t make sense to think of these as intrinsically meat dishes, nor as intrinsically vegetarian. They’re just collections of ingredients with varying degrees of importance, and sometimes meat is an ingredient, sometimes it isn’t.

    Looking around for new templates is the hardest part of cooking for me, while fiddling around with existing templates is something I had already been doing on a regular basis

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    Siggy @ # 3: … vegetarians + vegans …

    Ah, it makes sense once you get that clue.

    I tried and failed to scan “veg*n” through gender, ethnic, phonetic, and expletive lenses.

  12. says

    @Pierce R. Butler,
    I believe the answer is that one does not pronounce “veg*n”. (In other words, I have no idea.)

  13. Dunc says

    It’s not necessarily the small number of people who go fully vegan, but the large number of people who make small adjustments in their diets.

    That certainly makes a lot of sense from a back-of-an-envelope estimate. It’s also very important not to get too hung up on aiming for perfection – a small change that you actually make is much better than a big change that you don’t make, or that doesn’t stick.

    Eating less meat also means that you can afford to eat higher quality and / or more ethically sourced meat.

    I grow quite a lot of my own veggies, so I find my diet is quite seasonal – in summer, when the garden is producing more veg than I know what to do with, I’m almost entirely vegetarian, whereas I eat more meat in the cold, dark days of winter, when you really need it.

  14. Rob Grigjanis says

    Pierce R. Butler @12:

    How, in kitchen space, do you pronounce “veg*n”?


  15. Rob Grigjanis says

    Falafel is the best meat substitute I’ve had. Lovely stuff, especially with all the Levantine trimmings.

  16. says

    @Rob Grigjanis,
    I do like falafel but I have never cooked it on my own. I thought it needed to be deep fried. Can I buy it frozen or something?

  17. Rob Grigjanis says

    Siggy @17: I’ve certainly heard of heat-from-frozen falafel, but never tried it.

  18. brucegee1962 says

    Morningstar Farms makes a lot of good meat substitutes. Also, Quorn can be put into just about any recipe that calls for chicken.

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