I’m flexitarian, that means that I prefer to eat vegetarian, but I don’t commit to it. I think there’s a good case to be made that eating meat is bad for the environment and animal welfare, but I don’t translate that into a behavioral rule, more of a guiding principle. Also I don’t really like meat that much.
I don’t really know enough about vegetarianism to argue about it, but my personal experience gives me familiarity with some of the pain points in vegetarianism–situations that make it particularly difficult to eat vegetarian. I imagine that committed vegetarians need to make major changes in their lives to get around these issues. But for someone like me with a very low level of commitment, it’s easier to just eat meat.
Lack of vegetarian restaurant options
When I first became flexitarian, I lived in Berkeley, California. Berkeley has lots of vegetarian restaurant options. I didn’t realize how good I had it until I moved to another city. Though I still live in a liberal area, it feels like there are barely any vegetarian options around.
Like most people, I have all sorts of constraints on what I eat at restaurants, and a preference for vegetarian food is just one more thing on top of all that. For example, I can’t go to distant restaurants, because I do not drive. There are some foods that I just don’t like, or I don’t like enough to eat them frequently. There are some foods that I don’t eat often because my husband doesn’t like the cuisine. I like variety and novelty in my food. And I don’t usually consider a salad to be a complete dinner. So when each restaurant has zero to two vegetarian options, it starts feel too restrictive.
I’m half White half Chinese-Filipino, which means I have an Asian American identity, alongside a fairly low understanding of what that even means. Yes, I have a PhD and I am perfectly capable of reading scholarship about what it means to be Asian American, but that’s really not the same as living it. And it raises the question, why I should even feel the need to go in search of an ethnic identity–shouldn’t it just be something that I have naturally?
And not to say that this is a great source of angst for me, but it’s a common undercurrent of the mixed-race experience that leaves many people grasping at straws to connect to their ethnic heritage. And the very easiest straw to grasp is food. Ethnic food is indeed something I “have naturally”, simply by growing up with it, and eating it on a regular basis. Is this what ethnic identity is?
I know most readers are white and may lack any sort of conscious ethnic identity. To these readers, I struggle to convey the meaning and significance of my attachment to Asian cuisines. And what may be even more difficult to understand is my attachment to Filipino food, despite never having tried most of it. Because of the sheer rarity of Filipino restaurants, I only know a handful of Filipino dishes that my mother would regularly cook, such as chicken adobo or paella.
Unfortunately, I do not know how to make chicken adobo without chicken. I have tried, there are recipes out there. Alas, I have not found anything satisfactory, and I have a life outside of experimenting endlessly with recipes. And perhaps that’s no different from someone struggling to find a replacement for hamburgers. But it is at least a little different because: a) in this context there’s a premium placed on “””authenticity”””, b) there’s a whole beef substitute industry catering to people who want vegetarian burgers, but not one for people who want vegetarian ethnic foods, and c) restaurants just won’t have the vegetarian versions.
For once in my life, I live near a Filipino restaurant. The first thing I learned from it, is that Filipino food is very not vegetarian.
I am given to understand that cooking tasty vegetarian food is not very hard. But what about cooking tasty vegetarian food, without having to make a whole hobby out of it? I at least cook, which puts me ahead of a lot of people, but adding new recipes to my repertoire is a lot of work. I can’t just find a new recipe online, I also have to test it, and mold it to fit my own cooking habits, tools, accessible ingredients, and taste.
I’ve said that I just don’t like meat that much, but sometimes I feel like what meat does is make the veggies cooked alongside it tastier. I’m not sure to what extent beef substitute works the same way, it sure feels like the meat substitutes are more interested in tasting good than they are in improving the taste of things they’re cooked with. I feel like what I really need is drippings substitute.
Perhaps the most obvious difficulty with eating vegetarian, is that I don’t eat by myself.
My husband eats meat and we take turns cooking. We end up in the middle, where I eat more meat than I would otherwise, and he eats less than he would otherwise. And the burden of cooking vegetarian is split between us; sometimes I cook meat, and sometimes he cooks vegetarian. I like that.
Much harder is negotiating this with the rest of my family. Their accommodation of my dietary preferences is very inconsistent. It’s so often an afterthought when choosing restaurants or communal dishes. And to be fair, I’m sure they would be more accommodating if I drew a hard line about it. But I don’t draw a hard line, so that’s where it stands.
I hope this doesn’t come across like I’m just complaining or venting. It’s more about understanding. If you would like to make vegetarianism easier, either to reduce consumption of meat, or just to better accommodate vegetarians or flexitarians, these are some of the common obstacles to overcome.