During one of her podcasts, the esteemed Colleen Patrick-Goudreau asked a very profound question:
Why is meat-containing food the standard fare?
Indeed, I would also like to know the answer to this question. Why, when vegetarian food is tasty, healthful, and cheaper than its meaty counterpart, is the meat-containing option the default setting? Colleen offered an alternative which makes me so happy to contemplate:
What if the vegetarian option were the standard fare?
Seriously, think about it. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve ordered a vegetarian meal, even going off the menu to do so if necessary, and seen my tablemates look at my food with envy. Texas has forced me to become more assertive and upfront about my vegetarianism, and it’s a good thing. When we learn to ask for what we need, we learn how to make ourselves happy. Though I have to say, sometimes when Matt and I are in a nice restaurant and I mention that the vegetarian options are slim pickings, he will tell our server about me, and I melt a little bit. It is nice to be taken care of from time to time. Also nice: the terrific vegetarian food that the kitchen whips up for me, like the plate of enchiladas that I ate at Christopher’s a few years ago. There were no enchiladas on the menu, but damn, they were fine. I love being a vegetarian.
Back to the questions at hand. Wouldn’t it be nice if, for once, the meat-eaters had to make a request for meat in their meal? I’m not even suggesting that they (gasp) go without meat at, for example, work events where food is served. I just think that if more vegetarian food was offered as a matter of course, people would eat it. If it tastes good, they won’t complain that it’s vegetarian, not unless they are total ingrates.
I realize that in a way, this argument is a slippery slope. What about food allergies? I have a friend who has allergies to dairy and tomatoes. I have other friends with celiac disease. Does that mean all food at work events that we attend should be dairy-, tomato-, and gluten-free? (Oh, and vegetarian, of course.) What could we eat? How about salads, soups, fruit or veggie platters, rice, hummus, and for dessert, chocolate? We could even have sandwiches if they were served on gluten-free bread. And how wonderful would it be for everyone to be able to eat everything?
It would be amazing. The hard part would be assembling the menu, not the cooking. Cooking for dietary restrictions is not hard; it just requires some forethought and some creativity. I’m still learning how to put together tomato-free vegan meals for my friend with the allergies. I’m learning, and she forgives me when the meal is less than perfect. She loved the chocolate-raspberry thumbprints, and I sent her home with a big baggie of cookies. But sometimes I burn the rice, or the curry isn’t quite as good as I had hoped. That’s how it goes sometimes.
I dream of a world in which I can say yes to food more often than I say no. That would be amazing. Until then, I keep speaking up, loud and clear, and speaking my truth, as Colleen puts it.