“Is this dish vegetarian?”
“Yes! It just has chicken stock, but it’s vegetarian.”
This is a common response my family gets when attempting to order food in restaurants in America. My Hindu parents immigrated from India a few decades ago and abstain from eating meat of any kind. Locations that we are able to dine at are limited because we live in a society that is dominated by meat-eating.
There are 7.3 million vegetarians in the United States. Many restaurants and stores have become more accommodating for these millions who choose to not eat meat, but there is still room for growth. Sometimes my family will go into a restaurant and my parents can’t find anything to eat, because the menu is void of a veggie burger amongst the dozen hamburgers. Sometimes the fried rice has to be omitted from a dish, because it was cooked in chicken stock, which apparently does not constitute as meat to most. Many consider fish to be acceptable in the diets of vegetarians, but that is simply not the case (pescatarianism would be the correct word for that).
For these millions who do not eat meat, there could be more acceptance in dining locations and society overall. The all-American cookouts with hamburgers and hotdogs could offer more to meat-abstainers besides the salad and appetizers. A larger variety of substitutions could be made for tacos that can’t be filled with chicken, beef, or shrimp. More pasta sauces can be made without ground beef surpassing the amount of marinara.
I’m not by any means saying that there is no accommodation for vegetarians across the globe; recipe assortments have been growing every year and we, as a collective society, have become more supportive of citizens who choose to not eat meat. But many can acknowledge that meat is the dominant food group in our culture. Aisles of the supermarket are devoted to delis, butchers, and seafood. Hundreds of thousands of recipes educate the public on how to prepare vast varieties of meats in thousands of different ways, while many struggle to create a dish without what is the seemingly ‘main component’: meat. Many view a meal without meat as incomplete or un-filling.
Let’s work on expanding our palates and accommodating more vegetarian selections into our restaurants and shops. There are plenty of selections to broaden our horizons besides lettuce; beans, lentils, pastas, and breads can all be worked into delicious entrees that the majority of citizens can enjoy. And it may be for the best; high levels of red meat can cause an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, and shorter life spans. Not to mention the numerous risks such as mad cow disease and salmonella that pop up every few years. Everyone can benefit from an expanded diet with more proteins and vitamins.
It’s always good to remember that meat is an important food group — but it is not the only one.