Eight Myths About Vegetarians and Vegetarian Food

Long-time readers know all about Casual Kitchen's predilection for what we call part-time vegetarianism. Since vegetarian cuisine is typically very inexpensive, one great way to stretch your food budget and make your diet healthier is to replace two or three meat-based meals each week with vegetarian dishes.

However, since we straddle the world of meat-eaters and meat-avoiders, I'm often shocked by the many misconceptions that otherwise perfectly normal people hold about vegetarian cuisine. This post is an effort to put these myths to rest once and for all.

Myth #1: You can't get enough protein eating vegetarian food.
Nonsense. The standard Western diet contains several times the amount of protein the human body needs, thus those of us who embrace part time vegetarianism and eat two or three veggie meals a week have absolutely nothing to worry about. Moreover, full-time vegetarians only need to eat a well-balanced diet with a serving of dairy or eggs every day or so to meet their protein needs. Vegans have a bit more work to do here to get enough protein, but a diet containing generous servings of whole grains, legumes, and nuts will easily do the trick.

Myth #2: There isn't enough fat in a vegetarian diet.
Anyone who's ever met up with a big tub of delicious guacamole knows that fat is hardly limited to meat-based meals. And the standard Western diet is so fat-laden that we can easily ingest far more fat than we need. The fact that most vegetarian meals contain much less fat than most meat-centered meals is an advantage, not a disadvantage. Veggie cuisine makes eating healthy a lot easier.

Myth #3: Vegetarianism has to be all or nothing.
Here at Casual Kitchen, we embrace and enjoy vegetarian cuisine, but we are not--and probably never will be--vegetarians. Nobody says you have to make a one-way, Do Not Pass Go, permanent-for-all-time conversion to vegetarianism. Try veggie cuisine with an open mind once in a while, enjoy the health and cost benefits, and just see what you think. And then feel free to go right back to your regular meat-based diet.

Myth #4: Vegetarian diets are limited and boring.
Actually the exact reverse is true: so many meals depend on meat that cutting it out as the centerpiece of your diet literally forces you to vary your diet more. In my experience, vegetarians and partial vegetarians generally eat a much wider range of foods than the typical meat-eater.

Myth #5: You can't eat junk food on a vegetarian diet.
Heavens no. Not even close. Remember, Oreos are vegetarian. So are Doritos, potato chips and ice cream. Heck, so are Krispy Kreme donuts. You can eat a hellaciously bad diet and still call yourself a vegetarian. If you want to, that is.

Myth #6: Vegetarian food never fills me up.
Count us among the people who used to think this--until we tried some amazing, mind-opening recipes like Groundnut Stew from the amazing Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, or Smoky Brazilian Black Bean Soup, or Spanish Chickpea and Garlic Soup. Try out these recipes in your home, and when you find that you can't get up from the dinner table, you'll also change your mind about how filling vegetarian food is.

Myth #7: Vegetarian culture is too weird. And I don't want to wear tie-dye.
You'd be surprised how much the demographics of vegetarianism have changed over the years. Sure, thirty years ago, back when vegetarianism was a smallish clique of crunchy communities in places like Berkeley, CA and Ithaca, NY, you could make the argument that crunchy behavior and tie-dye clothing used to be the standard. But the typical vegetarian today is more Sex and the City than crunchy--in other words, the modern vegetarian is the type of person who wouldn't be caught dead wearing tie-dye.

Myth #8: Vegetarians are freakish militants intent on banning all meat.
If you took the time to actually get to know some vegetarians, you'd find the vast majority of them are quite peaceful, and they certainly don't lie awake at night worrying about what you just had for dinner. Yes, you'll find a few proselytizers here and there, but you can usually scare them off by waving your leather belt in a threatening manner. Most vegetarians quietly go about their business eating a healthy and perfectly satisfying diet, and they are okay with you eating meat if that's what you choose to do.

Readers, what other myths did I miss?

Related Posts:
What's Your Take on Going Vegetarian? A Poll of Meat-Eating Bloggers
My Seven-Day Raw Foods Trial
How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps
The Pros and Cons of a High-Carb/Low-Fat Diet
When High-Fat Food Can Actually Be Healthy For You
Six Secrets to Save You from Cooking Burnout
41 Ways You Can Help the Environment From Your Kitchen
Six Cookbooks That Should Be the Foundation of Your Cookbook Collection

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me from your own blog, or by subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!


Unknown said...

>...scare them off by waving your leather belt in a threatening manner...

Because of that sentence, everyone who sits around me at work wants to know why I suddenly burst out laughing.

As a semi-sorta-wannabe part time vegetarian (I'm going for once a week...can you tell it's hard?) My key to filling up while eating vegetarian (#6) is beans. Now I know why rice and beans are a staple in so many cultures - they're cheap and filling.

And #4? I think I'm paraphrasing Anthony Bourdain when I say that Indian cuisine, in its vegetarian form, has enough variety that I could eat it all the time without getting bored.

Diane said...

I'm a pretty committed omnivore (I made a goat curry this weekend!). But I love Indian food, especially South Indian, so I cook meatless meals several times a week. Sometimes I'll go weeks without meat.

In most of the world being a vegetarian isn't the politically-charged thing it seems to be here. It's just a way to eat.

Unknown said...

I agree with Diane, the word "vegetarian" seems to stir up all kinds of emotional/political ideas.

We try to have one or two meatless days a week. Today will be one of them.

Tonight, we'll have potato leek soup (home made), baguette, spinach salad with a little feta, and a good wine.

Dessert will be fresh berries.

We can pretty much eat as much as we want without getting too many calories, and it's easy to feel full after a meal like this.

We do it for health reasons, but have found it a financial boon as well.

In the summer, we eat so many fresh fruits and veggies, along with a slice of bread and a glass of wine, that we often go days without eating meat.

Laura said...

Before I married my meat-lovin' husband, I ate meat once a week. Maybe. I certainly was never bored with the variety in my diet. In fact, when I think back, I'd have to say that eating meatless opened my eyes and mind to a new world of foods and flavors that I'd missed in the meat-and-potatoes rut of my childhood.

Diana said...

Thank you for this kindly mainstream perspective on what is still all too often labeled radical. As a vegetarian who is not so militant (hey... reading a blog that regularly posts meat-based recipes...hm), friends who find out I'm vegetarian are suddenly very wary around me and keep asking if I'm ok with them eating meat. Frankly, that's much more annoying than anything I did or said. If I wasn't ok with it, I wouldn't be eating with you... duh!

Melissa said...

I've been on a surprising major vegetarian (and tofu) kick lately, I don't know why. But I've gone meatless at lunches for over a week and really enjoying it. I have no idea if it's a permanent thing, since I made a drastic lifestyle change recently, but I'm seeeriously enjoying it.

Point being I can start to understand the how and why of being vegetarian. Not long-term yet, obviously, but I can at least get an inkling now. And I am so pleased with not only the flavors and varieties of my meals, but with how much lighter I feel sometimes. And not because I'm not full.

Also, my sister just went completely vegetarian. She was already close for a while, so it was a natural step. And the types of things she eats are so interesting and wonderful, I can't see how it could be looked upon negatively, all vegan proselytizing and politics aside.

Nice post Dan, as usual.

5556777 said...

You might also want to mention the myth about cross-diet dating. I'm an omnivore and my girlfriend is vegan (doesn't eat animal products at all, including milk, eggs, cheese, etc.), and we do great. She doesn't push me to go vegan, and when I cook for both of us, I cook vegan food--which can be wonderfully delicious and satisfying, I've learned.

It may also be worth mentioning that when I started eating vegan just two or three times a week, with no other lifestyle change at all, I lost about 15 pounds within a few months.

rebecca said...

GREAT post! I agree with all. I could not care less what others around me order, but everyone seems to have to ask me, "oh, do you care if I get the steak"? Um, you're not going to try and make ME eat it, right? Then no, go right ahead. : )

Daniel said...

Excellent comments so far.

Mike and Diane, I think you've hit the nail on the head with Indian food. It's an amazingly diverse cuisine and I know a lot of people who have had their own myths about vegetarianism dispelled when they met up with a variety of meatless Indian meals. [PS: And Mike, thanks for the kind words on my questionable sense of humor.]

FIONA: happy to hear you finding it less expensive too. I just can't understand why people continue to think that healthy eating has to be expensive when there's such an easy (and part-time) solution available.

Diana E.S. and Rebecca: yep, agreed, very few veggies will try to persuade others to come over to their side. It's a personal choice. The leather belt method does work, though, if absolutely necessary. ;)

Melissa: I love your thinking. This is exactly the process I went through too. It didn't take me to full vegetarianism, but it taught me a ton of ways to eat a better, healthier, and a more interesting diet.

A: Great point. I know of one or two relationships which involved a "reluctant conversion," but I also know many more cross-diet relationships that worked out for both parties. Thanks for the insight.

Thanks for the civil and insightful discussion everybody! What else have we missed?


Lori said...

I found your blog last week and this column makes me a regular reader.

Last year, I didn't cook meat for myself or order it at restaurants if there was another reasonably tasty option, but I ate it with a smile when a guest at others' homes. I won't refuse my grandma's hamburger. Now I'm pregnant and have been wanting meat for the first time in years, so I'm just going with it.

re #4: some omnivores think: their regular diet - meat = vegetarian diet. My dad thinks vegetarian food is mashed potatoes and green beans minus the hamburger. Which, he's right, probably isn't filling and doesn't have enough protein. So thanks for stressing the key of variety and new foods!

5556777 said...

Lori's comment reminded me of a funny story I had to share:

Last Christmas, my (vegan) girlfriend came to meet my (extremely non-vegan) family. My sister, who was cooking, had no idea what to cook for a vegan and is apparently unable to use Google, and so she provided:

Cantaloupe and walnuts.

Yep, cantaloupe and walnuts for the vegan. Fortunately we'd brought other options so she didn't starve, but we still laugh about it. (When my sister's not around, that is.)

Daniel said...

Lori, I'm always happy to welcome a new reader--please feel free to comment any time!

A: Actually I'd be pretty happy with cantaloupe and walnuts--that's a pretty nutritious combo! Although granted, maybe not quite a full meal for a Christmas dinner... :)


Diana H said...

I'm not vegetarian, though I eat vegetarian or meatless meals. I don't feel being one way or the other is a reason to judge. However, I do feel for my son's friend when we go out to dinner, and either he can have a green salad, or tomato soup and grilled cheese because that's as vegetarian as it gets. One server offered to strain the meat from the spaghetti sauce, but we told her that wouldn't work.

GourmayMasala said...

great article! One of the myths I have to debunk when dining out with omnivores is the notion that vegetarian food is bland and boring. Most restaurant vegetarian food unfortunately is. However, when prepared by those who know their ingredients vegetarian food can be finger licking good!