What's Your Take on Going Vegetarian? A Poll of Meat-Eating Bloggers

We talk a lot about the concept of part-time vegetarianism here at Casual Kitchen. The term simply means taking advantage of the benefits of vegetarian food but not committing solely to vegetarianism.

Vegetarian cuisine features foods that are low in fat and high in fiber and antioxidants. Even better, vegetarian meals are almost always significantly cheaper than meat-centered meals. Bottom line: this cuisine is cheap and good for you.

So why don't I just shut up and convert over to full vegetarianism?

I hate to admit it, but until now, I honestly never really gave a lot of thought to that question. I'm not a real vegetarian, I just like the food.

But the more I thought about this, the more I wanted to hear what others thought about their reasons for considering, and ultimately rejecting, full vegetarianism. So I decided to take an informal poll of five of my favorite food bloggers, all of whom are meat-eaters. I asked them to answer this question:

Have you been a vegetarian or ever seriously considered going veggie? What to you were the key pros and cons, and what made you choose against it?

Their answers were characteristically blunt, honest and thought-provoking. I came away from this project with quite an education and a great deal of gratitude for the insights of some of the best food bloggers out there.

Here are their thoughts:

Kris, author of Cheap Healthy Good:
In the past, vegetarianism wasn't a consideration for two reasons: I loved meat and hated vegetables. Nowadays, as I'm eating healthier and there's much more variety in my diet, I would definitely give it a shot. As for why, my boyfriend was one for six years, and I have two friends coming up on two decades each. Not coincidentally, they're some of the best cooks I know, because they're forced to be more creative and adventurous with their food. If I could pull off what they do on regular basis, vegetarianism is absolutely a possibility.

Jules, author of stonesoup:
There have been three occasions in my life where I've dabbled in vegetarianism: When I was about 15 and I gave up meat for lent, when I went vegan for a week as part of a detox program, and when I experienced what it was like to be vegetarian for just a week.

The pros for me were ecological and ethical. I grew up on a sheep farm and helped my Dad slaughter lambs on many occasions. I know exactly what's involved in getting meat to the table and that it can be done in a respectful and humane manner.

But when it comes to why I haven't continued being a vego, Vincent from Pulp Fiction sums it up nicely: 'Bacon tastes good, Pork chops taste good'. For me it's all about the flavour. It's the pleasure that I get from chowing down on a juicy steak or a flavour packed chorizo that wins. So I choose to continue to eat meat and I'm happy with that. To balance out my ethical concerns I make sure I source my meat from producers who care for and respect their animals and the path they take to get to my plate. Just because I eat meat doesn't mean it needs to happen every day or in huge quantities. It's all about balance.

Pam, author of For the Love of Cooking:
I have often thought about becoming a vegetarian simply because I hate the thought of animals dying. I used to have a hard time dealing with raw meat and seafood but the more I cook, the less it bothers me. I have never followed through with becoming a vegetarian or vegan because I really love the taste of meat--especially beef, pork, chicken and seafood. I try to use organic or free range when I can and I always use lean cuts except when I splurge on a rib eye. I don't cook meat with every meal and we often eat vegetarian dishes. I like to balance our diet with meat, vegetables, whole grain, fruits and dairy.

Tara, author of Beach Eats:
Part of me has always been attracted to the idea of going vegetarian ... and the other part of me really loves cheese steaks. While I doubt that I will ever fully commit to going veggie, I resolve the two sides of my nature by cooking meatless meals more often. For me, the key pros are the health benefits inherent in a veg-heavy diet--i.e. more fiber, less fat and cholesterol etc.--and the lessened environmental impact. I have real concerns about the effects of agribusiness on the environment and to the extent that I eat meat, I tend to buy organic or locally raised as much as possible. The downside of a veggie lifestyle, for me, would be the loss of some beloved foods--see cheese steaks above--and, perhaps, a concern about reduced protein intake.

Joy, author of What I Weigh Today, and author of the cookbook Almost Meatless:
I was a vegetarian from the time I was in high school until I was about 26. For me it was mostly about not liking the taste and texture of meat--that all changed when I was exposed to better quality, better prepared ingredients. It's relatively easy to eat an ethical vegetarian diet. You don't need to go to the trouble of sourcing healthier, humanely raised meats. Another pro of a vegetarian diet is that it's harder to mess up vegetarian food. If I'm stuck in a chain restaurant, for example, you can bet I will be ordering vegetarian dishes.

A major con to the vegetarian diet is that it isn't as diverse, nutritionally or in terms of pleasure. There are many nutrients found exclusively in meats. Our most ancient food cultures feature meat, and I for one do not want to lose that. In my experience, a vegetarian diet can quickly collapse into an unsatisfying convenience-food diet that leads to weight gain and other maladies.

Finally, I met my husband--a major food enthusiast--and I wanted to share meals with him and his family. Then there was my career as a food writer. I knew that part of excelling in that field meant that I had to open my mind and become willing to taste everything. That was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I now see food as a way to better understand myself, other people, and the world. I still love and eat a lot of vegetarian food and eat a mostly vegetarian diet when I'm not reviewing restaurants.

Readers, how many of you out there have considered going vegetarian? What are your thoughts?

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Pam said...

Thanks for including me - it's interesting to read the other blogger's thoughts.

Wirehead said...

Whenever my mother-in-law is in town, I eat veg for the duration. She's from India, makes yummy vegetarian meals from scratch, and has tons of variety in her dishes.

It wasn't until I discovered Indian food that I realized I could go vegetarian for an extended period of time and not miss meat.

I'm simply not as good of a cook as she is. I don't know as many veg recipes, so I can only go minimal-meat when she's not around.

I view it as part of the culinary vocabulary. You can't have blood oranges or fresh mandarins or cherimoyas every day. They aren't always in season. In the same way, you *shouldn't* eat meat all the time. But, in all cases, it's still yummy you have it.

Ecologically, a diet that contains a smidgen of meat is more sustainable than a purely veg diet. And both versions are, naturally, more sustainable and far healthier than the standard American Meat & Potatoes diet.

So, while I can find good reasons to not eat too much meat, I really can't find that good of a reason to exclude it entirely.

The Diva on a Diet said...

I'm adding my thanks to Pam's, Dan. Loved doing this and reading the variety of responses. In many ways, we're all kind of on the same page ... and I agree with wirehead's comment as well.

I was browsing through "Almost Meatless" last night and the recipes are so great I can't decide which to make first. Thanks so much for tipping me off to this book. Yum!

Melissa said...

Pam said my thought. I hate to think of animals dying. Something I've thought about talking about on my blog and I still might. If I do, I will link to this post.

But that about sums it up. It's hard for me to know an animal suffered for my meal. So I've considered it.

JJ (Lady Di) said...

I have tried to be vegetarian a few times, and was even vegan for a few months (for health reasons) but I was unable to sustain it. I am like a lot of the above writers, I like meat. I like vegetables too. I did realize that I am not much for the products that are trying to replicate meat. Growing up in a rural community and being a Vet Tech, I know how animals are treated and everything. And a lot of Techs are veggie so they helped to introduce me to how to cook that way. Actually becoming vegan has expanded my cooking abilities and actually made it easier to help my sister when my nephew was diagnosed allergic to eggs. It has also given me a lot more recipes to enjoy. :)

Kira said...

I've definitely contemplated at least going pescatarian. But I also think I would miss some things - prosciutto, roast chicken, chorizo, good salami. But during my Lenten pescatarian adventure, I realized there are somethings I DON'T miss, namely boneless, skinless chicken breasts. So I've definitely reduced my meat consumption to what I WANT to have.

Liz T. said...

I don't think I could go 100% veggie, even though I am eating probably less than 10% of my calories from meat. At home I rarely eat meat simply because I don't like to handle or cook it. I do eat meat when I go out if there's no particularly tasty veg option, or if I just have a craving for something.

My problem with going 'all the way' is similar to JJ's -- I don't like things trying to be other things. If I want something that tastes like bacon, I'm going to eat real bacon. Same thing for butter and cheese. Also, I can't seem to give up chicken stock. I know that water & veggie stock can be used and theoretically it's 'just as good' but my palate isn't buying it.

I guess my interest is in eating as many 'First Order' foods as I can rather than a strict vegetarian diet.

pixelgal said...

Why is all or nothing even necessary? We all can eat healthier and still have our beloved steak, chicken, etc. once in awhile...sorta like chocolate. For me the major reason I'm not a vegan is, in a word TOFU. No matter how it is disguised, it still tastes like fatty rubber to me. Anyway, I love veggies also and now that the summer's coming it will be easier/more appealing to make the veggie dishes. Maybe the Diva will loan me her book????

Daniel said...

These are some excellent and insightful thoughts. Agreed that it takes some creativity and a bit of practice to make a veggie diet interesting.

And I also find myself in the anti-"all or nothing" camp, although we eat meat sparingly here at CK.

Anybody else have a view on these questions?


Natalie Que said...

Hey Dan, this was really interesting. Thanks for taking the time to put it together and post. I also appreciate you comment on my skewers post, about moderation. I was hoping to not come off as preachy but more just say how I felt about things, it's a delicate balance. It is a difficult position, and one I've always just felt I better keep my mouth shut on. No one wants to hear weight management tips from the size two, blonde hair blue-eyed girl. You know?

Anyway, thanks!

Joanne said...

Going vegetarian is actually something I've thought about a lot. The more I learn and read about the meat industry, the more selective I have become about the types of meat I want to eat, and it gets pricy after a while to only eat grass-fed/free-range/organic meats! Only eating veggies would totally solve that problem.

However, considering the fact that I would not be doing it for any ethical reasons, I just don't feel comfortable restricting myself with any label. This way, I can eat vegetarian as much as I want without feeling like I'm breaching some code of personal integrity on the occasions when I do eat meat.

Plus, there's something about the smell of a really good steak that I don't think I could give up for the rest of my life. So until then I'm happy being a flexitarian.

Stacey Snacks said...

I could never do it, though in my mind, I would like to.
I would miss organ meats too much.
Everything in moderation is good for my body, but I do admire anyone who sticks to whatever diet or health regime they adhere to.

My Taste Heaven said...

Well, I think it's good for ourselves to become a full vegetarian. However, I still love my favourite seafood so much. So, what I do now is try to take fruits for my breakfast. At least start from somewhere.

Anonymous said...

I consider myself an accidental vegetarian. Especially in the summer when the farmer's markets are full of wonderful options, I find that I fill up on veggies only to realize that I have gone a week or 2 or 3 without meat.

Then maybe there is a cookout and I have a burger or my husband makes bacon and I partake but it is soon back to the fresh asparagus, tomato sandwiches, lady peas, and all the other bounty of vegetables in the south and I am all veggie again.

Mal said...

I went veggie in my teens for a while (I'm now in my thirties), but I couldn't do it again for any extended period. Two reasons:
1. I like the taste and texture of various meats and *adore* seafood
2. I figure there's no better way to get a balanced diet than to include all of the things we've been eating for millennia.

Incidentally, it was the smell of my parents making bacon sandwiches that lured me back to the dark side in my teens. Still can't beat 'em. :)

Amanda on Maui said...

I wouldn't go fully vegetarian because I too enjoy eating meat. I like the textures, flavors, and experience of eating meat.

I try to eat mainly meat that is happy meat.

Marcia said...

Hmmm...I've thought a lot about going veggie or vegan for health and ethical reasons. I don't have a problem with animals dying, but I also want them to be treated humanely, which is an issue.

Most of the meals we eat are meatless. My husband occasionally worries when he sees me reading veg, vegan, or (gasp!) raw blogs. I point out to him that we still occasionally eat fish or meat, I just like to try new things.

Convenience is one reason that it wuold be hard for me to switch. Friends, family, parties...I don't want to be asking if there's chicken broth in the soup or worcestershire in the sauce. I guess I'm not an "all or nothing" person.

But my lunch was vegan, and dinner will be too. I did have cream cheese on my bagel though.

Jenna said...

While many friends have gone vegetarian over the years and tried to "drive me towards the light" I've never really given it more than a passing thought for one simple reason....

Allergies and health. While some folks thrive on a life of veggie burgers and carrot sticks, a set of allergies that small children would gladly sell their siblings for (really, when I want to eat "badly" I take my stomach in my hands and have a huge salad and a side of broccoli - devil take the consequences. And does he...) my body - along with others in my family doesn't. A blood "issue" that makes it a requirement to eat red meat, and a gut that argues with my tastebuds (I LOVE the taste of veggie cooking) over a plate of steamed veggies means I'll never go that route.

I DO make sure to buy local, sustainable, humanly treated, and organic as much as I can, so I hope it all balances out.

Mumses said...

saw this, written by Wirehead, and wondered if ya'll could explain what it means:
"Ecologically, a diet that contains a smidgen of meat is more sustainable than a purely veg diet."

wirehead said...

Mumses, the ecological reasoning is that there is land that is unsuitable for growing things that we find palatable but that feed animals will eat and convert to edible food. We don't eat bugs, but chickens do. We don't eat grass, but cows do. We don't eat thorny bushes but goats do.

The problem with the meat industry is that they are growing field corn on land that could be used to grow something more palatable to produce beef to eat and ethanol for your car, both of which are just plain inefficient.

Heather in SF said...

I love this debate, everyone's answers are so interesting and diverse. I love vegetables and whole grains. I have tried to eat vegetarian and am currently a budgetarian, I eat what I can afford. I've had several toxic-related illnesses and try to eat as organically as possible. My conscience asks me to eat local and sustainably as possible but the budget intrudes. I cannot eat lentils and some other legumes and whole grains also really stress my body. I'm lactose intolerant but can enjoy goat dairy products and some aged cheeses. My family has a tendency towards diabetes so I don't eat many carbs although I crave them like crazy. I also have a tendency towards anemia. If I don't eat proteins frequently I really start to feel poorly. Not everyone has the physiology to be vegetarian. So despite my inclinations I must consume animal, fowl and fish proteins. My vegan and vegetarian friends say I can get enough protein by a "proper food plan" but my doctors and the hospital nutritionists with whom I have consulted disagree.

Tara Mataraza Desmond said...

I'm writing an article right this second on the trend toward eating less meat. Not vegetarianism or veganism, but that giant space in between where so many of us exist. It's interesting to see the same themes weaved through responses.

Anonymous said...

Off and on vegetarian, the longest off meat was 2 years. When I get a craving for meat, I obey, figuring my body knows what it wants and needs. I notice that when I am "off my feed", I naturally go off meat for a while. Then a little fish, some chicken or turkey and I'm back. A rare beef burger always tastes amazing. Interesting book Myth of Vegetarianism got me to thinking, too, about the potential health hazards of eschewing all meat products. Just love what you eat, is my basic motto.

Unknown said...

I have to call Joy out on a couple of erroneous statement: There are NO nutrients that are exclusively found in meats. B12 is the only nutrient that cannot be had on a vegan diet (no animal products); as long as you consume eggs and/or dairy B12 is not a problem. Even vegans get along fine what with supplementing (either in pill form or "enriched" food products). Her second is the diversity issue. I have found that without the meat I need to be more creative and have branched out into Ethiopian and Indian cuisine and it is VERY diverse!
Another thing: pixelgal said that the reason she is not a veg*n is one word: tofu. I've been a vegetarian for over a year now and a part time vegan for 12 and I have eaten tofu maybe 4 times in those entire 12 years. I've generally stayed away from soy for 3 years and I've been fine.
I also love what HEather in SF said: I'm a budgetarian. And for the most part this means vegetarian. A bag of lentils cost less than a serving of meat and will last me a couple days if not longer. There