Friday, June 30, 2006

the meat-loving midwest

It's been four years since I stopped eating red meat and pork, two and a half years since giving up poultry. Whenever I tell people that I don't eat meat, they ask if I find it difficult being a vegetarian (pescaterian actually since I still eat fish occasionally), but after not eating it for so long I really don't even notice. I avoid restaurants where I won't find anything veggie-friendly and I know that I have to be flexible when I'm dining with a group. I make do at work lunches where deli sandwich platters fill the conference room table. It's really not a big deal. However, I take for granted living in Chicago. It's easy to find veggie foods at most restaurants, and my neighborhood even has a few vegetarian restaurants. But when I leave the city, I realize that most of the country is pro-meat. They seem baffled by those of us who claim not to eat meat because we don't want to. The restaurants lining the highways are famous for their cheap, meaty offerings. Road trips can be especially difficult for the vegetarian when every exit showcases McDonald's, Wendy's, and Steak & Shake. Once in awhile I'll get lucky and find a Subway or even a Taco Bell.

Earlier this week I had to travel on business to Michigan. The first night my team had dinner at one of the restaurants in our hotel, a very burgers & steak sort of place. When we walked in my boss asked if I'd be cool with the choice and, after perusing the menu and finding a few things I could eat, we sat down. Upon ordering the portabello burger, I was told that it was just a mushroom and no meat. Was that okay? Yes, I told the waitress, that was exactly what I wanted. She actually confirmed that twice with me before leaving our table because other patrons have been disappointed when they order that item and find no actual burger on the bun.

The rest of the trip was more of the same. I missed out on lunch at our clients' office since it was all meaty sandwiches. I took myself to Subway a few hours later. We also had a happy hour with our clients where I indulged on the veggie tray and the fried mushrooms. I think I accidentally ate a bite of chicken only because the entire tray was full of brown, fried foods which were unidentifiable except by shape. Lunch on the road was more of the same, although we lucked out by stopping at an exit with a Quiznos.

I was happy to get back to Chicago after my two days in Kalamazoo. Veggie enchiladas, deluxe salads, veggie sandwiches....these are just a few of the non-meat meals I've had since I returned. I can stay away from just getting by ordering a side salad or a large fry at Wendy's because I have so many options. I don't think I'd survive in a town of family restaurant chains and fast food strip malls.

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