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Vegetarian Dishes in Restaurants

Recently I performed an experiment where I ate vegetarian for a month. I learned a lot, but it’s not one I’m eager to repeat.

This experiment also gave me the opportunity to test a theory I have: Vegetarian meals have to be a better value on menus. The reasoning for this is that menu space is relatively expensive in most decent restaurants. In order to recover the cost of that space, the restaurant will have to sell a lot of the dishes that are on there. Restaurants will want to have an option for vegetarians because denying one vegetarian may deny a group of friends. Since they can’t count on the relatively low percentages of vegetarians and vegans in the population at large to provide the necessary revenue, these dishes will have to also appeal to omnivores. Therefore, they have to draw the omnivores from other meaty dishes. This translates into either better taste or lower cost.

For the most part the results of my testing this theory were inconclusive. Some places have excellent veggie options, some places have only mediocre ones, like a veggie burger patty. This is sometimes the case even in fancy places which should try harder and which should also attract a disproportionate number of vegetarians, since the diet is primarily one reserved for the more wealthy of our society. I also had mixed success with vegetarian/vegan restaurants. One was excellent, the other was only so-so.

In general I found that the best places for a veggie option were ethnic food places. Indian restaurants topped the list, because of the prevalence of vegetarians in India. But also, burrito joints and Italian places had a surprising number of options. Chinese and other Asian eateries often have a choice of meats, tofu or nothing so it’s possible to eat well there too.

Vegetarian Month

For the last 30 days I stuck to a vegetarian-only diet. Just for a month, just because I could, just to see what it was like. I started thinking maybe I should postpone since there were several reasons I could think of not to do it, but ultimately I decided to just go for it.

Some people thought it was a weird experiment. The most frequently asked question I got was “who is she?” But it wasn’t motivated by anything other than, well, I don’t even know what motivated it really. I just thought it’d be cool to do something for 30 days, every 30 days, and the first thing that came to mind was to be a vegetarian. No time to wait, starting from that moment. Yeah OK maybe boredom had something to do with it.

I am here to say I lived through the experience, but it wasn’t easy. Tofu doesn’t cut it for me. Neither do veggie burgers. I don’t think anybody likes those things. It’s veggies forced to be something they’re not supposed to be. And it sucks. Let the veggies be themselves!

While most restaurants have some kind of veggie option, it’s rarely anything too good if it’s just the one thing. Like veggie burgers. And if you’ve ever tried to get a veggie option at a Burger King Burger Bar…well it’s not easy. There’s some weird combination of buttons they push then go tell the kitchen then you get your grilled cheese and fries. But it’s not that great.

There’s a restaurant in Atlanta called Soul Vegetarian. In fact, it’s vegan.  It’s interesting – I wouldn’t go out of my way as a meat eater, but as a vegetarian it’s pretty creative. Like the barbecued cauliflower. It seems it’s run by a religious group, but they dress more like a cult – all in flowing white clothes and white hats. Quirky but kinda cool.

Yesterday I had my first meat in over a month. First I had a Vortex burger. For those not in the know, the Vortex is one of the best burger joints in the country. It was delicious! The second meat meal I had was a Peruvian style roast chicken from Las Brasas. It also was delicious!

But neither of these meals tasted exceptionally special. It wasn’t like there was a moment of euphoria that came from eating meat after avoiding it for a month. Instead it made me realize that eating vegetarian just felt like something was missing. Many ingredients and whole sections of the menu were effectively off limits to me. I don’t think I’ve ever sought out meat dishes at restaurants, but meat is a staple in the kitchens and it pairs well with many other ingredients.

So the up shot of this is that I’ll probably eat more vegetarian dishes than previously. At least I’ll be unafraid of asking for them. But I won’t continue the vegetarian-only diet since it feels like it’s missing something. But I’m happy I did it and now I have a much better understanding of what vegetarians go through on a daily basis.