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What are vegetarians missing?


indiagirl
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I was raised vegetarian, although we (my siblings and I) were never forced to be vegetarian. My siblings are not, I am. I suppose it just didn't take.

Now, as I get more and more interested in cooking, I feel limited by being a vegetarian. However, I can only conjecture about the limitations. There are probably obvious limitations associated with ingredients and cooking techniques (can't quite marinate and slowly cook zucchini for three days like you could lamb!) but what else am I missing?

Recently, I was agonizing over a tomato curry spiced with cumin, ajwain and ginger and thought, as I was sniffing it to decide what to add next - ah! a piece of pork would be perfect and then I wondered where did that thought even came from? And that led to a bunch of other questions ....

So here's two:

1. Is this true? Is this just a half life? Or am I just losing my mind?

2. Has anyone ever gone from being a vegetarian to a non-vegetarian? How did you start?

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If you are vegetarian because you genuinely dislike the taste,smell etc.of flesh,fish or fowl then you don't have a problem and it doesnt occur to you to add the pork to the curry.

If you are vegetarian for another reason then you need to start asking yourself why and thinking the answers through to their logical conclusion.Why put limits on yourself for any reason other than taste?

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I can't answer question 2 for you, but my take on question 1 is that usually, the things that we crave are the things that our body needs. If you start craving meat, it might be a dietary deficiency that's catching up with you.

I read about a vegetarian triathlete who craved a steak one day. He ate it, and had a steak every day for a year after that, until the desire lessened. Now he is not so strict about meatlessness, and eats meat occasionally.

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I was a vegetarian for 13 years; now I'm a recovering vegetarian. I still eat red meat in very limited quantities, I don't feel 100% comfortable eating dead animals when it's not necessary for my survival or even health (although, as a Marathoner, it's very hard to get by without any animal protein, I probably could do with just fish and dairy and not suffer any health consequences), and I'm ultra-particular about what meat I will eat. On top of that, I was raised in a kosher home and I still have an affinity for that set of limitations.

Are you missing something by being a vegetarian? Maybe.

Let's put it this way: Vegetarian cuisine at its best is superior to what 99.9% of the world's meat eaters eat as their diet. However, the best food in the world does include meat, and a vegetarian can't access it. So there are limitations, but you can live a very fulfilling culinary life without meat.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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I do think it is a half-life, but one of your own choosing--and you do only have yourself to answer to. It's as if you were a painter and elected neither to use nor appreciate certain colors of the spectrum.  You're the only one that has to be able to rationalize or reconcile what you're missing.  Spiritually, morally and ethically, one might see this loss of palate and diversity of appreciation as a gain, ultimately.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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You don't have to go all the way -- I was strict for years, then began eating seafood. After I had to quit eating dairy products, I began to eat chicken and turkey occasionally, otherwise my diet was just too limited to be able to eat in restaurants. But that's where I draw the line -- no ducks, pheasant, other fowl or warm blooded creatures. But, I'm not completely strict -- if there's an error, and a small amount of pork, or if I'm a guest and the host has served red meat, I'll eat a little with compliments to the chef. Seems only polite.

 

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I would have a real problem not eating meat, but I often wonder if I would be able to kill and butcher my owm animals if I had to. I have never hunted or fished, and perhaps I should put my self through it to see what I really think. It's so easy to pick up pre-packaged meat from the super market and not have to think about where it came from. I was pretty taken aback at having to chop the head and feet off of a chicken I got in Spain on our last holiday there (although it did taste very good after I had done the dasterdly deed).

I don't like to eat meat more than a couple of times a week however, especially red meat. Not I'm afraid from any health issues, I just don't want that heavy feeling you get after eating it.

So, yes, you are only getting half the story with vegetarianism and the flavours of properly hung meat and game and prime fish and shellfish are really what makes it worth getting out of bed in the morning.    

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Thanks for the viewpoints all.

But if I could further direct the discussion a little. I did not express myself clearly.

On a personal/spiritual level I'm fairly clear about where I stand, what I want and whether I see any moral/health benefits to being vegetarian. It is the food aspect of the issue - from a cooks and consumers point of view that I want illumination on .... and what better forum to come to than a group of food lovers?

Stephen, I think, started addressing some of what I wanted to discuss with his allusion to my limited pallette of colors. And that I have only myself to answer to. Absolutely. Completely agree - I do not seek absolution for past or future decisions regarding my dietary choices. What I really want to know is how many colors am I missing on my palette. Is it limited to black and white? Shades of gray? How vibrant are my colors?

Somebody else's post mentioned that I have 99% of the food world at my disposal but I miss the best 1%. Does everyone agree with that split?

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Andy, our posts appear to have crossed in the ether.

Makes life worth getting out of bed - ah, those are the opinions I am looking for.Absolute. Meaty. Heh heh.

It just doesn't sound as good to say - ah, a good fresh head of broccoli, that's what makes me get out of bed every morning! :)

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My point is this. If you hate the taste of meat,poultry and fish you are missing nothing whatsoever by being vegetatrian. Viz,if I'm a non-smoker because I hate smoking I miss nothing by not smoking.

If you are a vegetarian for reasons other than taste  then you are imposing restrictions on yourself for reasons which maybe questionable,obscure or plain bogus(eg.a vegetarian diet is "healthier" than a non-vegetarian diet) and so on.

.You therefore need to ask whether those reasons are valid enough for you to forgo all of the culinary experiences that come with not being vegetarian.And yes there are loads of them.

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Indiagirl--now that we can remove the spiritual and political sensitivity--and get down to the nitty gritty--yes, one would be missing quite a bit of textural contrast and interplay.  Animal fats and muscles are so varied and respond differently to different cooking methods--which regardless of spice and flavorings--give you different layers even if much of the process is controlled;  same thing with shellfish, shrimp cooked shell-on taste different--subtly--than shrimp cooked otherwise; indeed, sucking out shrimp heads is something practically incomparable.  If you don't ever do it--there's no way to substitute for it or understand what it is like.  The non-vegetarian food world--the full world in all its carnivorous splendor--is replete with little moments of discovery like this that for some might seem repellent but for many just seem part of a richer, more diversely woven quilt.  Sucking out the marrow bones in stew and spreading it on bread--with that little gelatiny yet stringy texture, for another example, is quite distinct and strange and for many, wonderful.  There are two little nuggets of chicken, the size of a quarter, that have a completely different taste and texture when compared to every other part of the bird that some in my family have been known to fight over.

I could go on and on and on--and then try to imagine each one of these examples--expanded exponentially by myriad cooks throughout history, cooking styles, evolution of equipment, fusions of different styles and personalities and attitudes in the kitchen, and you perhaps begin to comprehend how infinitely variable the perception of all of this might be.  My personal sense is that fruits and vegetables and grains et al are just as varied and capable of being appreciated for their diversity--but that vegetarians just play with a vastly reduced deck, missing out on so much of the mystery and magic that is cooking.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Well, it goes without saying that anybody participating on this message board is in the .01% of people who explore cuisine to the max. But I'm saying that vegetarian cuisine done extremely well would be an improvement over what the other 99.9% eat. Take the average gigantic American supermarket, for example. That's where pretty much everybody in America except for freaks like us gets all their food. And I could live a long and happy life without ever eating a bite of animal flesh derived from any of those supermarkets. I'd much rather, on any given summer day, make my dinner from vegetables available from the Union Square Greenmarket, perhaps with some artisanal bread or pasta, and a bottle of wine, and a wonderful fruit dessert, than eat a bland piece of beef from Winn Dixie or wherever. Now when you get into the tiny percentage of beef out there in the world that's really worth eating, I can see not wanting to miss out on that. I'm just trying to put this in perspective.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Stephen, I really enjoyed reading that. I'm starting to get all kind of weird ideas about what to put into the drunken noodles (that has to be another discussion thread some day) I'm making for dinner tonight and I'm nowhere close to being a carnivore (yet!)

Ellen, as a congenital (!) vegetarian I have never thought of the excellent point you raised. Availability of the good stuff! Ingredient quality is so so critical. Yes. If I ever decide to and find myself physically capable of being a carnivore, that is a whole aspect I will have to learn.

Tony, to answer your question, I am vegetarian because I was raised that way and I can certainly see enough good things associated with being vegetarian that obviate just  making the switch without various considerations .... but I don't know what I am missing .... hence the quandary ... hence my post ....

The other thing I was thinking of was complexity. I think the effort and rules associated with rendering animal flesh palatable are significantly more complicated than those associated with fruits and vegetables. And while this complexity allows for more variations in the cooking process (variations on each step) it may also limit the spontaneity of the process? Does it?

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Indiagirl, what do you mean when you say you're a vegetarian? What are your exact dietary restrictions?

Why were you raised vegetarian, and do you believe in the reasons you were raised thus?

What is prompting this inquiry at this time? Are you healthy? Do you feel fulfilled by what you eat?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Quote: from Fat Guy on 7:13 pm on Feb. 3, 2002

Indiagirl, what do you mean when you say you're a vegetarian? What are your exact dietary restrictions?

I do not eat anything that used to be alive, perhaps be alive and locomote would be a better differentiation. So, dairy products are fine. Growing up, my mother taught us to eat eggs because she did not want us to be protein deficient (although she had a special egg frying pan that nothing else was cooked in).

Quote: from Fat Guy on 7:13 pm on Feb. 3, 2002

Why were you raised vegetarian, and do you believe in the reasons you were raised thus?

I was raised vegetarian because my parents are Hindus, so for religious reasons. It is a means of respecting the sanctity of life. Where do I stand? I do not believe in God/Religion. I do believe in the sanctity of life. I am ambivalent about whether being a vegetarian actually furthers the sanctity of life in any way. However, this is a discussion I have never had to have with myself in the past because I've never considered not being a vegetarian.

Quote: from Fat Guy on 7:13 pm on Feb. 3, 2002

What is prompting this inquiry at this time? Are you healthy? Do you feel fulfilled by what you eat?

Why am I thinking about becoming a carnivore? BTW, as an aside, I do not even know if I could become one. I'm quite aware that there is a huge huge step to be taken between thinking of eating something and eating it.

So, to continue .....

Yes, I am healthy, and yes, I am fulfilled by the foods I cook and eat. Also as an aside, I am more of a cook than an eater. And, I LOVE to cook and experiment.

I started thinking about being a carnivore because of a series of little events - at a recent joint dinner with a friend of mine where he made pork vindaloo and I made paneer do piaza, I watched his browned onions take on an entirely different character when the pork was added to them and I suddenly felt left out of that opportunity.

Also I was in Paris and Barcelona last year and will be in Portugal soon and feel like I cannot completely experience these places if I cannot eat their food (although I did find a stunningly good vegetarian restaurant in Barcelona).

Experiences like that have made me start asking myself, is this rational? And what am I missing? Is it like only watching B&W movies? And so, here I am.

And, now?

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Would it be accurate to guess that your parents are vegetarians, perhaps from India, but were enlightened enough to not force their beliefs on you?  Your username suggests that.  Or you could just love Indian food. :)

edit--I just read your response to Steven above (we were posting simultaneously).  Never mind.

We don't have to beat the moral angle to death.  And the culinary angle has been covered pretty well by some of the others here.

But would it also be part of your question whether or not your are missing anything nutritionally?

Most people would say "no".  I'd say "maybe", based on the fact that while most vegetarians go out of their way to make sure that they get necessary protiens and fatty acids, I can help but feel that inevitably some of them may be missing something.

That said, most meat eaters eat far too much meat.  Only the wackos who believe everything that Adkins guy tells them think otherwise.  It's probably STILL healthier to be a vegetarian and try to compensate for the absense of meat, than to be a meat over-indulger.

(Edited by jhlurie at 8:12 pm on Feb. 3, 2002)

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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It sure sounds to me as though someone with your palate, powers of observation, and interest in food is missing out on a lot by not eating meat.

Meat is not just a color on the culinary artist's palette. It is at the epicenter of Western haute cuisine. The overwhelming majority of great dishes past and present in the Western haute repertoire center around animal protein. Being a vegetarian in this context is like only ever eating side dishes. Sorry, but as Steve Klc is implying this is the harsh reality. Certainly if you want to travel to France, Spain, and other Western nations with great traditions of haute cuisine, you aren't having the real experience if you don't eat animal flesh. I would say the same is true of Japanese cuisine. With Indian cuisine, you have such a strong vegetarian tradition that I don't think you suffer as much by comparison. But you still miss out on quite a bit.

Why don't you try dipping a toe into the world of flesh by starting with some very simple organisms that could hardly be thought to be all that much more alive than plants? I don't feel as though I'm killing anything particularly serious when I kill a crustacean, for example. Killing a pig seems like a bigger deal. Maybe that would come later, or not at all. If you at least eat fish, you can experience the true nature of Western cuisine to a large enough extent.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Yes I think when you get into restaurant cuisine you get in a lot more trouble. If you eat at home exclusively you can eat better at home as a vegetarian than most of the world eats as carnivores. But when you dine out you suffer tremendously by being a vegetarian. This was in fact the primary motivation behind my switching. That and the fact that I loved the smell of grilled meats, particularly hamburgers.

I broke my vegetarian fast at Lespinasse, with a few bites of Gray Kunz's braised short ribs. They were breathtakingly, unimaginably good. I can't see any way that a vegetable product (or anything from the sea) could replicate the amazing combination of textures, tastes, and aromas that I experienced. I felt a bit queasy -- solely on an emotional basis -- when I saw all that gelatinous connective tissue coming off in strands from the short rib mother ship, but it was just too good for me to stop. The next day I tried steak at Peter Luger, another transcendent experience. And after that I ate a hamburger almost every day for about a month, going from restaurant to restaurant and also experimenting at home, trying to find the best. My body suffered no ill effects from the radical change in diet, and my athletic performance improved a lot.

Nonetheless I think it is possible to be a vegetarian and eat very well. If you have a reason for not eating meat, and you are otherwise healthy and happy, I wouldn't say you have to change. There are many things we could do to bring ourselves pleasure that we don't do, for the sake of a higher good. That's the whole point of civilization, or at least that's what Freud (with whom I agree on this point) would argue.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Steven gives the examples of France, Spain and Japan.  But thinking even beyond that I have trouble contemplating most major cuisines (OTHER than Indian, of course) without benefit of animal-derived ingredients.  

Chinese food, for example, has a great tradition of vegetarian dishes.  But SO many of it's greatest dishes involve meat.  And if you've been following the rest of this board, we've been speaking a lot about how the Chinese literally don't waste ANY part of the animal.

Mexican food, oh my, I've had a good deal of vegetarian mexican food.  But to never experience Chicken Mole again?  I shudder.

Korean food.  Let's just say that a Korean without meat is like an Oreo without cream.  You might find one, but don't count on it. (Okay, this isn't a major cuisine--I threw it in as the one cuisine I couldn't possibly imagine without meat).

Italian?  Maybe a case could be made for Italian being sustainable as a meatless cuisine.

(Edited by jhlurie at 8:39 pm on Feb. 3, 2002)

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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As I understand it there is nothing in mainstream Hinduism which forbids the eating of meat,apart from beef.Most Hindus in India are largely vegetarian through economic,rather than religious reasons.

The idea that being vegetarian "serves a higher good" is both obscure and highly questionable.

The idea that a vegetarian diet in itself is "healthier" than a non-vegetarian diet is bogus.

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A friend of mine told me a humorous story about her Hindu mother; she ate veal regularly for quite a large portion of her life believing it to be from a sheep.

As to Vegitarians missing out, I believe they are. But it's all about taste buds. My girfriend doesn't like the taste of lamb; being Vietnamese, it wasn't a flavour she grew up with, and now doesn't like it. You could taste any meat and not like it, or love all of them.

'You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.'

- Frank Zappa

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Quote: from Tony Finch on 12:29 am on Feb. 4, 2002

The idea that being vegetarian "serves a higher good" is both obscure and highly questionable.

The idea that a vegetarian diet in itself is "healthier" than a non-vegetarian diet is bogus.

I completely disagree with both points: 1) The "higher good" of not eating meat is that a plant-based diet (which you point out that many Indians adhere to out of necessity) conserves our natural resources better than raising cattle in a feedlot; cattle ranching, particularly on factory farms, is creating an environmental nightmare. Land must be cleared (in Brazil, acres of rainforest are cleared each minute) in order for the cattle to graze, to roam, or even just to be penned up (as they usually are). Howard Lyman - the ex-cattle rancher who told the truth on the Oprah show and got sued by the ranchers for it - writes of the environmental nightmare that cattle ranching in this country has created in his book Mad Cowboy.

2) It is also true that a vegetarian diet is healthier than a meat-based diet: Cardiovascular disease is the #1 killer in the United States. This is because the standard diet that most Americans eat is meat- and dairy-based. There is irrefutable evidence that the incidence of heart disease among vegetarians is extremely low. (One statistic says that vegetarians are also 40% less likely to die from cancer.)

Another debilitating disease brought on by the consumption of animal-based protein is osteoporosis. The consumption of animal protein causes calcium to be leached out of the bones, so that the bones become weak and brittle; even taking calcium supplements is ineffective, because the animal protein blocks absorption of the additional calcium we're told to take. This condition is epidemic among America's senior citizens, who live in fear of icy sidewalks.

The good news for meat-eaters is that there are always new prescription drugs being developed. My mother, who at 68 has advanced osteoporosis, is participating in a study of osteoporosis, and her case has the doctors scratching their heads: she's not in the control (placebo) group; she's receiving the medication, but is continuing to have bone loss.

I know I'm outnumbered here; I also know that most people eat meat simply because they like the taste, and in our culture of supply and demand, animal cruelty and environmental damage are simply not issues for most people. I'm not out to change anyone's habits, especially since I know these message boards are mainly populated by upscale restaurant-goers who are mainly interested in the end product and are not concerned with what chemicals might have got in it along the way.

I've met plenty of people who "used to be" vegetarians for years at a time, and went back to eating meat. While they claim they're healthier and feel better eating meat than not, that claim itself is spurious: there is no nutrient - not even vitamin B12 - that can't be gotten from a plant-based diet.

I only quit eating eggs and dairy within the past year, and a good part of the reason I did was based on fear; given my family history, I'm a prime candidate for osteoporosis (even though it's said that the incidence of osteoporosis is not based on heredity: Asia, where they consume very little dairy, has a very low rate or osteoporosis). I also admit I may only live a few more years - no matter what my intentions - but I'll feel better, be more productive - and weigh less. True: milk is laden with hormones, some of which are designed to help a calf grow quickly and increase its body weight. They also help America to be the most obese (per capita) nation in the world.

(Edited by franklanguage at 6:50 pm on Feb. 4, 2002)

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I think you're confusing a number of issues.The environmental problems you describe are not caused by the consumption of meat or fish per se.They are caused by the EXCESSIVE CONSUMPTION of meat and fish and the constant pressure for a highproduction/low cost industry.These are different issues altogether.

For most people being vegetarian does not mean having "a plant based diet."

Cardiovascular problems you describe are not caused by eating meat or fish per se.They are caused by a combination of genetic predisposition and certain lifestyle choices which may include excessive cousumption.Americe has an obesity problem not because people eat meat but because people eat too much food and burn off too little.

A vegetarian who smokes 40 a day is more likely to suffer health wise than a non-smoker who eats steak twice a week and fish twice a week.

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Quote: from franklanguage on 1:46 am on Feb. 4, 2002

I'm not out to change anyone's habits, especially since I know these message boards are mainly populated by upscale restaurant-goers who are mainly interested in the end product and are not concerned with what chemicals might have got in it along the way.

These boards are populated by highly educated, aware, conscientious, ethical people who know a tremendous amount about what goes into their food. And if they don't, they always have you to remind them.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Quote: from indiagirl on 7:52 pm on Feb. 3, 2002

Why am I thinking about becoming a carnivore? BTW, as an aside, I do not even know if I could become one. I'm quite aware that there is a huge huge step to be taken between thinking of eating something and eating it.

Just a nitpicky point here:

Being a carnivore indicates subsisting or feeding on animal tissues, ostensibly to the exclusion of plant based food. It sounds as if you are considering becoming omnivorous by feeding on both animal and vegetable substances (according to http://www.merriamwebster.com/).

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