Thursday, March 01, 2007

Eating at Other Peoples' Houses

When I decided to go back to vegetarianism, I made a decision to continue to eat fish, to make it easier to eat at other people’s houses. Also, at restaurants. But I really don’t want to eat a lot of fish, I am only doing it to be semi-flexible. I am just astonished, though, at how many people have not one single meatless meal in their repertoire of dinners.

I really don’t think we eat a lot of exotic food. Sure, I make some interesting Thai or Indian dishes, but more often we eat foods like pizza, pasta, some kind beans and rice, soups, salads, sandwiches, chili, bean burritos and other foods that seem pretty standard to me. I am a little more biased toward including lots of veggies in my meals than a lot of people I know, but that’s not a huge difference.

I do have a friend who makes an effort to eat less meat. She makes a lot of casseroles with a small amount of meat and more veggies to fill them out. But she has some meat every single night. That just seems so weird to me. When I did eat meat, I still made meatless meals once or twice per week.

I don’t want to tell anyone how to eat, mainly because I like having friends. But I really don’t understand what is so difficult about an occasional meatless meal. Every time we go over to my parents’ house for dinner, there is a fraught conversation about what to make for dinner. I hate this conversation. This past Sunday, my dad went ahead and got food on his own—ribs for everyone else, plus a piece of salmon for me. If I am going to have something different than everyone else anyway, I would rather pass on the fish, so I stopped and picked up something else on the way. Besides, I’d had salmon the night before at my friend’s house, and I didn’t want to eat it again.

Why is this so difficult? How did people get to the point where there is not one single thing they can think to make for dinner if the meat is removed? I blame meat marketers, personally. They have sold us a bill of goods that says that eating meat is a sign of wealth, and that a meal is not complete without it. I don’t really have a problem with people eating some meat, but this insistence that a meal is not a meal without it seems kind of creepy to me. I find myself wanting to ask people, “Don’t you care about your health? What about the environment?”

Of course, I don’t, because I genuinely like these people, and I don’t really feel that eating meat makes someone a bad person. But I keep coming back to my original question: How can people not have a single dinner idea that is meatless?

6 comments:

58734162 said...
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Pam said...

Susan, if I recall my history correctly, the American mindset of meat for dinner was a reaction to The Great Depression and Hoover's "chicken in every pot" campaign speech prior to it. Having meat for dinner was considered a sign of wealth, and many Americans of that generation grew up with the 'meat and potatoes' mindset.

Media and marketers have probably contributed to this ongoing myth, but I wouldn't put all of the blame on them.

Susan said...

I think you give marketers far too much credit, Pam. Why didn't Hoover talk about enough food to eat in general terms? I bet if we looked back we would find some early incarnation of a poultry association was a big contributor to his campaigns, or something like that. I know that sounds paranoid and cynical, but I have done research about this kind of thing, and it seems pretty likely to me. It's like all of the free nutrition education provided to schools by the dairy industry, which, amazingly enough, promotes dairy as just about the most important part of any diet.

And, even if marketers just jumped on the bandwagon of a lucky quote, they still do it with so much abandon that I don't feel bad blaming them entirely.

Grrrlfriend Jess said...

This post made me laugh because I had a problem eating at my mom and dad's house while I was on an Ayrurvedic cleanse for three weeks. Despite my careful explanations of what I COULD eat and their very good intentions, it freaked them out. Needless to say, I ate a lot of crackers at their house that month! I think people's resistance is out of fear, particularly fear that you might be judging their lifestyle or what is on their plates. It is a challenge to separate yourself from that mentality and not take it personally, but maybe that is one of the best benefits of eating healthier...

Hilary said...

You hit my weakness. I don't make many if any meatless dinners anymore, and it makes me sad. Environmentally, health wise, all of the above. We do eat a lot of fish (which has its own baggage and issues) and I try to buy organic or ethically raised meat.

My older son and husband won't eat beans of any kind. But, there are lots of meatless dinners that are bean free. I am going to try to go meatless once a week. I'll keep you posted.

Susan said...

Jess, you are so right about not taking it personally. It is hard, though, because people are so clearly taking my decision not to eat meat personally themselves. But, I refuse to spend a lot of time stressing out about it, so I just need to learn to ignore it more.

Hilary, on my most recent post I put a link to the Meatless Mondays website, if that helps. I do know it is hard to find things that everyone will eat in a house, though. I am meaner than you, though--I just cook what I cook, and people can choose to eat or not. My ex became a vegetarian for a while the last time I made the switch, because he just ate what I made. He lapsed after we divorced, though; I think a big part of his switch was that he didn't want to cook his own food, so he just ate what I made. Not that I am totally mean to my kids--I do make things they like, and try to serve side dishes I know they will like if I think that they won't like the main course.