It’s still 1970 for vegetarians

It was very frustrating to be a vegetarian back in the 1970s and 1980s. I distinctly remember a friend’s birthday party at McDonalds (OK I guess I should have known there would be a bad meat experience here, but I was 10, and wasn’t planning on eating anyway, I was just there for the party). I was sitting in the booth with my friends and the Mother slapped a cheeseburger in front of me. “Um, I don’t eat those,” I said. She just looked at me like I was a martian. “You don’t like cheese?” she replied. “No,” I said, “I don’t eat meat, I’ll just have fries, thank you.”

“You don’t eat meat? Who doesn’t eat meat?” was her stunned response.  “My family,” I said, “we are Indian, Hindu, we don’t eat meat.” Remember, this was Northern California in the late 1970s. The result. She pulled the meat and cheese off the bread and gave me the bun to eat. A bun soaked in beef juices. Needless to say I didn’t eat it. But the experience was slightly scarring.

I went hungry a lot in my early days.

It’s no wonder I was 91 pounds at 5’1” when I went off to college.

Yes my parents fed me at home. But anyone who knows anything about South Indian food, knows that it is light, and pretty much goes right through you – especially if your Mom is a Nutritionist, and doesn’t make all the good fattening fried stuff.

Nowadays so many people are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and lactose intolerant, that people get what you mean when you say that you don’t eat meat. And there are often good options at parties and brunches.

It has been about 35 years since that McDonalds episode.

With all of this “awareness” one would assume that going out to dinner, especially in California nowadays, should not be a problem for a vegetarian.

But it still is.

So far, every time I go out to dinner, or stay in a hotel, I remain hungry. Less than a month ago my husband and I went to a fancy restaurant in Pacific Grove that our friend recommended. As we looked at the menu he asked me, “are you going to be able to eat anything here?”

Not really.

But by that time we had already ordered our drinks so it would have been rude to leave. I ended up eating a cup of lentil soup, four mushrooms, and friend zucchini sticks. Meanwhile the table next to us scarfed up giant plates of chicken and fish. After paying our $70 bill, we left disgruntled, hungry, and confused.

Why weren’t there more vegetarian options? We must have just gone to the wrong type of restaurant.

I figure at this point, if I want a good dinner with choices, that doesn’t leave me hungry after paying out a ton of cash, I have to go out to: a) Sushi (veggie sushi options are pretty good); b) Indian food (though many restaurants seriously cater to the meat eating majority, there are still lots of options for veggies); c) Italian (though there is often too much cheese in these recipes); or d) A specialty vegetarian restaurant (which often serve food on the bland side).

The struggle is real.

Last weekend, I was staying in a very fancy hotel for a meeting. I arrived at the hotel at around 3PM, and was going to order some room service to tide me over – I looked at the menu. The ONLY vegetarian option was chips with queso. I was so hungry that I ordered it – which made me sick in the end because it wasn’t even real queso — just melted Velveeta with some green chilis embedded in it – a.k.a junk food. Let me clarify, even all of the salads contained chicken, tuna, or beef!

Dinner was the same. I went downstairs to the restaurant to eat – thinking that there would be more options. I had two: pasta with sauce, or a portabello mushroom sandwich. I chose the latter because paying 20$ for pasta I could make at home for 5$ seemed ridiculous, even if I wasn’t paying the bill.

Meanwhile at the conference my friend was attending at the same hotel, the vegetarian option was the same for EVERY MEAL. Roasted, wilted squash and peppers, salad, and rolls. She gagged down her unflavored, mushy food while all the rest of the crowd feasted on chicken breasts, with rice (cooked in meat broth), potatoes, and salad and rolls. She woke up at 3AM every day of the conference starving – but remember, that hotel only had chips and queso as its room service vegetarian entree. Besides, room service wasn’t open at 3AM.

I ended up driving over the the closest Target and getting some bagged salad and nuts to tide me over.

On our way home we decided, based on the unknown amount of time that it would take to get through security at LAX, that we would just eat in the airport. That posed its own issues. As we walked to our first restaurant, we looked for the vegetarian options – there was one – chili. We started walking away and the Maitre D’ accosted us. “Come on ladies, come in and eat here.” “You don’t have many vegetarian options,” we replied. “Sure,” he said, “we have chili.” “We don’t want chili, thank you,” was our response. “I can wrap it in some lettuce?” HUH?

We ended up eating in the next place that had ONE vegetarian option – a veggie burrito – not too different from chili wrapped in lettuce, but easier on the stomach lining. We didn’t ask if the beans had been cooked with lard – we just at the burritos. At least we weren’t hungry anymore.

So what is the deal? Why are there a myriad of meat and fish options for all the non veggies out there, but only one vegetarian option and not even a good one, on most menus? The last time I checked it was 2016 and lots of people don’t eat meat for a variety of reasons – not just Hinduism. Why would a vegetarian ever want to go out to dinner and spend money at a restaurant if they only have one or even two choices? That is no fun.

I have to admit, I’m flummoxed.

And often left hungry.

And it’s not even 1970 anymore.

Or is it?

I have no words.

Well, I guess I have words.

But not many choices.




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