Note: We received this thoughtful essay on the perceived dichotomy between food-lovers and vegetarian/vegans from longtime Serious Eats community member KarynMC and thought we'd highlight it here. Take it away, KMC! —AK
Whenever an article touching on vegetarianism or, worse, its shorter-lettered derivative, appears on a food-centric message board or in the mainstream press, the comments always follow the same lines:
"PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals"
"Vegans are soulless, self-absorbed idiots whose tastebuds have withered into nothingness."
"Vegans are terrorists. Bacon-hating douchebag terrorists."
The assumption? Those who love food cannot be vegan, those who are vegan cannot love food. Perhaps the attitude derives from the meat=masculinity=real food bravado put on by certain celebrity chefs. Maybe there's a deep-seated cultural association between meat and prosperity (though I'm pretty sure ancient agriculturists didn't moan and groan when the grain crop came in), making vegans look as weasel-y as Mad Men's Pete Campbell when they bring home the tempeh bacon.
But the vegan vs. foodie dichotomy hardly rings true. When my vegetarian or vegan friends and I get together, we often discuss, at length, our favorite farms and orchards, new cookbooks, restaurants we want to try and newly discovered techniques and recipes. An eavesdropper might just think, "They sound like foodies." Or, in the actual words of a vegan friend's omnivorous husband, "You guys sure do talk about food a lot."
There are exceptions, but by and large vegetarians and vegans take an active interest in food—where it comes from, who makes it, what's in it, how to prepare it. In fact, many vegetarians, myself included, can truthfully say that giving up the egg came before developing an interest in cooking and baking.
- Vegetarianism and veganism introduces practitioners to a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and plant-based proteins they might not consider otherwise. It's easy to go from cluelessly Googling "round orange bumpy squash thing" to feeding pet sourdough and tempeh starters and making homemade ravioli
- Vegans and vegetarians have fewer options in restaurants (pasta in marinara does get old). This encourages many to start cooking
- Veganism teaches peoples to cook and bake creatively. Vegans don't want to give up their favorite foods, so they learn to "veganize," i.e. play with the structural components of family recipes until, one day, they feel like making pumpkin bread and come up with a recipe based on previous experiments with wacky cake, chocolate chip cookies, and lentil loaf
I'm not saying that vegans, vegetarians, and mainstream foodies don't have their differences—vegans are far more likely to go apple-picking than to roast a whole hog in an underground pit—but that loving food and being a vegetarian aren't mutually exclusive. I'll even go one step further and insist that aspiring home cooks, no matter their preferred diet, keep a few vegan recipes in their repertoire.
You can still learn to prepare complex, flavorful vegetable dishes, even if you're also interested in beef-tongue tacos or sausage-making. As food allergies become more prevalent (or better diagnosed), the person who brings the egg-free, dairy-free blondies to the potluck might become a hero to the kid otherwise left with the scattered remains of the fruit plate. And should Zooey Deschanel ever darken your dinner table, you can feel yourself superior to those flailing professionals on Top Chef Masters (Mayday! Mayday! It's a vegan!).
Or, at the very least, let's stop the Spy vs. Spy sabotage. Not all vegans mutter about murder at the dinner table, not all foodies sneak butter into the Earth Balance–mashed potatoes. All foodies—vegan, vegetarian or otherwise—can bake and break bread together. Let's leave the name-calling to sports fans.