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Friday, April 28, 2006

A Vegetarian? Do you eat fish?

As mentioned in a comment to one of Bailey's posts awhile back (The Grey Lady) I love the Washington Post's chats. I was particularly happy that today's food and cooking chat focused solely on vegetarianism.

It's not easy being a vegetarian in DC. I'm sure it's better than being a vegetarian living in Atlanta, but it's still not ideal. I'm a lacto-ovo vegetarian, which means that I do eat dairy and eggs, but I don't eat any meat, poultry, fish, crustaceans, etc. Being a vegetarian is nothing new--many people choose to live a vegetarian or vegan (no animal products, not even egg or dairy) lifestyle. I have been doing it on and off for the past 14 years. And yet whenever I go to a restaurant in a city that likes to think of itself as somewhat cosmopolitan and tell the waiter I am a vegetarian I am invariably greeted with a blank stare and the question "Do you eat fish?"

No. I do not eat fish. I am a vegetarian. The very definition of the word is "a herbivore." Being a vegetarian and eating fish are mutually exclusive.

But I can't totally blame the waitstaff for not knowing this. After all, why should they when I know a number of people who claim to be vegetarians but, in fact, eat fish. They claim that it is "easier" to call themselves vegetarians than to say "I don't eat meat or poultry, but do eat fish." Wow. Doesn't sound so tough to me. So when these pescetarians walk into a restaurant and say "I am a vegetarian; I eat fish" or "I am a vegetarian who eats fish" the uninitiated are led to believe that some vegetarians do actually eat fish. Basically, these pseudo-vegetarians have made life a lot more difficult for the real vegetarians of the world. Even more egregious, a few months ago I learned of someone who eats fish and poultry and yet calls herself a vegetarian. And no one, of course, ever calls her on it. (I admit that I am as guilty of this as the next person--when I went out with friends who ate fish and called themselves vegetarian, I sat silently. When we left the restaurant Gobo told me he was shocked I hadn't said anything. I guess I'm a coward.) I wonder if all of the fish eating "vegetarians" will get annoyed if they start getting asked whether they eat chicken every time they go out.

Part of me wonders if people who eat fish (or poultry) choose the vegetarian label because it is trendy. After all, saying you are a vegetarian carries with it certain assumptions about a person--that they care about animals, that they are outside of the mainstream. Maybe they want the status, but not the sacrifice? I'm not sure. I know that my friends who call themselves vegetarians but aren't wouldn't do it for this purpose. But the problem is more widespread. Is that why others do it?

As a public service announcement for any vegetarians in DC who happen to be reading this, I strongly recommend Java Green as a great place to get a quick bite to eat. The entire menu is vegetarian (and much of it is vegan), and it is very, very good.


Blogger Sally-Anne said...

Just keep an eye on your belongings when at Java Green during the lunch rush! Sticky fingers...

Otherwise, it's the best. I don't know about that Mushparagus, though. :)

4/28/2006 12:52 PM  
Blogger Bailey Quarters said...

There are a couple of new vegetarian friendly restaurants -- Vegetate in Shaw, and Viridian on 14th Street. I haven't been to either.

There's also a vegan bakery in Adam's Morgan, called Sticky Fingers.

As for people calling themselves
who aren't, my theory is that it's a socially acceptably way of being a picky eater.

4/28/2006 1:01 PM  
Blogger Laura Holt said...

While not the most egregious committer of this sin, I do admit to having spoken the sentence: "I'm a vegetarian, but I eat fish." I know it's nonsensical, and I know it's wrong. (Red and I have argued about this IRL, though I clearly don't have the superior position.) But at least I've NEVER done it in a restaurant! Though not out of concern for Red, but because I almost never ask the waiter questions about the menu, or for something that's not on the menu.

The way I most frequently describe myself, and one that I don't think makes Red mad because it's quite accurate, is that I'm an aspiring vegetarian. I'd really like to be an all-the-time-vegetarian, but I lapse. A lot. Most frequently with fish, but since I aspire to not eat fish, pescetarian, apart from just sounding stupid, doesn't feel right.

So, feel better about getting that off your chest Red?

4/28/2006 1:04 PM  
Blogger Red Fraggle said...

Bailey--the picky eating point is a good one. I do think that pescetarians generally don't want to eat animals, but consider fish as more acceptable to eat, and so perhaps don't fall into the picky eater category.

However, I was reminded how people misuse the vegetarian label the other day at a dinner. The meal consisted of some sort of veal (which looked really gross). I immediately said I was a vegetarian and was brought a vegetarian meal. Someone else at the table thought that the meat didn't look good (and others at the table who had tried it agreed that it wasn't tasty) and told the server she was a vegetarian. She wasn't.

I hate when people do this. Sure, you don't want to eat the meat. But banquet halls generally only have so many vegetarian plates. Saying you are one means that a real vegetarian might not be accomodated. In this case, the facility had already run out of veggie meals and asked if she would eat chicken. Of course, because she is in no way a vegetarian, she said she would. I would have been pretty mad if she had stated she was a veggie before me and got my veggie meal while I was asked if I would eat chicken (which I would have obviously refused) and ended up with an empty plate.

4/28/2006 1:08 PM  
Blogger Red Fraggle said...

Oh, and Gobo really enjoyed Viridian, and he had a meat meal there. I am looking forward to trying it. Maybe this weekend!

And yes, Laura Holt, I do feel a lot better! :) And I have no trouble with aspiring vegetarian. In fact, now that I think about it, I will choose to consider it as you saying you are aspiring to be more like me. And how can I take issue with that?

4/28/2006 1:10 PM  
Blogger Sally-Anne said...

Re veg-friendly restaurants, also check out Nirvana around Farragut West. It's all-vegetarian Indian and good stuff!

4/28/2006 4:05 PM  
Blogger Bailey Quarters said...

I second the recommendation of Nirvana. But I know that Red has a very sensitive palate, so I'm not sure if she'd like it.

4/28/2006 4:24 PM  
Blogger Red Fraggle said...

I have had good meals at Indian restaurants--I just have to be careful not to get anything too spicy. So I will definitely try.

My all-time favorite restaurant in DC, however, is Obelisk. The entire menu is a tasting menu (about five or seven courses) which is set every night, but if you call and tell them you are a vegetarian they will make an entirely vegetarian menu for you. And it is always very good.

4/28/2006 4:47 PM  

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