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.