Editor’s Note: Another Food Critic undertook a one-month challenge to eat vegetarian. Take a look at how it changed his perspective here.
Among foodies, the issue of vegetarian food writers seems to come up time and again. With up to 3 percent of American adults practicing vegetarians (and up to 10 percent more looking to limit meat consumption) it’s more relevant than ever to consider the vegetarian standpoint.
That said, vegetarians do not necessarily make good food writers.
Let me start of by saying I have no idea what it’s like to go to a restaurant and try to avoid animal parts. There is definitely a growing need for vegetarian food writers to speak to the experience directly. I really admire the “part-time vegetarian” mentality food writers like Pam Anderson and Mark Bittman have taken, as the experiences are absolutely invaluable, and it really is a new trick for an old writer. I’ve toyed with the idea of trying it myself.
But outside of vegetarians writing about vegetarian food, I have yet to see a convincing reason why a vegetarian can do a quality review on a place that serves meat. The first major problem is meat isn’t something you can just cut from food writing and then expect a holistic review. It’s not like writing about a tex-mex place without trying the guacamole. There are so many varieties of meat to try and so many preparation methods. It’s an essential understanding to some cuisine. Though vegetarian alternatives exist in many restaurants, trying to explain a meat-based dish when only eating the vegetarian version just doesn’t do it justice. Food writing is about articulating the nuances about the food; explaining things that people can’t verbalize. You can’t explain a chocolate dessert when all you tasted was the sugar free version.
The second, larger problem lies in the invariable tendency of vegetarian writers to turn preachy, unfortunately. There are two types of vegetarians in the world, you see, and the quiet, health-centered type often get a bad name from the loud, evangelical vegetarians shoving condescension down your face. In justifying the vegetarianism, it’s fine to say you’re doing it to be healthy or something, but the temptation to go beyond that is apparently too much to bear. Whether it’s Rebecca Flint Marx’s “Meat is disgusting because I’m better than you for not eating it and also eating meat = gluttonously stuffing your face” argument, or Jane Hughes’ “Meat is bad because please buy my vegetarian book!” This condescension so prevalent in their writing is indicative to me of a genuine misunderstanding of the cuisine, its culture, and why people love it.
That’s not what the kind of writing I’m ready to put my faith in quite yet.