Commentary: Can vegetarians make good food writers?

Native foods cafe burgerEditor’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.


5 thoughts on “Commentary: Can vegetarians make good food writers?

  1. You know who likes vegetarian food critics? Vegetarians. As a vegan, I can assure you that when we go out to eat, vegetarians and vegans ALWAYS look at reviews because we’re trying to figure out if we will be safe to eat anything at all. We may be a small part of the population, but I’d bet we are a more consistent audience to food critics than omnivores.

  2. Can’t help but notice the thinly-veiled bitterness towards vegetarians. Here’s a clue; we don’t care if you’re hell-bent on eating meat. If you want to know about the diet, we’ll help you… Otherwise, we only want to know if restaurants serve decent vegetarian meals that are more than an afterthought to the meat dishes.

    And if you are a restaurateur you should know that if you put care and thought into preparing vegetarian dishes, you will be surprised to find a loyal customer base because it is lacking in so many areas. Meat eaters can go anywhere and find good food, but this demographic has to search for a good meal like it’s the holy grail. Give us a break!

  3. Tristan,

    Contrary to most comments here, I rather agree w. everything you state, and I can totally relate to your feelings on how oftentimes vegetarians have tendencies to be -very- preachy about their life-health choices. I should know, ’cause I’m trying to become a pollo/pescetarian myself, and more than once I’ve caught myself trying to critique others on their choice of foods, or eating habits in general.

    And hey, you’ve got a good thing going on here, just from reading this article, I can tell that I’ll be making more future visits to your website, especially since you’re a fellow oHIoan (though I’m a caliFORnia “native”), and because I really enjoyed your writing style.



    P.S. iLike your top-banner, but you should consider smoothing out the jagged edges on F O O D, and cleaning out the white noise around the inside border of all the letters ( ), it’ll give your NASCAR inspired banner a cleaner look that would better complement your blogs white background.

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