I was reading The Vegan Lunch Box the other day and feeling grouchier and grouchier the more I read. I suppose I was thinking if I didn’t work outside the home I could make time for that level of lunch-involvement for my offspring, if I had any, but then I realized that it wasn’t just the fussiness of the food and the fact that she calls her kid “Little Schmoo” that was getting to me. It was that she was showing behavior that I think of as typical of a Compensating Vegetarian – actually a Compensating Vegan – and I’m not that type.
There are a lot of different kinds of vegetarians. Sure, there are those who eat eggs and those who think eggs are somehow not really vegetarian but have never been able to say exactly why. Beyond the what-do-you-put-in delineations of ovo-lacto, lacto, and vegan and the why-do-you-do-it categories of health, ecology, animal rights and plain old distaste for flesh, there are further distinctions.
Before we go any further, please note that the following type descriptions are intended in a spirit of humor and fun, and that I have immense respect for other vegetarians, no matter how they go at their diets. We can all get A Bit Serious about it sometimes – so if you recognize yourself below (I am here in several guises) please don’t get too bent out of shape. We’re all doing something good for the planet and the animals, folks, and we have to laugh among ourselves at our perceived neuroticisms a little bit because goodness knows the rest of the world thinks we’re nuts.
Compensating Vegetarians are the ones who feel compelled to make food that is as similar to meat-containing food as possible. These people keep the food scientists that work on meat and cheese analogues in business, and have no fear of the sodium level in packaged foods and no discomfort with putting an enormous amount of their food budget and caloric consumption toward plastic-wrapped substances that have TVP as the primary ingredient. They love technology…food technology.
A Compensating Vegan might make a ham and cheese croissant (note homemade croissant made with trans-fat free margarine, ye gods, if I had the time and energy…) with fake cheese and fake ham and maybe even fake mayonnaise (at least the pickle you might have on the side can be real).
It’s just like the real stuff! they’ll insist. They feel they can’t have it look as if they’re missing out on the meat-eating experience because if so, meat-eaters will mock their food. They have a need to conform that battles mightily with their dietary preference. A fake-everything sandwich helps them avoid sticking out and having their food or themselves labeled as different or – heaven forbid – weird.
Is it weird to want to eat a sandwich in which all of the ingredients are ersatz? I sort of think so. Why not enjoy the natural vegetable foods available for what they are and close to the forms they take? Why do they need to be like something else?
There are other vegetarian subtypes.
Vain Vegetarians may be internally ovo-lacto or lacto, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at them, as they’re external carnivores. They cannot resist the siren song of leather goods. If you take a Vain Vegetarian to a vegan restaurant, he or she may get nasty looks from the staff.
They may tell you they try to minimize their leather consumption – they would never buy a leather jacket, of course, they’ll say, but the knee-high boots, well, they’ve been wearing them for three winters now and they’ve taken such good care of them that they still look good and really, they were very fashion-forward at the time, nobody was wearing pointy-toed boots then, and it’s only now that they’ve started to think about replacing them because they are starting to look just a touch dated, but winter is almost over anyhow, so they probably won’t even buy new ones until the fall.
Really, they’ll go on to say, vinyl shoes are worse for the environment, because they don’t biodegrade, and leather does. If you mention cloth or other shoe types as alternatives, they will look a bit pained. They will want to say that of course those are fine for around the house or for casual wear, but for a professional environment, you really need presentable-looking heels, but instead they will yell What’s that?! and point behind you. Before you have the chance to turn back around, they will have scurried into Nordstrom, where the shoe salespeople find the money of vegetarians is as green as anyone else’s.
Doritos and Coke Vegetarians are the ones who give the rest of the herbivores a bad name. Those foods are technically vegetarian but are of dubious nutritional value, and these vegetarians become so simply by omitting meat foods from the standard American diet of crap. They stop eating hamburgers but don’t start eating anything else. They just fill up on the fries.
Every omnivore you encounter who finds out you eschew meat seems to know one of these. They’ll tell you the horror story almost immediately upon your revelation. Oh my friend’s sister went vegetarian, and she became anemic/couldn’t clean and jerk 200 lbs. anymore/lost the will to live and the doctor told her she had to start eating meat again.
There’s always a health crisis and an accompanying doctor involved in this story, and eating meat again is always the answer, rather than a visit to a good dietitian and a concerted effort to learn to eat a balanced diet. Usually if you inquire a little more closely, you’ll find out that the ostensible vegetarian was subsisting entirely on something like cookies, either because he or she couldn’t be bothered to eat the right foods or because he or she “really doesn’t like vegetables.” That would seem to be a problem for a vegetarian, wouldn’t it?
Non-Compensating Vegetarians lack the devotion to meat analogues that defines Compensating Vegetarians. Non-Compensating Vegetarians love all kinds of close-to-the-source vegetable food, and eat the incredibly healthy diets that are perceived as weird – and weird-looking – by those around them that eat the standard American diet.
This is a typical interaction in the life of a Non-Compensating Vegetarian:
Interior Lunchroom. Non-Compensating Vegetarian is removing her eco-friendly glass container from the microwave, placing it on her cloth lunchbag as a hot pad, and readying her cloth napkin and actual silverware. A Co-Worker enters.
Co-Worker: Wow, that smells amazing! What are you having for lunch?
Non-Compensating Vegetarian: Kale! And Cajun red beans.
Co-worker: What’s kale?
Non-Compensating Vegetarian: It’s that leafy stuff you see under the cheese on appetizer trays.
Co-worker: You can eat that?
Non-Compensating Vegetarian: (winces)
It is hard to take Non-Compensating Vegetarians out to eat; everything has too much refined grain for their taste and not enough variety in the vegetable offerings. They will order brown rice sushi if it is available and eat it with evident relish. They also love beets.
Cheese-Obsessed Vegetarians really irritate vegans, but not intentionally. Most people like cheese. It has a copious amount of fat and a heaping helping of salt; what’s not to like, right? However, having worked with cheese for five years, I feel I have enough personal experience to say that some people – even non-vegetarians – are obsessed with cheese. Cheese seems to have a nicotine- or heroin-like power over a surprising number of otherwise normal people. It’s so goooood, they’ll almost moan in their reverie, in tones to which their cheesemonger would usually rather not be privy.
These vegetarians might like refried beans, but it’s mostly because they can put cheese on them to make nachos. They like lentil salad, too, but mostly because they can load it up with feta. Goat cheese and greens, grilled-cheese sandwiches, fried halloumi, you name the food, they’ll find a way to put the curd to it.
Vegans think these people are weak and lacking in will and look down on them. Well, vegans look down on everyone who’s not a vegan. They also have no sense of humor. (Okay, vegans, that was a check – was that funny? If you didn’t recognize that as funny, you might be a humorless vegan! Ha ha!)
Progression-Assuming Vegans Now we come to a subtype that is specifically vegan. Progression-Assuming Vegans are vegans who started out as omnivores or vegetarians, and see their transition from vegetarianism to veganism as the natural order of things, and expect that all other vegetarians are on a similar journey, and once they come to their senses, they’ll also become vegans. This just isn’t the case.
Some vegetarians go vegan for a while, find it difficult, boring, or that they’re the cheese-obsessed type, and go back to being vegetarians. Some vegetarians are just happy as vegetarians. Some vegetarians are just going through a phase and go back to being omnivores. Some people go straight from omnivore to vegan and stay there.
The mistaken thinking is that there’s a necessary revelation that could be motivated by the appropriate exposure to certain experiences. If you show 100 people a slaughterhouse video, some of them will be horrified, but some of them will walk away saying Meat’s tasty! Let’s go eat some now!
I admire vegans; I truly do. I admire their commitment, independent spirit, and low body fat percentages. It takes more energy, forethought, and sacrifice to be a vegan, no matter how happily and willingly you do it, just as it does to be a vegetarian as compared to an omnivore.
That said, I knew a vegan who didn’t allow his picture to be taken because film uses gelatin. That’s the definition of principle. Thank goodness for the development of digital cameras in the past ten years.
Jules Winnfield Vegetarians For the end of the list, these are the most tenuous vegetarians. Those of you who are fans of Pulp Fiction will likely recognize the reference to Samuel L. Jackson’s character’s line…my girlfriend’s a vegetarian. Which more or less makes me a vegetarian… These vegetarians do it entirely because it’s mandated by someone to whom they’re attached in order to continue the relationship, or because the person they’re attached to does all the cooking and happens to be vegetarian. Don’t expect for a moment that these vegetarians will stay so after the end of the motivating relationship, or even that they will not eat a guy’s burger right before they strike down their vengeance upon him. Their vegetarian partners, in turn, use what they’ve got to to get what they want.
Do you know any other types of vegetarians? Let me know below…