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Holiday Vegetating

November 22, 1998|CHARITY FERREIRA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Ferreira worked until recently as a pastry chef at Greens in San Francisco and now works as a free-lance writer

These days it seems like everybody has food issues. And like most things that simmer just below the surface, they become more of a problem around the holidays when people get together to share a meal.

If you are feeding a crowd this Thanksgiving, there's a good chance you'll have at least one vegetarian at your table. Unfortunately, there is more than one kind of vegetarian, and just knowing that someone avoids meat doesn't give you much information. You need to know whom you're feeding.

There are the usual categories of vegetarians: Lacto-ovo vegetarians include dairy products and eggs in their diets; vegans do not. And some people who call themselves vegetarians eat poultry or fish. Ask to be sure.

In my years of vegetarian cooking and eating, I've come across all sorts of vegetarian eaters and have divided them mentally into my own classifications. These profiles, though not foolproof, should help you feed everybody this Thursday and keep our national food holiday from becoming the food-issue holiday.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday December 9, 1998 Home Edition Food Part H Page 7 Food Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Tamale recipe -- A numeral was dropped through a printing error in the ingredient list for Pumpkin and Chanterelle Mushroom Tamales ("Holiday Vegetating," Nov. 20). The number of cups of masa in the recipe should be 3 1/2 cups, not 1/2 cup.

The Zealous Vegetarian

In the culture of zealous vegetarianism, what goes in is less important then what's kept out. With an enthusiasm that some might mistake for an eating disorder, this vegetarian adheres to a strict diet that might exclude sugars, fat or inorganically grown produce in addition to meat products. This is the Ken Starr of vegetarianism: determined, fervent, sanctimonious. His or her puritanical virtues of restraint and self-control tend to have an unnerving effect on meat eaters, inspiring them to avowals like, "I hardly ever eat red meat these days." The zealous vegetarian rarely dines out, preferring to steam or pressure-cook his or her own meals. It is a common misconception that all vegetarians fit into this category.

The Retro-Vegetarian

Like platform sneakers, metal lunch boxes and Scooby Doo, soy meat substitutes are hip again. This creative, free-spirited vegetarian brings back experimentation with soy products and obscure grains like kashi and quinoa in a thoroughly modern fashion. The difference between the retro-vegetarian and the zealous vegetarian is largely a matter of style. Though the zealous vegetarian tends to be humorless about his or her restricted diet, the retro-vegetarian manages to give fringe eating habits a certain panache. This vegetarian actually likes food and enjoys pushing the envelope with dishes like seitan "lamb" sandwiches on pita bread, pasta shells stuffed with tofu "ricotta" and rice milk ice cream. He or she eagerly patronizes restaurants and markets offering this type of fare. This is the person who drinks decaffeinated soy milk lattes and orders the "vegetarian pork" at a Chinese restaurant.

The Junk-Food Vegetarian

Whatever this person's motives for avoiding meat, health is not foremost among them. A paradoxical freak of nature, this is the vegetarian who hates vegetables or at least has a long list of ones he or she won't touch. The junk-food vegetarian could not tell you anything about complete or complementary proteins and will usually seek out a piece of fruit only just in time to avoid coming down with scurvy. Processed foods are not the anathema to this vegetarian that they are to the zealous vegetarian. This is the person who will wash nacho cheese tortilla chips down with a martini and call it dinner and who will be surprised and irritated to discover that a vegetarian diet must exclude marshmallows and miniature frosted doughnuts because they contain horse hooves and beef fat, respectively. Unmoved by the sight of a juicy steak, this vegetarian might be caught looking longingly at a corn dog on its way from the freezer to the microwave. Amazingly, these vegetarians often seem to be in robust health.

The Accidental Vegetarian

This is the rare person who exemplifies moderation in his or her diet, and probably in other areas of life as well. Often a many-year veteran of meatless eating, the accidental vegetarian has relaxed his or her idealism to the point that he no longer remembers why he stopped eating meat. Most likely he fell into a kind of de facto vegetarianism at some point because the person he shared most of his meals with was vegetarian. This is the vegetarian most likely to be a gourmet cook and to dine out often. He or she probably likes spicy and ethnic foods and looks to cuisines, such as Indian and Indonesian, which emphasize vegetables end grains over meat. A real plate-is-half-full kind of person, the accidental vegetarian is not hung up on what he can't eat because there are so many things that he can.


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