As soon as I stopped eating meat, I stopped considering myself a ‘foodie.’ I felt uncomfortable with the label, even undeserving of it, but I never took the time to think about why. Why did I have such a strong association between eating meat and the foodie label? Why did becoming one thing mean giving up another?
Let’s begin with the definition of a foodie. According to most, it’s someone who has a keen interest in food. A food lover. Maybe even a food snob.
Perhaps it’s the voices of chefs and food professionals that perpetuate the notion that vegans cannot be foodies. When I turn on the Food Network, all the chefs and food critics are constantly eating meat. Take Guy Fieri, for example. His show ‘Diners, Drive Ins and Dives’ is basically a showcase of all the most meaty restaurants in America. As entertaining as it is, I can’t really relate to it since I can’t eat anything that he features on the show. So I end up thinking to myself, well he’s a foodie, and I can’t eat anything that he loves and appreciates, so therefore I am not on the same spectrum as him. I’m not a foodie. (I also think it is tied to gender norms: food=meat=masculinity… but I’ll save this topic for a future post.)
This is further perpetuated by public figures who disdain vegetarianism. Take Anthony Bourdain, arguably the biggest foodie on television, who regularly condemns vegetarians on his shows. I have a deep respect and admiration for Bourdain, so I take his opinions seriously. When he says vegetarians are self-indulgent, and that vegetarianism is a first-world luxury, I can’t help but take it to heart. I understand his point to a certain extent– when you cut out meat/dairy, it prevents you from trying whatever is put in front of you. When you travel, or go out to eat, you have to make special requests. You have to modify the meal to suit your lifestyle.
However, being a meat-free foodie also forces you to be creative. You have to take what is so often (especially in America) the star of the plate, and replace it with something equally, if not more, delicious. Want to make a sloppy joe without meat? Better start getting creative with your ingredients. Want to make a brownie? You better find a way to make it without the multiple eggs and sticks of butter required in a normal recipe.
I feel like there’s another entity that feeds the meat + foodie association. I use Instagram quite frequently and see hundreds of foodie accounts– accounts that feature pictures of decadent, indulgent food from the trendiest restaurants around the world. These add to the idea that only those who go out to eat and try the most absurd food– like deep-fried hot dogs or burgers sandwiched between two ramen ‘buns’– are true foodies. (Check out @infatuation or @rcorrera for examples of insane-looking food.) Health-conscious individuals who cook frequently are not members of the foodie club.
However, going meat-free has made me even more of a foodie than I was before. Perhaps not in the Bourdain or IG-foodie-account sense of the word, but certainly in the sense that I appreciate food. I am more aware of seasonal ingredients, and I pay more attention to nutrition, flavor, and texture because I have to. I don’t have the luxury of going out to eat and getting whatever I want on the menu. I don’t want to eat the ‘garden salad’ with flavorless romaine and a few tomatoes or perhaps a few pieces of corn or avocado. Looking at a menu and finding one, maybe two items that don’t center around meat (of which doesn’t even sound that good but I order it anyway because I have to) gets old pretty fast.
I’m not complaining– I’m well aware that this is my own choice. However, my appreciation for food has grown because of this choice. I cook more than I ever have because I’ve found a love for food that I didn’t have before. I want to discover all the different plants around the world and experiment with the various flavors. I want to continue to improve my skills and match the best flavors and textures.
Everyday I am amazed with nature. Every time I roast eggplant and watch it turn from hard and flavorless to soft, chewy, and bold, I am in awe. I really think it is an amazing thing.
I want to stop feeling like I’m less of a food lover than the average person just because I don’t eat meat. I don’t want to think I’m less passionate or less deserving. I am not a ‘vegan foodie.’ I’m just as much of a foodie as the person sitting next to me in this cafe, munching away on a buttery croissant. Loving food and being vegan/vegetarian are not mutually exclusive.