In the past couple of years I’ve had several people tell me that they thought I was a vegetarian. I’m not. Maybe it is a Seattle thing, but they learn that I cook or make vegetable ferments and jump to the conclusion that I might be a vegetarian. It makes sense. Vegetarians tend to know more about food and are probably more likely to make their own sauerkraut or kimchi. And there are so many vegetarians on the West Coast.
Whenever someone would present me with this misconception, I used to almost dismissively correct them. Beef liver made me healthy, not soy burgers! Correcting someone is rarely going to change their perceptions. A better approach is to plant a seed of doubt about that belief and let them think about it. So about a year ago I started answering the vegetarian charge in ways that advanced the dialog. Here are three responses that I use today.
The Experiment Response
This response works with people with more science or engineering backgrounds. I dismiss labels and promote the word experiment. This is a proactive way to think about food. Nothing is settled. The only thing that matters is data and the only data that matters is our own. This group understands the importance of testing. Framing dietary decisions in engineering lingo captures their attention.
I experimented with a vegetarian diet for a period back in college, but I found it didn’t get me the results I wanted. When I began adding seafood and meat back into my diet, my health improved. I got leaner, was able to gain muscle and had far more energy. I continue to experiment with my diet. Who knows what I’ll be eating in a few years. I’m not tied to labels. All I care about are results.
The Winter Response
This response changes the question from is a vegetarian diet healthy to which season of the year or what part of the planet is the vegetarian diet the most natural.
Maybe I’m wrong, but a vegetarian diet this far north of the Equator doesn’t seem natural in the winter months. If I was passionate about following a meat-free diet, I would move south to area where fruits and vegetables grow year round. I don’t feel comfortable buying supplements and having my food flown in thousands of miles when I have access to locally produced meat and seafood of high quality. Maybe a seasonal vegetarian approach might be worth looking into? Be a vegetarian during the part of the year when we get sunshine and plenty of Vitamin D and then be more of an omnivore the rest of the year.
This was Seattle on January 18, 2012. Let’s go hunting…for broccoli?
The Quality Response
If I can sense the person I am talking to is more in the fast food unhealthy camp, I’ll use this response. It changes the perception that no-meat is healthier than meat to a discussion about meat quality.
I’m not a vegetarian. We are very fortunate to live in the Pacific Northwest where some of the highest quality meat on the planet is raised. I can get many cuts of grass-fed beef at the Farmers Markets or several local grocery stores. The prices are much better here than many parts of the country. I might be a vegetarian if all I had access to was the pink-slime meat and the stuff served at fast food places, but we are fortunate we have access to the healthy stuff.
These three responses have worked so much better for me. It avoids all those tired old debates about vegetarian diets being more healthy. It varies from person to person, season to season and if they have access to quality meat. Does anyone else get this question and how have you responded?