My first major grilling season event as a vegetarian has passed. Though my vegetarianism has not reached the 1-year mark yet, this weekend marks a significant milestone - the start of my meatless BBQ season. My instinctive reaction upon approaching the buffet on Sunday was to grab a hot dog(I LOVE hot dogs), skip the hamburger (I ate them once a year), have a small piece of chicken (always good), and a bit of each salad (yummy). But aha - I remind myself that I no longer eat meat (darn it, those dogs look really good!) The salads look great - after all, we are eating in the Hudson Valley and the lettuce is local and fresh.
So I ask the obligatory question: Are there any veggie burgers? Yes, but it seems they are difficult to locate. A gracious volunteer finds a freshly cooked batch and I am set. It is flat, a little moist but lacks the love and sexiness of the burgers and dogs. I nibble it and am done. I am reminded of a question I posed to other non-meat eaters early in my vegetarian life: "Have you cheated?" - thinking that temptation abounds and it would be an easy thing to step out once in a while (who would know?).
Apparently, cheating isn't big with vegetarians as it is a passion/mission driven choice. Instead, several people talked about their lapses. Some intervals lasted for a single meal, others for weeks or months. For some, it was the resumption of meat-eating, for others, just a break.
I thought that cheating would be like sneaking cookies on Yom Kippur, you do it but don't tell anyone that you did. And I confess, eating a carrot from the top of the brisket pot felt slightly sinful but not punishable. Being vegetarian is a choice, which puts it in a different category of honor not obligation. And as a leather-wearing/fish-eating vegetarian (pescatarian), my decision excludes enjoying some animals but not others.
Which brings me back to the uninspiring veggie burger. After a career of menu writing, my criteria for judging a meal is now based on what my fellow vegetarians and I can eat. I admit, I did not have a fraction of the empathy for non-meat eaters then as I do now. And, there are a slew of other criteria I look at: Heavy or light on the carbs? Fat content? Too much cheese - in fact, why have much cheese at all? What kind of fish - good fish/bad fish/overfished? Seasonal? Local? Organic? (And, not in my playbook, but I also weigh the nuts, gluten, soy, eggs and other dietary restrictions that have moved into the restrictive mainstream these days.) I have abandoned the motto 'No fat, No flavor' but refuse to sacrifice culinary excellence for the sake of a few food principles. I have a eureka fantasy moment - we will to add Katchkie Farm Veggie Burgers to the product line. Has anyone done this before? No more skinny patties with pale and unappetizing colors. A juicy veggie burger that will make meat-eaters salivate and offer an alternative to the BBQ blues.
There are political food choices behind my abandoning a meat diet that clearly conflict with my professional life of serving meat meals to hundreds of people weekly. Never mind - I can deal with a separation of 'church and state.' But I inadvertently discovered another wonderful benefit to this self imposed change of diet - I have gotten in touch with my sense of self-control. And unlike skipping dessert (usually), or not having a drink during the week (impossible), not eating meat is a relatively easy line in the sand to both draw and to maintain despite the aromatic tug of the grill.
It is the feeling of pride in maintaining this level of self-control that reinforces my decision to continue not eating meat. Of course, the mantra "I will not eat meat until all animals are treated humanely" is the battle cry that rallies the troops and has galvanized me as well. It is a cause that will be severely tested between now and Labor Day as the sizzle and smoke of some of the best tasting meals seduce the most disciplined eaters. I am reminded of the TV ad - "Where's the beef?" For the moment, not on my plate.