This morning, a number of friends sent me this article from the New York Times, about being a vegetarian in the Midwest.
If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out and then read on.
(That’s me eating meatless at Eden Alley, a fantastic vegetarian restaurant in Kansas City, on the Plaza.)
I didn’t eat meat for almost four years. I stopped eating it in the fall of 2007, right before Thanksgiving. I started again in 2011, right before Thanksgiving. I was also born and raised in Omaha, Neb. Beef capital of the world.
A.G. Sulzberger gives my hometown a shout-out in his story:
In Nebraska, a place where cattle outnumber people, vegetarians are sometimes accused of undermining the state economy. The owner of what was billed as the lone vegetarian restaurant in Omaha said it had several pounds of ground beef thrown at its doors shortly after opening. After a short run, it closed last year.
When I traveled the state working for Nebraska tourism it was challenging to eat. Sometimes there weren’t any good options. I ate a lot of grilled cheeses and some of them tasted more like a hamburger than they should have. Once, a lady told me the only meatless option at her restaurant was chicken strips.
But I never had to sustain myself on iceberg lettuce alone, and nobody ever accused me of undermining the state’s economy. In Scottsbluff, I ate many wonderful meals at the Emporium Coffeehouse and Cafe, where I had my choice of a few meatless dishes. At guest ranches in the panhandle, I ate homemade meatless meals. I’ve had plenty of meat-free Mexican in central Nebraska.
In Omaha and Lincoln, I have even more choices, and though its true that Omaha doesn’t have another restaurant with a menu that’s 100 percent meatless, it has oodles of options. Soup at Greatful Bread/Freakbeat Vegetarian and many menu items at Bread and Cup in Lincoln. A cheese plate at La Buvette. A tempeh Reuben at Marks. Falafel from many places. A vegan Philly sandwich at Block 16, formerly New York Chicken and Gyro. There’s always a meatless choice on the rotating special menu at M’s Pub. The list goes on.
I emailed Sulzberger after I read his story. I pointed out the vegetarian menu at McFosters, and told him that I didn’t think the vegetarian life in Omaha was as barren as his story made it seem.
He wrote me back, saying that he didn’t consider McFosters vegetarian because it serves meat. For him, that means it’s “just a restaurant with a lot of great vegetarian options.” (For the record, McFosters serves just eight dishes with chicken, fish or seafood. It’s menu includes more than 50 meatless choices between appetizers, salads, sandwiches and entrees.)
He says the point of his story was not to say that Omaha and Kansas City were barren. He said he notes a number of restaurants where he’d had good meals and that the big cities of the region have gotten a lot better, but there are significantly fewer options in the Midwest than in much of the country, particularly “if you travel outside the major metros.”
I’ve faced some of the same meatless challenges that Sulzberger points out in his story. And I agree with him that there are substantially more options for vegetarians in the big cities, both in the Midwest and elsewhere in the country.
But I still feel like the part about Omaha — including the factoid about how we have more cows than people in Nebraska — rings snarky. It makes it seem like no one here takes vegetarianism or veganism seriously. That no one cares about it. That no restaurants offer much of anything for the people who don’t eat beef. And that’s simply not true.