Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Never too many veggie buddies

I don't think I ever quite understood what an awkward feeling it is to be a vegetarian in the company of a group entirely made up of meat eaters until I stopped eating animals myself a couple of years ago.

Growing up with a dad who hadn't eaten meat in my entire lifetime, I'd certainly been aware of the person strains and struggles of making the choice to refrain from that particular food group, but it didn't occur to me that from his end, the abstinence from meat can be a trying, almost arduous task without the support of people who are on the same page.

By the time I was vegetarian, though, I was lucky to have companions (in my dad and in my friend Diana) who could be the fellow vegetarian to combat the awkwardness of having to tell a group of people I didn't want to eat at a steak house or a sushi restaurant.

Even when I got to college, I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of my closest friends there was also becoming a vegetarian. By the time I became a sophomore, another friend was asking me about what it would take to transition out of meat-eating.

So that's where I am now - a lucky, enabled kid who never had to experience the art of meatlessness by her lonesome, because no matter where I've gone there have always been people to share the burden with.

But on the rare occasion that I'm not around a fellow vegetarian, it becomes all the more clear to me what an anomaly I must seem. My grandma, some of my friends, my coworkers, etc. at one point or another have all asked me about the limitations of my diet. Some have even complained, citing my choices as a hindrance on their own.

Which is why over the past two years of trying to transition myself out of absolutely any desire for meat (I still admit that bacon smells good and it bothers me that I feel that way since the idea of it disgusts me so much), I've constantly looked for ways to integrate vegetarianism into my life without alienating the people I know and love who just can't stand it.

I've gone to Japanese restaurants and watched family members order Salmon Teriyaki (one of the dishes I feel the greatest lust for), or sat in diners and avoided breakfast platters, offering my bacon and sausage to whomever I'm with.

But these choices get to me, and not in a good way.

So I love the days when I get to discover my own way of eating vegetarian-friendly even when my location doesn't necessarily cater to my "people."

The other day, I was searching through the Disney Parks Blog when I found a post about a vegetarian option at the new Flo's V8 Café in Cars Land at California Adventure. This insight made me hunger (punny) for more information on the best vegetarian and vegan eateries at the parks.

While Disneyland is certainly not made for the meatless among us, it's a resort that aims to cater to all types of people. At most locations, I can find some suitable option to eat. But finding what's suitable isn't my goal, I constantly strive to find places to eat that not only coincide with my dietary choices, but favor them.

Enter in my dad, who is by far the best parent any girl or boy or animal could ever ask for.

As soon as I got it into my mind that I wanted to try out various vegetarian food options around the Disney parks, he jumped right on board to be my fellow taste tester.

While we already had our staples of tofu kebabs and bread bowls at California Adventure, we decided to step over to Disneyland and try our options out there. In a week, we've tested the vegetarian Gumbo in New Orleans Square and the Vegetable Po' boy at the River Belle Terrace, which sits on the cusp of Frontierland, Adventureland and New Orleans Square.

Though the food is hit or miss (respectively), it's the fun of trying new things that makes this venture worth it. And without the company of a fellow vegetarian who understands the need to find food that is not only acceptable to my diet, but also satisfying, it would be a difficult endeavor.

As I've expressed before here, it's hard for me to judge anyone who doesn't have the same values and subsequent dietary restrictions as I do. For the first 17 years of my life, the thought of going vegetarian barely crossed my mind. How could I give up a major food group? It seemed unfathomable.

I can see why people might feel that way, and even though it conflicts with my perception of humanity, I accept that not everyone I hang out with or spend time around can be or wants to be a vegetarian. Yet still, I treasure the fact that I've grown up in an environment that is so welcoming to people like me, one in which I've been lucky enough to be constantly surrounded by likeminded individuals.

The other day I was telling one of my coworkers about how I've been a vegetarian for a couple of years. She told me that when she was 11 or 12 she became a pescatarian and her parents were quick to tell her how crazy they thought she was. Somehow, she managed to stick with it despite perhaps not having their full support.

It's difficult to make life choices when, because they're not the norm, they allow people to look at you differently - to judge you. The blessed among us are those who have friends and family to accept us even when we make a decision that might set us apart from them. The even more blessed among us are those who have friends and family who have gone through the same choices and can relate with our plight.

The reason I like taste-testing vegetarian food is not just because I love trying new types of cuisine and varying my diet in a world where most restaurants only offer one or two vegetarian options on a menu. It's also because being an adventurous non-meat-eater gives me the license to connect with some amazing people, and to grow even closer with some I already know.

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