Why can’t this exist for all food?
[This was on a sample tray at the fancy Dillon’s on 6th and Wakarusa.]
So a week ago I came down with this pretty wicked sinus infection. I’m not going to use that as an excuse here, because I am completely responsible for this screw-up, no matter how sick I was. Lesson officially learned—if it’s not listed on a menu as explicitly ‘vegetarian’, ASK. Because I didn’t ask, and I consumed something with fish sauce in it, and it was totally my fault.
Zen Zero has been one of my favorite restaurants since I’ve moved to Lawrence. It’s cheap, and while it’s probably not terribly authentic and most likely falls into that murky “asian fusion” category of food, it’s damn delicious. There are a couple of menu items I get there pretty regularly and I would always get them with tofu, because they manage to do a pretty good job of cooking their tofu, which is nice (a lot of places screw tofu up pretty badly). The Massaman Curry dish is one of my favorites: it’s spicy if you ask for it to be, coconut milk and potatoes and tofu and peanuts; it’s just this giant bowl of awesome. Last Saturday was the first day I started feeling pretty sick with this sinus infection, and I could barely breathe. I felt pretty lousy, but I made Ryan take me to Zen Zero in hopes of getting a big bowl of spicy curry that might open up my sinuses a bit. Not only did it not make me feel much better, but that trip accounted for my first accidental meat consumption this year that I’m aware of.
The trip was made of fail from the beginning, because of those damn delicious shrimp chips they bring to the table when you sit down. I should have made the server take them away, so there was mistake #1. Ryan and I had to stare at these things the whole time without being able to dip them in that delicious chili sauce and chow down. Ugh.
Now here’s where I really screwed up. Ryan was smart, and ordered the Thai Basil Tofu from the section of the menu that read ‘VEGETARIAN.’ I was afraid to try something new and sort of out of it AND I had been dreaming about that damn curry so I just went with it, EVEN THOUGH IT’S NOT IN THE VEGETARIAN SECTION OF THE MENU. Again, totally my fault. I just figured, TOFU. There’s no meat in this. RIGHT? Wrong. DEAD WRONG. I realized after I had eaten most of it that I might have made a mistake, and the server confirmed that there was fish sauce in it. Fail.
So that was my first conscious screw-up. I learned my lesson and will force myself to ask any time something isn’t explicitly listed as ‘vegetarian.’ I hate having to ask about stuff like this because I hate bothering servers/food preparers (especially after my long history in food service). They often don’t know off the top of their heads about specific menu items, and sometimes the information is hard for people to find. Ryan has a story about another scenario where he tried to ask about ingredients in a menu item and the people couldn’t confirm whether or not it was vegetarian, but I’ll let him tell that story. So here’s the first big lesson I’m learning from the vegetarian part of the challenge: meat products are in A LOT OF FOOD. Stuff that appears to be meat-free often isn’t, and that is pretty counter-intuitive. If vegetarianism means simply abstaining from eating animal flesh, it would be a hell of a lot easier. But because of the presence of things like chicken stock and fish sauce in products, you’ve got to do your homework.
Dining out seems like it’s getting increasingly difficult, thanks to this revelation. Cooking at home has been a lot easier.
I’ve been quiet lately because the semester has officially begun AND I came down with a killer sinus infection last weekend, but living ethically marches on. I’ll post about my accidental meat-consumption snafu soon (another rookie mistake—I’m trying not to beat myself up about it) but in the meantime, I’ll update about our experience so far with recycling.
So I’ll just go ahead and say that recycling out here is fairly easy—it could be easier, sure—with a couple of caveats. One of these caveats doesn’t even really affect us, but the city of Lawrence does not offer curbside recycling as a city service. There’s a recycling service that one can opt to pay for, and as I understand the monthly fee is pretty small, but again, this doesn’t really affect us since we live in an apartment complex, and thus wouldn’t be eligible for curbside recycling regardless. It’s a change from where I’m from: Hampton Roads has had curbside recycling as a city service since the 90’s, and the charge gets rolled into your water/trash bill. We used to have these dinky little blue SPSA bins, and they updated to full-sized recycling trash-style cans a while back . You could choose not to recycle, obviously, but you’d be paying for it anyway, and they were pretty clear about what they took as recyclables and what they didn’t take. My folks have been recycling at home since it’s been widely available and I remember going on a field trip as a kid to the recycling plant and watching these giant sorting machines. It even looks like my hometown even has this cute little website with tons of information about “being green.”
Lawrence is a significantly smaller town, so I get why they have a smaller operation. The city’s website helpfully lists some information about recycling; there are recycling dumpsters in the parking lots of some of the stores (Dillons on 23rd has them) which take some things but not all recyclables, and the big Wal-Mart Community Recycling Center, while not centrally located, (but the town is tiny, so it’s not a big deal) is pretty accessible. Ryan and I take our stuff to the Wal-Mart Community Recycling Center. It’s nearby and takes pretty much everything, and they are pretty clear about what they won’t take. Our IKEA bags help with our sorting. So far, we haven’t had any real issues.
The one thing I want to complain about here is that for the non-seasoned recycler, it’s sometimes not intuitive or easy to figure out what gets recycled and what doesn’t. It’s cool, there’s a learning curve for anything. We are figuring this stuff out and I’m not afraid of sounding stupid. Glass, newspaper, aluminum cans, office-pak paper; all of these things are obvious. Cardboard, sure, but not pizza boxes, apparently—the cheese contaminates the box (yes, we Googled this before we tried to recycle one of these). No wax-coated cardboard. “Chip board” is sort of a confusing category: cereal boxes, cracker boxes, etc., but every now and again I’ll come across something I’m not sure will fit in this category. Light bulbs can’t be recycled, which seems weird. Some plastic can be recycled; a lot of it can’t, and sometimes it’s hard to figure out from looking at the container without checking the list. So I guess my complaint here is geared toward product manufacturers. It’d be incredibly useful to have packaging which makes it incredibly obvious that the packaging can be recycled. Some packaging tells you it’s recyclable; a lot doesn’t. A lot of packaging glaringly admits that it’s “MADE OF POST-CONSUMER RECYCLED MATERIAL,” which is fantastic. Great. But for those of us still learning, it would be helpful if we had a better system of identifying recyclables quickly. That complaint aside, so far this is definitely one of the easier aspects of our challenge. Committing to recycling is a small lifestyle modification that isn’t terribly time-consuming, especially if you have easy access to the recycling center. Having to drive to the recycling center seems like one of those “damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t” kind of problems. We’re due to make a trip here soon so I’ll take some photos and post them after we go.
A belated review of Chipotle–with pictures!
PROS: It was delicious.
Maybe I was just really hungry, but Jesus, the vegetarian bowl at Chipotle is damn good. My bowl had: white rice, black beans (N.B. the pinto beans have fucking pork in them, I was NOT making that mistake again or at least not making it on my second before-class dinner attempt), all four of their salsas (I especially like the one with corn), cheese, and guacamole ($1.00 extra). Again, I’m shilling for a corporate chain conglomerate here I realize, but this meal was, as my kids say, fire. This was the result after a few minutes:
Finally, the meal was prepared extremely quickly, even compared to Panera Bread (who I believe use bacon grease or deer blood to speed up their preparations).
CONS: The price was, again, a bit much, clocking in at about $10.50. (Why do restaurants charge so much for drinks these days? Seriously, I would eat just about anything and pay just about any price if the restaurant featured $.50 refillable soda.) Further, at this particular Chipotle, the music was pretty loud, which makes it difficult for me to get some last minute reading done before class.
The biggest con (for this location) was the lack of free wifi. I just assumed every place in the world had free wifi these days. I tried to straight huss some Burger King wifi to no avail. This aspect, combined with the music, makes hanging out for a while a bit weird…if I can’t read or check the internet, I’m just kind of sitting there and thinking about the food. Also I am a bit crazy about refillable soda and justifying two dollar drinks by consuming 75 oz. of soda as quickly as possible to stick it to some shady soda magnate character I’ve concocted in my head. Moving on.
THE VERDICT: 3.5 stars. I probably won’t make this an every-week destination due to the price (ed. note: I’m cheap), but if I’m interested in a quick meal before going to the UMKC library to hang out before class, this is the place.
We’ve passed the two-week mark in the challenge, so here’s a quick update on how things are going. We haven’t had any major malfunctions with vegetarianism—it’s actually been pretty cool that so far we haven’t had to make any huge changes to our diets. I will admit that going to Steak ‘n Shake and not getting a burger was pretty damn difficult, but the milkshakes are still delicious. Boca Burgers are definitely growing on me—so much so that we haven’t yet bothered to try any different brands of veggie burgers. The other night for dinner I made this salad, which was damn delicious:
I’m going to be bummed when Honeycrisp apples disappear from the grocery stores soon, because this salad was one of the best I’ve ever made: spinach and spring mix, walnuts, Honeycrisp apples, this AMAZING honey-Chevre cheese from Trader Joe’s, carrots, and a honey vinaigrette. Ryan approved as well. This is relevant because this is definitely the type of salad I would have put apple-wood-smoked bacon on in the past—for what reason other than bacon is delicious, I’m not really sure, because this salad stands on its own pretty well. I guess I’m still having a hard time removing the indoctrinated idea that meat=protein=necessary for your existence. I know it’s not true, and I know humans eat way more protein than their bodies actually need, but it’s hard to get rid of some of the crap that you’ve been hearing all your life. So far I’d say we’ve been doing pretty okay with the vegetarianism.
For charity: Ryan’s doing his thing and has updated about it. I just got a confusing letter about my merit raise and I still have no idea how much money I’m making this year, but as soon as I do, I’ll figure out what 2% will be and post about where I decide to make my first donation. Our friend has brought up some really good criticisms of Médecins Sans Frontières so I’m considering a different option.
Recycling: Nothing really to say about this, but our IKEA bags are working fabulously and we’re due to make a recycling trip soon-ish. I will say that we got pretty angry about finding a new telephone book outside of our door this afternoon. I need to figure out whether or not there’s a way to opt out of receiving a phone book in the future, because they are fucking worthless and they just go straight into the recycling bin.
Volunteering: I haven’t heard anything from 4-H yet (today was a holiday), and their application did mention that they would check all of my references. I’ll give them a week before I contact someone and ask about the status of my application. I’m chomping at the bit to start volunteering so I may go forward with the DCAP if 4-H takes their sweet time.
We’re sailing toward the end of our first month of ethical living and we haven’t hit any major roadblocks yet: I’d say so far the project has been pretty successful. More updates to follow!
With Paneragate in my rearview mirror, my early paycheck (thanks to the holiday) has offered me a way to soothe my woozy ego: charitable donation. I split up my 2% over two bill cycles a month, and during the latter half I get to spend more on charity, thereby amplifying the self esteem boost. I went, again, with the Against Malaria Foundation:
Huzzah! Check them out.
It seems that the rest of the internet is also pretty offended by A.G. Sulzberger’s tale of woe about finding vegetarian options in flyover country (see my original post here). I stumbled across two good responses, both with some resources/suggestions for Mr. Sulzberger: I particularly like local journalist Sarah Henning’s response “Dead Meat: The New York Times’ Terrible Take on Vegetarianism in Kansas City;” Henning asks readers to share their favorite local veggie meals in the comment section, and there are some great responses there too. There’s also this response from a KC “almost vegan” chef/blogger that is particularly impassioned and fun to read and also chock full of resources. In a way, I’m glad for the publication of Sulzberger’s piece, since it’s now causing people to defend their city and in doing so name the best of the best in terms of local vegetarian options. Ryan and I now have a whole new list of places to check out.
So I had already intended on saying something about this January 10th New York Times piece “Meatless in the Midwest: A Tale of Survival,” and the topic dovetails nicely now with our first minor bump in the road for the vegetarianism part of our challenge: yesterday, at Panera Bread, Ryan unwittingly consumed chicken stock in Panera’s Broccoli and Cheddar soup. As soon as our friend Emily kindly pointed out that the soup actually contained chicken stock, I felt this sinking feeling in my stomach: we were barely one week in, and we had failed already. I hated telling Ryan (who was already having a lousy day). As stupid as it is (I used to compulsively read food labels, I should know better!), I feel like I should have just KNOWN—but I don’t eat at Panera often, and I don’t like broccoli and cheddar soup, and it just didn’t occur to me that a dish wherein the main ingredients are ‘broccoli’ and ‘cheese’ would contain any meat-derivatives (again, we’re not going vegan, so cream-based things can be okay). Sure enough, when I looked at their menu online after the fact, Panera lists several soups as ‘vegetarian,’ but not the broccoli and cheddar soup. So consider lesson #1 officially learned: just because it seems like it’s meat-free, it doesn’t make it automatically vegetarian. Panera helpfully does indicate that some of their offerings are indeed vegetarian: more often than not, when eating out you’ll have to ask someone about the ingredients.
Despite this hiccup, the New York Times piece still confounds me a little. I get that Kansas City is one of the ‘meat capitals’ of the midwest. I understand that folks out here in “flyover farmland” enjoy their meats and potatoes. Maybe it’s a function of living in a hippy-dippy liberal college-town, but I’ve been consistently impressed by the vegetarian options out here in Lawrence, at least. I’ve got to qualify this, however. I did not expect Lawrence, Kansas to be anything like my hometown in terms of vegetarian offerings, and to be fair, it’s not. But there aren’t many places like my hometown, and Norfolk, Virginia is quite peculiar and special because the city is home to a very famous animal rights organization that I won’t link here (Lord knows they get enough traffic). But the infamous animal rights organization put a lot of pressure on local restaurants and food suppliers to offer substantial vegetarian and vegan options, and the pressure worked: you can get some really fantastic vegetarian and vegan food in Norfolk, but I know that not every town has an animal-rights giant breathing down it’s neck. That’s okay. I also know that New York City is very different from every other city on earth in terms of the variety of food one can find there: the fake chicken wings and the Disco Fries at Foodswings, a vegan fast-food joint in Brooklyn, are freaking amazing and one-of-a-kind. I don’t expect them to be replicated widely, so I’m not terribly surprised that I can’t find anything like them in Lawrence. That is also okay. You know what I can find out here? Some seriously delicious (and vegetarian) Ethiopian, Indian and Thai food. Good pizza. Beautiful, fresh produce from our CSA share and the Lawrence Farmer’s Market. A legit farm-to-table restaurant in Baldwin City. Between cooking our own meals regularly (and having easy access to fresh, local ingredients in many cases) and being mindful about where we’re going out to eat (by scoping out reviews on Yelp, for example), we’re doing pretty okay finding vegetarian options out here in flyover country.
When we took on this challenge, Ryan and I started compiling a list of places we knew we could eat and dishes we knew we could cook at home. Granted, it’s easier on us since we’re not vegans, but both lists are not short. We know, for example, not to bother going to Oklahoma Joe’s while we’re doing this challenge. The onion rings and fries are great, but we can’t eat anything else there. Five Guys? Forget it (although they do apparently served grilled cheese?!) I’d say in general (broccoli and cheddar soup hiccup aside) we have a pretty good idea of the kinds of things we can eat and the kinds of places that serve those things, and in the future, we’ll be more mindful in asking about ingredients. It sucks that people threw ground beef at the vegetarian restaurant in Omaha. That’s closed-minded and unsanitary and cruel. The author of the article longs for the “terrific Indian, Thai, Ethiopian, Lebanese and Venezuelan restaurants” he used to frequent in New York City. There may not be as many and not as big of a variety of ethnic restaurants out here, but they do exist, and some of them are quite good. Mr. Sulzberger admits to not being terribly adept in the kitchen; my advice is to learn how to cook more than rice and beans if you’re craving variety. I’d imagine Mr. Sulzberger has heard of/shopped at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, both of which have some vegetarian/vegan items for home preparation and quick bites to-go. I hope someone drags him to a farmer’s market or a CSA pickup so he can see some of the amazing food that comes from local farms (which is one area where at least my little pocket of the Midwest is kicking Norfolk’s ass right now—there are more than a dozen different CSAs we could have joined, and farmer’s markets in small neighboring towns too). I hope his stay in the Midwest opens his mind a bit about the vegetarian options available outside of the bright lights of New York City. And this quick response to Mr. Sulzberger’s piece was pretty funny, too.
Ryan and I are not going to let our small bump in the road bruise our egos or derail our challenge in the slightest: we’ll work harder in the future to be aware of ingredients and get better at making sure we ask people when we’re not sure. This is not a huge deal (we didn’t accidentally eat a hamburger or anything) and there are bound to be mis-steps in any journey like this: the important thing is that we keep at it and keep learning.