The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
May 9, 2010

New Vegetarian Eats Ham. Asks, What Kind of Vegetarian Am I?

I’m sitting here on this drizzly afternoon eating leftover injera, from last night’s Ethiopian dinner, covered with melted butter and maple syrup.  It’s yummy.  And I’m savoring every bite because when this butter is gone, I don’t plan on buying more.  At the moment, the only animal foods I’m eating are cheese and eggs.  And yeah, I know the troublesome aspects of both of those foods, but I’m not ready to go all the way vegan.

Anyway, yesterday was an interesting day for discovering just what kind of vegetarian I am.

Tully’s Feeds Me Ham

It started around 4pm in downtown Berkeley.  I was just about to get on BART to meet friends in El Cerrito, when I suddenly realized I hadn’t eaten anything at all that day.  Not good.  But not as alarming as it sounds.  I hadn’t gotten out of bed until after 2pm.

So there I am starving near the BART station, and I duck into Tully’s Coffee to grab some iced herbal tea (in my own mug, of course) and something quick to eat.  I see what looks like a cheesy something in the case and ask the barrista what it is.

Me: What’s that?

She:  (from across the room) I don’t know.  I can’t see it from here.

Me: (“Duh.  Why don’t you come over and look at what I’m pointing at?” I don’t say that. Just wait.)

She: It’s, you know, it’s a… it’s a…

Me: Is it sweet? (Trying to help her out.)

She:  No no!  It’s hearty.

Me: (“I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”)  Hearty?  But what is it?

She:  You know, it’s like a biscuit.

Me: Just a biscuit? What’s in it?

She: You know, like cheese.

Me: It’s a biscuit with cheese? (“And just how stoned are you? And will this so-called “biscuit” get me as high as you are?”)

She: Yes, a biscuit with cheese.

So, I order the biscuit with cheese. Pay for it. Walk out.  Start eating. And halfway down the BART escalator, I realize it’s full of ham chunks.  Oh, holy hell!

So, my choices are to either throw the thing away or eat it.  And I realize that by throwing it away, I’ve not only contributed to the suffering and death of that pig by buying the thing, but I’ve also wasted the meat for which it died in the first place.  So I eat it.  And I think about the pig the whole time I eat it.  And feel a lump in my throat at the same time I try to swallow that pig.  I guess if you’re a vegetarian eating a pig, that’s the way to do it.

So, my question to any vegetarians out there reading this: Is avoiding meat going to be as hard as avoiding plastic?  Or was that a rare incident with a stoned out of her mind barrista? And more importantly, should I let Tully’s know their staff are smoking doobies in the back room?

Your Meat Touched My Lentils

The second moment of realization happened last night during dinner with friends at Cafe Colucci Ethiopian Restaurant on Telegraph Avenue.  We ordered one veggie combo platter and one meat combo.  As is the custom in Ethiopian restaurants, all of the food was served on top of one huge piece of injera bread on one big platter.  The meat was on one side, the veggies on the other.

Now, I’ve met vegetarians or vegans who wouldn’t eat food that had touched meat.  I’ve even met those who wouldn’t use a pan that had contained meat.  I don’t think I’m that kind of vegetarian.  Avoiding meat, for me, is not about never letting meat touch my lips, as evidenced by the ham incident above, but about not contributing to the suffering of animals by consciously choosing to eat meat myself.

If someone else is eating meat, and their meat happens to touch my food, I’m not going to freak.   At least, I didn’t freak about it last night.  And I didn’t freak out about it a week ago when we ordered pizza, one side chicken and the other side all veggie.  Some of Michael’s chicken was on my side, so I just picked it off and put it back on his side.  No big deal.

Did I feel sad that there was meat on 1/2 of the platter and on 1/2 of the pizza? Yeah, I felt sad.  But I can’t stop other people from eating it, and my going nuts about their meat touching my veggie is not going to do anything but get me, and probably them, upset.  The idea is to bring less suffering into the world, not more!

In Conclusion

I really have no conclusions.  I just like having a space to record the thoughts and feelings that arise as I start this journey. We’ll see how they develop and change as time passes.

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28 Comments on "New Vegetarian Eats Ham. Asks, What Kind of Vegetarian Am I?"

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Nicole Z
2 years 3 months ago

Sorry this is 3 years after your post, but I just figured I would respond. I have encountered several situations like yours, where I was “accidentally” served meat. When that happens, I don’t eat it after I discover the meat. I do feel bad about wasting the animal, but I have been a vegetarian for over 8 years and I honestly can’t stand the thought of having an animal in my mouth. I also can’t stand the taste or texture of meat anymore. I’m kind of like you as far as when meat touches my food. I don’t like it,… Read more »

2 years 3 months ago

Nicole Z I am always very careful when having vegetarian or vegan and non vegetarian friends over for dinner at the same time. I had a mishaps during an impromptu dinner party where a utensil used for meat touched a vegan entree and I felt really bad. Thankfully my friend who is vegan was very understanding. I’ve been an omnivore all my life but completely understand why this could be upsetting for someone who lives their life meat free. Really glad to hear you are making steps on living with less plastic. Let us know if you run into any obstacles… Read more »

5 years 4 months ago

You have to ask yourself *why* you’re a vegetarian (or vegan in my case). If it’s for health and happiness and social responsibility that’s one thing. If you’ve turned it into a fanatical religion that’s another.

Life is too short for the latter. You tried with your biscuit thingy and got some ham. The whole point of buying it was to eat something, and next time you’ll know not to get that. Meanwhile it’s a tiny bit of meat in a mostly meatless diet. No biggie.

I actually think vegan is easier than vegetarian. Here (Boulder, CO) and in northern CA restaurants… Read more »

5 years 5 months ago

In my 11 years of vegetarianism, I’ve almost never accidentally gotten served meat, so I don’t think you have to worry about it too much.
I was surprised about Cafe Colucci (the very best Ethiopian restaurant in the east bay, IMO). They usually ask if we want our plates separate if I’m with someone who orders meat and I always say yes. So maybe just ask for that next time?

5 years 5 months ago

im glad that u try to not freak when u have to eat out with friends and order veggie stuff along with their meat. makes it easier for your meat eating friends to enjoy time with u. i used to be mostly vegetarian but it was hurting my health so i had to start eating some meat. i rarely eat meat at resturants and I buy organic humanely raised meat to eat at home. encouraging your meat eating friends to eat this kind of meat would be one way to help alleviate suffereing of animals. the chicken i buy… Read more »

5 years 5 months ago

RE: stoned barrista, that NEVER happens to me. If I can’t get a good confirmation of what’s in an item, I get something else. I’d rather starve than take a chance. Just, ew. My other option: I just pass it along to someone else. Before I gave up eggs, I wanted a pie, and discovered beef fat in it after I purchased it from a vending machine. I just gave it to another student at the time (it was un-opened, I read the label).

RE: touching. If you tell the waiter that you’re vegetarian… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

I agree with you about not sending food back if it has meat in it by accident- if we’re vegetarian for moral reasons, it’s worse to me if we throw it in the garbage because of a mistake. I haven’t come across this situation more than a couple of times in the decade I’ve been veg, but here’s my solution which may be just as good yours I hope!:

if I got food with meat in it when I asked for something meat-free, I think I would ask for them to get me the proper meat-free dish but also ask… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

Hi Beth,

I would say that’s a lot harder to be plastic free than vegetarian. Especially where you live. I’m from the Bay Area originally, and I didn’t have much trouble finding vegetarian options once I knew the right questions to ask. If a server doesn’t seem to know if something is vegetarian or not, I don’t have a problem with saying “Are you sure?” or “Can you ask?” If you don’t see something you can eat on the menu, ask. A lot of restaurants are very willing to prepare something vegetarian if you request it.

You have… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

I’m sort of in between when it comes to the meat thing. I wouldn’t have eaten the ham, but mostly because it totally grosses me out. I wouldn’t want to waste it though, so I would have brought it home and given it to my son or dog instead.

I am not overly keen about eating around meat in a meal, but if there was really nothing else, I would do it (especially if a friend or family member made it). However, I’m not wigged out by eating out of a pan someone else has cooked meat in, as long… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

I totally agree with H, avoiding plastic is much harder for me! I think it’s a personal thing.

I think a lot of vegetarians and vegans learn to adjust. We know what places serve veggie foods. We know what foods are almost always “safe”. We call in advance. I know, it’s the dorkiest sounding thing of all time, but when we’re planning on hanging out with friends or family, and they say we want to try *restaurant we’ve never been to* we call and ask if they have vegetarian options. If we end up at a place with no obvious options,… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

I agree with the others about asking and returning so that the server or restaurant understand your concerns and maybe it will be less of a problem for them and customers in the future.

My switch to vegetarianism was quite abrupt — found some things out I didn’t want to support anymore — so at first I felt like I was starving myself. I also felt like the whole world was working against me, like I was somehow inferior if I asked for that wrap MINUS the chicken, or inquired about a veggie burger even if it wasn’t on the menu.… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

I agree with the pizza treatment…I did that with my hubby before he got serious about going vegetarian. Having said that we’ve both eaten meat since then. As it’s been less than a year not everyone knows yet and there are times that there was no meat free option(a wedding rehearsal dinner). I’m not spoiling an event because there is a fixed menu and everything has meat, I ate it. Could I have eaten the noodles and cheese and not the meat, probably, but for the Bride’s sake I did not play with my food… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

I went veg in November and vegan in January. I noticed no real difference in feeling better or anything until I went vegan. Apparently milk products and me were not friends and I had NO idea. I feel better, I rarely get bloated, I have a much nicer relationship with my bathroom (don’t wanna go all TMI so I’ll leave it at that), and the part I love the MOST is my skin. Not just my clear face, practically no acne which was only slight to begin with, but overall it feels more moisturized and have less of a dependency… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

I’ve been a cheese/dairy veggie for about four years. I haven’t encountered any surprise meat such as your “cheese biscuit,” with the early-in-my-veggieness exception of foolishly ordering French onion soup once. (I did eat it, as this was a fancy eat-out on a special in-memoriam occasion.) I don’t eat out too much, though, and often when I do, I have to order some omnivore dish and have them hold the meat. I think I would have done exactly as you did in your situation, for the same reasons. I’ve heard that some long-time vegetarians feel sick if they’ve accidentally… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

In the 24 years since I stopped eating mammals, I think there have been maybe 10-15 times that I’ve accidentally eaten small bits of red meat. Once you get the hang of knowing what to ask, it’ll get easier. I think your reasoning on the biscuit is sound – why waste it at the point where it’s already past the point of no return? That doesn’t do any good. Mentally, I am all about not being concerned about red meat touching my food, but physically, I have some issues with it. Since I gave up… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

Yes — what other people have said about getting really good at asking. (I’ve been a vegetarian for . . . 32 years now). You get a sense of whether people even have a clue by what their answers are, and that allows you to figure out what the next question is. It becomes second nature.

And I also rely on the precautionary principle (which is probably a bit how you are about plastic): unless you can be absolutely certain that it’s vegetarian, don’t eat it. That means if the stoned waitstaff can’t give me a clear answer about… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

Beth, please don’t beat yourself up over eating that little bit of pig. That’s all I meant.

5 years 6 months ago

That makes good sense! I look forward to reading more about this journey of yours and am very excited for you. YMMV, but my husband and I have found it to be really good for us physically and mentally, despite the occasional frustrations.

And I know what you mean about being too extreme and not extreme enough, lol. But that’s when I realize that I’ve probably found a decent balance because if EVERYONE thought you were too extreme, then maybe you are since there are some REALLY extreme people out there. And the people who’ll say that you’re “too… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

Vegan here, so eating a strictly vegetarian diet as part of that.

I really hate the thought of wasting food. It was a sin growing up. But, I have other considerations now.

1. If I buy something with animal products because the waiter or chef screwed up and I don’t return it, then they have less incentive to get it right the next time. Unfortunately, some don’t seem to take people seriously no matter how well you spell things out and despite the obvious problems of people with allergies. I hope in returning items that will send the right message.

2.… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

Hey Meg. One of the reasons I’m not all the way vegan yet is that I want to give my body some time to adjust. I want to see how I feel not eating meat before I switch to zero animals products.

The other reason is practical. I have a HUGE chunk of plastic-free cheese I bought a while back ( and I’m still working on it!

And finally, I just need time to figure it all out. It’s not like I planned this and then sat down and figured out how I was going to do it.… Read more »

Elisa Camahort Page
5 years 6 months ago

It’s all about asking the questions, I agree, to prevent unwanted mingling of non-veg foods with your veg food.

Honestly, if it’s the end of a long travel day, when I haven’t packed those snacks one should pack, and my blood sugar is low, and I’m in a non-veg-friendly town (like recent trips to Columbus and Omaha), and my room service meal shows up at 9:30PM with cheese sprinkled on top, despite my questions about it and requests to omit it, yeah, I’m probably going to eat it.

But mostly I do speak up…before, during and after, in a really nice way,… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

Honestly, right now, I think I’m more inclined to eat my mistakes than take them back and have them thrown out. To me, wasting meat is worse than eating it. But I guess that could change with time.

5 years 6 months ago

I’ve accidentally been served a beef burrito before when I ordered veggie, and only realized after taking a bite. It happens. Fortunately, I was in a restaurant so I could return it for what I’d actually ordered.

When I first stopped eating meat I didn’t mind the random contamination here and there, but today even thinking about eating something that touched meat or cheese grosses me out. I have found that my tolerance has gone way down. It gets hard at home to eat food cooked on my parents pans knowing what they cook on them when I go visit.… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

Having undeclared meat in something happens, but thankfully not too frequently. Because I’m vegetarian primarily for environmental reasons if something unexpectedly comes with meat I’ll either ask someone I’m with if they mind eating it or eat it including the meat or eat around the meat depending on what seems reasonable at the time. This probably results in my eating up to an ounce of meat a year. *shrug*

5 years 6 months ago

You’re a new vego, so go easy on yourself.

Truth is, vegos just get really, REALLY good at asking, if they’re the sort of vegos who care about a little bit of, say, meat stock in soups or whatever. Some don’t.

The first question most vegos ask is “Is this vegetarian?” If the person serving the food doesn’t know, ask them to check for you. It’s pretty easy, and usually doesn’t take long. Then, if the food in question *isn’t* vegetarian, ask if they have something that *is*. Most places do.

Easy vego options include sushi (avocado or egg rolls), hot chips (you’d… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

Living where we do (California, particularly the Bay Area and Los Angeles), I find it much easier to avoid meat on a regular basis than avoiding all plastic. There are tons of markets with wide veg. selections, and many veg-friendly restaurants (YMMV in other parts of the worl).

Like you, I’m a lacto/ovo vegetarian, and I’ve found that in most situations it’s easier to ask “does this have any meat in it? I’m vegetarian” than it is to ask for the ingredient list.

Also note that there are still many people who equate “meat” with beef and/or pork only,… Read more »

5 years 6 months ago

Oh good grief. You can’t live your life in regrets.

Also, I don’t think Ethiopian food is always served on the spongy bread, I’ve had it served like Indian food before, in small dishes.

5 years 6 months ago

I’ll definitely be more specific in my inquiry next time.

Pavlina, I’m not regretting anything. I hope my post didn’t come across that way. I’m wondering which part of it seemed like regret to you. The part about being sad for the pig? Or something else. Or maybe we have different definitions of that word.

Also, sorry for the ugly formatting of the email that went out. Still working on getting this new blog set up — with all the spare time I have!