“Growing up in a white southern family, nearly every dinner dish served was with some type of meat.”
From 16 until 22 May the United Kingdom celebrates National Vegetarian Week, which aims to highlight the stories behind the food we eat. To mark the occasion, the IPF reached out to young vegetarians in the UK – and elsewhere – to hear about their experiences of going meat-free. Here, Breanna writes for the IPF about what it means to be young and vegetarian in Texas, United States, one of the most meat-orientated places on earth.
When I was 16 in my sophomore year of college, I made the decision to become a vegetarian. I grew up around livestock, participated in rodeos, and was beginning to see the cattle, chickens and other livestock more as a pet than a meal. At the time, I was also unconsciously finding ways to be different to express a different-ness I already felt but couldn’t understand or explain until much later in college (hint: I’m gay).
I was trying to find ways to kindly interact with a culture that liked to consume as much resources as possible, no matter its price. The Texas landscape is littered with pastures and cattle; in some urban areas a large empty plot will have barbed wire strung up around it, which is then used as a cattle pasture or to raise cheap coastal hay for livestock. This state, along with the other deep southern states, prides itself in a barbecue and steak.
Excessive meat eating is a fundamental part of Texas culture, and generally American culture as well.
Growing up in a white, southern family, nearly every dinner dish served was with some type of meat. I would make tofu especially for myself. My public school – while already having an unfortunate lunch selection – had a truly pathetic selection for non-meat eaters (sub-par cheese pizza and a soggy salad bar).
So I would also bring most of my own lunches. In the suburb of Austin that I lived in there were little to no vegetarian options unless I went into the city and paid much more. Thus vegetarianism was an early start to me learning how to cook my own meals and to eventually enjoying cooking and becoming decent at it.
When I moved to my college in a town just south of Austin, the problem of finding good and inexpensive vegetarian food did not really resolve. Even though the town boasted a liberal arts school and a large liberal population, the vegetarian selections were still only slightly better than my hometown. Most places had a veggie sandwich or veggie burger of sorts, and the college itself lacked good vegetarian options (slightly better cheese pizza and a slightly less soggy salad bar).
In my sophomore year of college, despite my general difficulties in finding something to eat that I didn’t make at home, I moved to veganism. Finding good vegan food is nearly impossible, almost everything vegetarian in town was made with eggs or butter or milk. So I moved fully into making my food at home for most of my meals and severely improvising if I went out.
Lacking many nutritionally balanced and inexpensive food options as a vegan, my health began to suffer.
I had protein deficiencies and likely a B12 deficiency that contributed to pre-existing depression. Eventually my minimum wage job ($7.25/hr) caused growing financial strains and I couldn’t afford to buy anything but fruits, veggies and rice. I couldn’t find cheap alternatives to meat until I moved back to Austin – a block of tofu was $3-4 in Austin, and I can find it for $1 at the local Asian supermarket now.
Eventually I began dating a pharmacy student who had an undergraduate education in nutrition. I was vegan for the first six months of dating her. We went on a road trip through the deep south to Georgia that summer, and leaving the comfort of my somewhat vegetarian/vegan friendly city of Austin was awful. My girlfriend began to point out my increasingly bloated belly from my lack of protein.
There are no vegan options on the road going through the deep south: almost every vegetable dish had bacon or butter involved.
I spent more and more time in Austin, where my partner lived, and while there were more vegan and vegetarian restaurants, their prices were high ($10-$15 for a meal). As I was working three jobs while still being a full-time student, I began to run out of time to make my own meals. Finally, before a concert in September of 2014, I gave in and had a double cheeseburger from a fast food joint. It was delicious.
I have friends in east coast and west coast cities that are vegetarian and vegan, and they seem to have a lot more options that are also more affordable. Usually they are located in lower-income minority neighbourhoods.
Austin does have these but instead the whitewashed trendiness of ethnic foods combined with the huge gentrification problem in our city makes those options limited and expensive.
Being vegan or vegetarian in Texas is possible in more urban liberal areas, like Austin and Houston. Options are still limited and more expensive. Making one’s own meals usually will work, but acquiring ingredients for nutritionally wholesome food can be expensive, especially since most of these options can now only be found in trendy stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes (options like fish and chicken breasts are significantly cheaper than tofu, tempeh, and other meat alternatives and more protein dense). If one has a decent income and a steady schedule, it’s a lot easier.
I have a job coming up that will give me a significant raise in pay and a steady schedule. I have considered returning to vegetarianism, as I still do believe in standing up for agricultural workers’ rights and the rights of animals.
What you choose to consume and what not to consume is a very political statement. However, options to express that can be very limited even within Austin.
NB: The IPF’s opinion articles are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily endorsed by the IPF.