5 Reasons I'm an Outdoor Vegetarian
Updated: May 1, 2019
I spent my first few months in the US wondering why I felt sick all the time. After many years of doctors and personal trials it lead me to one conclusion: I don't eat meat outside the confines of my own kitchen table.
Growing up in Germany meant that meat and potatoes was part of my life basically from infancy. I ate meat everyday. I would get schnitzel sandwiches at gas stations and down them with absolutely no problems. While attending school in Madrid I would frequently walk by butcher shops on the way home with full pork legs (hoof and all) hanging in the windows. I would sometimes stop in for a taste of prosciutto or chorizo. Europe still has a very traditional model for purchasing meat. There are butcher shops that have been handed down generation to generation. I grew up thinking meat came in brown paper not styrofoam and plastic. You could ask for a specific weight or cut and the butcher would return a few moments later with your package, personally cut, and give you the pointers on how to prepare for the tastiest results. I loved meat. From curry-wurst to pork schnitzel. The two main reason we have for loving food are taste and feelings. We either love the way the food tastes or love the way it makes us feel. Our favorite foods are the one that combine these into a magic holy grail of culinary delight.
The first issue I encountered upon moving to the United States was how food was tasting. The meat actually tasted different. The texture and flavors were different than what I was used to experiencing. The second was the way it made me feel. Within an hour of consuming the meat my body would literally reject it. After many more months of self-testing I learned that is was quality and origin of meat that seemed to cause the problem. If I bought the exceedingly expensive grass-fed/free range option beef option and cooked the meat myself I would have no issues. Chicken seemed to be a particularly high offender and another expensive option to buy free-range versions. These type of concerns had never occurred to me growing up in Europe. They have extremely strict laws (not surprising for the Germans I know) on how livestock can be raised and brought to market. The horrific images of chickens with broken legs in hen houses too crowed to move would never be allowed to exist in Germany. Food has a high level of respect. From vegetables to meat. They have festivals celebrating things like asparagus and take preparations and flavor very seriously.
After many many horrible experiences consuming even a small portion of meat out in the United States it became clear that I was going to have to eliminating meat from my meals outside my own kitchen. It wasn't worth the gamble of whether or not I was going to have a reaction. So I started my journey into the vegetarian world (or to be more precise pescatarian). It has become an amazing personal experience that has changed the way I look at menus and what my taste buds long for. Here are my top 5 favorite things about being an outdoor vegetarian.
1) No mystery meat: have you ever had a sandwich at a big chain shop and ordered “chicken” or “turkey” then not really been able to identify any flavor one way or the other? That is because most of those deli-meats have been so over processed and injected with sodium that very little of the actual flavor remains. Which makes you ask: WHAT’S THE POINT? You usually pay more for meat options and it does not do a lot to add texture or flavor. The vegetables and sauces pack a much better punch and nutritional score. Win-win.
2) No cooking temperature concerns: with meat getting the perfect cooking temperature is not only a health concern but a flavor and texture killer. Undercooked poultry can cause intense health problems if consumed. Under or over cooked meat in general can turn even the juiciest steak or moistest chicken breast into a rubber/cardboard combination you didn’t know could exist. Vegetables are much more forgiving with taste and texture and don’t carry the same health concerns from undercooking. In fact they are usually delicious raw.
3) The colors: most of us grew up with shades of brown and white on our plates. The meat and potatoes era indeed. If we did have vegetables it was probably some overcooked green something that we would beg our parents to not force us to consume. Little did you know the rainbow of flavor and color that awaited you. You eat with your eyes first and what a feast it will be for them with a plate full of vegetables.
4) Seasonality: There is not a meat season. It is standard year round. You could order a steak January - December and have the exact same meal. Vegetables give your palate an adventure with every season.
5) Adaptability: Many fruits and vegetables are made of mostly water. This gives them a unique ability to transform into many different flavors. Spices and sauces are transformative for them. You could eat the same vegetables at myriad restaurants and have completely different flavors represented.
For me it turned out to be a choice based on how the food made me feel from a health stand point. But it has shifted into an enjoyable way to experience dining out. Give it a try. Look at those options as an opportunity to try some seasonal, colorful, and delicious options you may have overlooked before. In short use your gut - it may thank you later.