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When Good Veggie People/Restaurants/
Grocery Stores Go Bad

In which our vegetarian food columnist contemplates the eternal half empty/half full conundrum from a meatless perspective

By Elisa Camahort

What do you do when your favorite vegetarian restaurant is no longer vegetarian? What do you do when your vegetarian grocery store adds meat products? What do you do when a vegetarian friend starts eating meat again?

Is this a glass-half-full/glass-half-empty perspective problem, or does it seem pretty black and white?

If you're a vegetarian it's pretty cool when you find a like-minded person. Hey, I know we're in the minority. I have no illusions about that. So, it's nice when you find someone whose eyes don't roll back in their head when you suggest that Chinese place that serves vegetarian "meat" products.

Of course, it's also pretty cool when you find a vegetarian restaurant that isn't just another Chinese place that serves vegetarian meat products. You know, a restaurant with appetizers and entrees and cloth napkins.

And it sure is cool to go grocery shopping without passing a big long aisle of bright red meat products and chickens turning slowly on the rotisserie (not to even mention fish or lobster tanks--yikes!).

Well, I had my one good vegetarian friend go back to meat. And I had my favorite upscale vegetarian place that was actually outside of San Francisco (Stoa in Palo Alto) start serving fish. And in Santa Cruz, Stapleton's closed and Staff of Life added a meat section.

I think I'm having abandonment issues.

When it comes to the friend, well, I just have to deal. I have to remind myself that she believed what she believed when she was raising her kids vegan and scolding me for being only a lacto-ovo vegetarian. And now her beliefs have changed. Or more accurately, she had some health issues, and she decided she was just too busy to be careful enough about how she ate to deal with those health issues and stay a vegetarian. She still buys organic, and she still won't buy fur. My philosophy has always been that any step toward a more humane existence is better than no step. So she's still ahead of the curve there. And of course I'm all for personal freedom anyway.

(And if I just keep repeating all of that to myself like a mantra I'm sure the vein in my forehead will stop throbbing.)

Mantra or no, the truth is it felt like a loss, and it's still a bit of a shock when I see her dig into a piece of chicken. It's a more complicated question when it comes to patronizing stores or restaurants that have diverged from the vegetarian path.

Option No. 1: You punish the establishment for adding meat, poultry or fish, boycott it for returning to the same cruelty-laden menu as most of the other places in town.

Option No. 2: You note that its menu or merchandise is still far more veggie-friendly than those said other places and you continue to give your hard-earned economic vote to places that are at least closer to your ethos.

I'm of two minds. I'm happy to find veggie-friendly places. I mostly write in my Metro Santa Cruz columns about veggie-friendly places, not vegetarian places. We want to encourage all restaurants to be more cognizant of the needs of their vegetarian patrons. If a restaurant that was traditionally more meaty switched to Stoa's menu, or if Safeway carried Staff of Life's inventory, it would be a win, right?

But. Yes, there's always a "but." Sometimes my motivation to go to a particular place is driven by a specific desire to support vegetarian establishments, not just veggie-friendly ones. Sometimes I drive a bunch of extra miles to do that. But are those miles worth driving for a mere veggie-friendly place? Because there are veggie-friendly places closer to home. For me, the answer is "no." Those establishments shift from "destination" establishments--places I make a point to visit regularly--to "convenience" establishments, places I visit when I'm in the neighborhood. I guess they figure that they'll make up for the people with me with all those new patrons who wouldn't darken a vegetarian place's door.

I wonder if that's working out?

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From the April 27-May 4, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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