Where's the turkey burger? The vegetarian is hungry

It's become a joke in our little corner in the newsroom.

"Do you want my turkey dog," Renee jokingly asked me one day last week after I said I was hungry.

She laughs because I'm a vegetarian. And the turkey bit has become the running joke since a recent cookout, I was told there would be a turkey burger option for me.

Turkey burger + vegetarian = still hungry vegetarian.

I've been a vegetarian for more than two years now and I didn't eat much meat before that. In 2011, I even spent three months as a vegan (no animal products whatsoever) and wrote about it in the News-Review. And while I do eat some eggs and dairy these days (Seriously, life without good cheese? Not for me!) I don't see myself going back to the days of beef, pork and chicken. Or turkey burgers.

The turkey burger thing isn't the only misconception I've heard about vegetarians.
One of my favorites was when I was on vacation in Florida earlier this year visiting my parents. On the way to the grocery store, my dad said, "I hope this store has some things you can eat." (Bless his heart). Another time, a dinner companion told me while looking at a meat-heavy menu, "Look, they have a side salad and french fries." (Oh goodie!)

But there are plenty of other things I hear all the time. And while I can't speak for every vegetarian, there are some things we should clear up:

So, what do you eat?
Much more than you think. Beyond the vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains -- vegetarian meats have come a long way. Tofu is great if cooked right. Have you tried seitan? You should. Tempeh is wonderful, and I'm trying it in place of corned beef in a veggie Reuben sandwich soon.

Bottom line: I don't go hungry.

Is your son a vegetarian?
No, but he's never been a big meat eater. If he asks for chicken or fish, I make it for him or he orders it in a restaurant. It's his choice. He does however eat both real hot dogs and tofu dogs and can't tell the difference. He eats soy crumbles in his tacos just like his parents. (I have however lied to him in the past -- telling him tofu was chicken to get him to try it. It worked). He did however recently discover a love for bacon.

How do you get enough protein?

Beans, cheese, eggs, nuts, tofu, whole grains. Even vegetables have some protein. I don't see what the big deal is with the protein talk.

Does it gross you out when people eat meat?

Only if you shove it all in your mouth at once and chew with your mouth open. But then again, doing that with any food would be unappealing.

I still cook meat for other people if they come and that's what they want. I've picked up meat-filled sandwiches at lunchtime for friends. I don't care what you eat. Nor do I care if you eat it in front of me.

Is this about animal rights?

While I originally became a vegetarian more for health reasons, the issue of animal rights is also a big part of the picture. I have issues with the conditions most animals are raised in for food. And while I'm not one to lecture anyone on what they eat, knowing where my food comes from is important to me.

In addition, we now share some chickens with our neighbors for eggs. Have you ever watched a group of free range chickens, or any other group of animals for that matter? They each have their own personality. And for me, I no longer see them as food and that's my choice -- but I don't push it on anyone else.

Do you miss meat?

Not really. Most vegetarian substitutes are pretty good, many meat eaters I've fed can't even tell much difference. There are vegetarian hotdogs, burgers, lunch meats and even "chicken" and "beef." I will say that there are occasions I miss a good piece of grilled salmon and a pulled pork sandwich sounds good once and awhile, but not enough for me to eat them.

Plus, I've always loved vegetables and other vegetarian staples. As a young child, my favorite food to order in a restaurant was a garden salad with blue cheese dressing. And it still is.

According to a 2012 Gallup Poll, 5 percent of American adults consider themselves to be vegetarians. Two percent consider themselves vegan. Additionally, almost all segments of the U.S. population have similar percentages of vegetarians, suggesting that most stereotypes of who is and is not the typical vegetarian in American society have little basis in fact.

Being a vegetarian is easier these days. Stores are stocking more vegetarian and vegan products and restaurants, even here locally, are getting on board with vegetarian friendly options and even special menus.

And the only thing missing from those menus? Turkey burgers.

Rachel Brougham's favorite phrase to hear at work is, "What is that?" in regards to her lunch. She always offers, but nobody ever wants to try it. Their loss. Her column appears each Thursday. Email her at rbrougham@petoskeynews.com.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily of the Petoskey News-Review or its employees.

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