Actually, the reaction from some quarters has been not too far from that: One interview subject, founder of an imitation-meat company, said something along the lines of, “The food editor of a major daily newspaper is vegetarian? This is huge!” And several food journalists have confessed, under their breath, that if it weren’t for their jobs, they’d do the same thing.
I’ve been talking — and writing — about this trend in my dietary choices for a while now, with frequent mentions in my Cooking for One columns about beans (“I started eating less meat”), veggie burgers (“moving away from meat eating”) and grilling (“eating very little meat”). But I’ve always qualified it because, the truth is, I’ve been worried about the reaction from food obsessives who think you can’t be serious about the subject unless you’re an omnivore. Most famously, Anthony Bourdain has referred to vegetarians as “bad travelers and bad guests,” “a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn” and “the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit.”
Maybe he just hasn’t met the right vegetarian yet. Maybe he hasn’t wanted to. Or maybe his are the views of a food-world dinosaur. I get his mission to convince people to swallow up the world in all its grease-spattered glories, and to never say no to somebody’s grandmother. But anybody who doesn’t understand the compulsion to eat less — or no — meat isn’t paying attention to news about its environmental impact, or doesn’t care.
In any case, I’m compelled to make the veg-head proclamation now because, among other things, I think it’s only fair that readers understand the tastes of their Food editor, and to reassure them that the section’s omnivorous nature will remain intact. Besides, unlike Bourdain, I’m not a purist about any of this. I’m still tasting little bites of meat, poultry and fish here and there — very occasionally — because I’m curious about a chef’s new take or because I need to keep up on a trend for my work.
Mostly, though, I’ve come to think dietary choices are like religion: You might be raised one way, and your friends might be inclined in another, and you might go on quests for knowledge and inspiration (I will resist comparing Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” to the Bible). But ultimately you make a very personal decision. And no matter what somebody like Bourdain thinks, I think the absolute rudest thing you can do — even ruder than turning down somebody’s grandmother — is to show a lack of respect for someone else’s decision about what they’re going to consume. Eat and let eat.