Monday, November 5, 2012

The Southern American Lifestyle is NOT Very Vegetarian Friendly

First off, kudos to those of you living in the US and leading a vegetarian lifestyle. I empathize with how much trouble this is for you.

While I'm not trying to be a vegetarian, I am actively trying to get back into a routine of abstaining from meat on religious days. It's not going well. I know in bigger cities there is better access to imported goods and fruits and veggies but I'm not finding that here. I would love to hear thoughts on this topic from those of you who are living in major US cities as vegetarians.

Yes, veggies are available but it continues to plague me the quality and variety that is here. We have 3 colors of capsicum (red, yellow, and green), celery, carrots, and all the other typical salad veggies. I love them, I do but not being a curry fanatic I find them difficult to work with beyond the traditional and increasingly unappealing traditional Southern US fare. I'm rarely in the mood for boiled carrots with butter or peas and potatoes. I love green beans but they're not readily available (fresh ones at least) in this area. I usually find some hybrid or other variety of bean in its place and they are just not the same.

Outside of salad veggies and a few potato varieties the local grocery store just isn't hitting on much. Sometimes I find Brussels sprouts, zucchini and squash but it's become quite unappetizing to see them. Yes, I missed the variety and the colors as opposed to the predominantly green offerings in Amritsar but still I'm not satisfied with what is here (in this town). One thing that really irks me is that our Wal-Mart only carries jalapeno and Serrano chili's. I prefer Serrano but the ones they have are fat and bloated and I'm sure pumped full of hormones. They should look like the green chili's available in India. That's what they looked like before I left.

I dream of a large supermarket with a wide variety of vegetables from around the world. I envy cities like New York where I know these things can be found. I openly rebuke the mastermind behind Wal-Mart freezing veggies or limiting how much they bring in as a way to force people to conform. I don't want to conform. I want my veggies.

Americans consume massive amounts of meat - that's no big secret. If I was by myself I could probably come up with some very creative and tasty veggie dishes that I would eat. But I'm not. I'm cooking for family and it saddens me to admit that most of them don't want to eat their veggies as much as I do. I find it difficult to cook a meal for everyone that doesn't include meat. I tried it once (Brussels sprouts and green beans) and I was not met with cheers of joy lol.

Sadly I'm resigned to things like rajma (red beans) and rice or corn bread depending on which country I'm in the mood for. I'm stuck with things like jeera aloo or fried potatoes. It would be nice to have some fresh (not frozen then thawed) eggplants or a nice cucumber and tomato salad but no one here wants to eat like that. I tried to sneak in some aloo ghobi but still only had two people actually want to eat it besides me.

Growing up in Southern America stereotypically indicates you're addicted to grease, butter, fat and oil. I say "stereotypically" because that obviously doesn't apply to me but that stereotype affects me greatly. It limits my access to the healthier foods I prefer because someone in the orders department thinks I fit into it. Hence I'm stuck with traditional Southern American offerings unless I find other smaller, more expensive stores to shop in or drive to another city.

I do drive to another city fairly often. It's just not economical to go there every day or every few days to go grocery shopping. It's also not worth the drive considering the availability is almost the same. There is an Indian store 30 minutes from here though and I drive there for spices so I can make some of the dishes I want and have some vegetarian options that aren't available here. 

I've started making my own paneer because it's not available here and American cottage cheese is not even close to being the same IMO. I can't start a garden yet because it's cold but I will next spring so I can have some better offerings without all the hormones and chemicals. In the mean time, I'm going to be breaking out my vegetarian cookbook and finding anything new that I can which will incorporate the few options that are available to me here.

End rant now.


  1. You can get MDH spices on Amazon. I find that they are the easiest for quickly preparing Indian food. Good quality, the right mix of masala, and affordable. Indian food, like a lot of Asian cuisines, is all about the ingredients, not the preparation, whereas European cuisines have less in terms of ingredients (spices, herbs, seasonings) but are more complicated in preparation method. APPI, you might try some baby-lead weaning recipes. Sounds strange, but I have been researching and making all my twins' food, and there are a lot of great, healthy 'baby' recipes online, many of which involve fruit and/or vegetables. They are just as good for adults as they are for infants.

  2. I'm spoiled being from California.

    I admit it. California has everything a foodie could want.

    I'm alway surprised when I've visited other states in the US & the fruits & veggies are crummy.

    It probably doesn't help that you are visiting the US in winter so the veggie selection is limited.

    Oh let's see my favorite winter veggies are- cauliflower, broccoli, chard, collards, beets, butternut squash, spinach, kale, & cabbage.

    Sweet potatoes & yams should be coming in too.
    I recall eating a lot of soups with veggies & beans this time of year in the US. MMMMmmm..white bean chicken chili with jalapeño cornbread!
    Oh yes, how could I forget? the great American staple- PUMPKIN!!!!
    I miss pumpkin!!!
    Awwww.... I miss turkey & cornbread stuffing too.
    Anyhow, there was a Butterball turkey in the freezer section in Kathmandu- they wanted $120 for the tiny thing!!!

  3. When I was in India I had heard that it was very difficult for vegetarians to survive outside India because of the overwhelming presence of meat in food in almost every place. But after coming
    to California I realized it is a very vegetarian friendly place. I have never felt that I need to compromise on food by virtue of being a vegetarian. The varieties of vegetables available here are nowhere compared to those available in India but all that talk about western societies not being vegetarian friendly is definitely not true for California (and I don’t live in a major city). Even most restaurants here have something vegetarian on offer ( and I am not talking
    about cold salads only). A good variety of lentils is also available in places like Winco.

    One observation that I made here is that when people say vegetarian it is generally cold food or boiled/steamed food
    with minimal spices. I think this is one of the reasons that Americans find it hard to be vegetarian. If they can start adding the variety of spices that people in the subcontinent use then it will probably be more appetizing. I am a vegetarian( I don’t even eat eggs) and even I find it hard to eat cold salads and boiled vegetables.

    BTW America is pretty big in size but why is it that most of the fruits\vegetables are imported here?

    P.S.- Recently a colleague from India came here and on the way to Vegas they stopped in some place to have lunch. He does
    not eat meat and so after carefully scanning the menu for 10 minutes he asked the lady behind the counter to give him chicken burger without chicken :D. She laughed her a*s off but eventually came up with a vegetarian version of the chicken burger.

  4. I've never heard of those. I will look them up. I love simple, flavorful and natural foods so this sounds good actually. Thanks for the tip!

  5. $120 for a turkey!! OMG! I know turkey is new to the continent (fairly) but that's crazy. That's worse than a Black Angus T-Bone here (per pound).

    I can't eat too many of the green veggies and I can only eat them certain times of day because of my thyroid. I just found out recently I shouldn't be eating raw broccoli either (I loved raw broccoli).Either way I haven't seen kale, chard butternut squash or non-pref-fab bagged spinach here yet. I did find cauliflower the other day but it's not been consistently stocked which isn't typical for this area at all. My winter staple has become flour....yes, flour. I will be making biscuits, dumplings, etc. and finding things to add to it.

    I'm glad someone else realizes we have a veggie issue in parts of the US. I haven't been to Cali but I know we don't have good availability in many small cities here on the east coast.

  6. RP, most of our fruits and veggies are imported because the soil isn't viable for growing a lot of the varieties of produce. This is why most of the early settlers died out and had to incorporate so much meat into our lives. It's a tradition that has carried on for hundreds of years. As people from so many countries started moving here, they wanted the foods they had back home and weren't able to grow the same produce in this soil.

    Where I'm at in Virginia the soil is a red clay. We can grow corn and tobacco in it really well but not much else. Some people have small gardens but there's no large scale farms here for anything else and now tobacco farms are disappearing as well. The cold weather on this side of the country also complicates growing a lot of produce as well. If we didn't import, we wouldn't be able to grow enough to support the people who live here. Have you ever visited the east coast?

    I'm glad to hear Cali is vegetarian friendly. Florida was a lot better than here in Virginia but I don't recall seeing vegetarian options on menus when I lived there.

    I like cold and raw veggies and would be fine on a mostly raw food diet but still I want variety and that's just difficult to find here. When I cook, I do use Indian spices. The problem I'm finding here is the US spices are not as potent as the Indian ones. I'm actively seeking remedies for that as well.

    Thanks for your comment!

  7. In California we can just about grow anything but prime farm land is being used for cheap housing & shopping malls. The high cost of labor has pretty much driven small farmers out of business also.
    California used to be the fruit growing capital of the US, now most fruits are imported to the US from Chile, Mexico, Ecuador, Thailand, even China!

  8. It is very difficult to be a vegetarian in the USA. I have decided to just not eat out. From the fake potatoes at some restaurants to the lack of choices of veggies at others, it's too much of a pain (and probably not good for me anyways). I can make many vegetarian dishes at home.

    I did like the fact that in India there were many many veg dishes. Thankfully the family I stayed with were strict vegetarians and I was "safe" on whatever food they chose. (Miss those lady fingers!).

    While I noticed I went through culture shock around the 4th month and refused to eat Indian food while there (yes you're not the only one ;) ), I was lucky to be in an area where there were many foreigners at the time (McleodGanj). I ate pizza, chapatis with tomatoes and cheese, rice, canned food etc. I read an article about how the bacteria was different in India and since I'd gotten sick a few times it sort of clicked. How to get rid of bacteria? Well boil the food was my answer. Once that idea came in my head, my indian friend would literally take over hotel kitchens and boil food for me. My sick days were over!

    On that note, time to start the rice and green beans. Yum! lol

  9. I loved the veg offerings in India and I'm not a vegetarian! I prefer vegetables but I also like chicken and occasionally pork. I grew up a farm girl. Anyway, I absolutely LOVED Pizza Hut because of all the veg options and I loved the selection at restaurants in India. It's so much better than the US because you can get good, flavorful veggies. I like my simple, unseasoned, fresh veggies here but the amount of options pales in comparison to India. Even veg cookbooks really don't offer that much that I find enticing.

    In the beginning of my stay I boiled, sanitized and killed pretty much anything I ate or drank. It wasn't enough. I tried boiling bath water and brushing my teeth with bottled water, etc. Nothing worked. But, I also had an already compromised immune system. I think that was the biggest part of my troubles. I had all the dirt and pollution of the inner city and it was just more than my body could manage.