Going vegetarian or vegan isn't an entirely bad idea, but some of the options offered these days seem worse that a balanced diet.
I wrote before about "Candy Vegetarians" - the young college kids who decide to become "vegetarian" in order to alarm their parents and to be a special snowflake and make life difficult for the college cafeteria workers. Kids discover that by inventing food restrictions, they can be pandered to - at home, in school, or even on an airplane! It is a lot of fun to get special attention. While on the plane, be sure to bring your service ferret.
Hard to believe this is the same country that beat the Nazzies back in dubya-dubya-two, ain't it? "Charge that machine gun nest, Private!" "Not without my service ferret, Sarge!" I wonder if they had vegan meal options on a B-17? Probably not, is my guess.
Of course, if you want to be a special snowflake, there are plenty of other options, such as gluten-free, or something called "keto" (which appears to be recycled Adkins) or whatever. And the food industry is more than willing to accommodate you, as they can charge double for special foods, be it halal, kosher, gluten-free, non-dairy, vegetarian, vegan, free-range, cruelty-free, or whatever. The last one kills me (no pun intended) as how can you be cruelty-free to an animal that you are slaughtering to eat? Myself, I prefer to buy extra cruelty products, as they are usually on sale. Then again, as I noted before, if lost in the Andes with the Chilean soccer team, I would probably gain weight. Pets or meat!
It is easy to declare yourself to be vegetarian in college (and gay as well) and then later renounce it. As I noted in that earlier posting, the local Wegman's had a "vegetarian aisle" that was loaded with boxes of sugary cereals and even candy! Did you know Jolly Ranchers are not only vegan, but gluten-free? Yup! No meat or bread in pure cane sugar! Doesn't mean it's good for you.
But there are other people who are serious about a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, and unfortunately, my doctor is one of them. He preaches this lifestyle, which troubles me, as he seems less concerned about our health than converting us to his religion. Mark likes him, but I suspect in a few years, he too, may become uneasy. Supposedly, we are told that he beat the crap out of some guy he found was sleeping with his wife. Went right out on the golf course and beat him with a 9-iron. Sounds like he needs to chill out with a new vegetable - vitamin 420! But I digress. Doctors are people, too, and have all their own neuroses and troubles. Maybe sometimes more than the rest of us.
The problem for vegetarians and especially for vegans is that in this country, there are few food choices at the local grocery store or restaurant, other than raw vegetables in the produce department, or a side dish "vegetable medley" which has a near-zero calorie count. At the grocers, there is a tiny section usually of tofu and boca-burgers, the latter being some sort of vegetable patty that falls apart when you eat it and is utterly unsatisfying as a meal.
There are also a host of "chemical vegan" foods, and sadly, most are designed to mimic or imitate the look, feel, and taste of some meat product. Like diet Coke, it doesn't eliminate your desire for Coca-Cola, but perhaps just increases it. When you go to fake meat, you just desire the real thing more.
Morningstar farms makes a great line of these products. We bought their morning breakfast patties once only because in the camper, you don't want to be frying bacon or sausage (or much else for that matter) and they were easy to prepare, and provided they were not overcooked (which turned them into shoe leather) they had sort of a look, feel, and taste of a real sausage patty, well, at least a McDonald's sausage patty.
They had a host of other products, some hits, some misses. Their "bacon" (and any other type of vegetarian bacon) was just disgusting. The sausage "links" were not much better. But their "Chick Patties" and faux chicken tenders would fool the most astute fast-food consumer, at least, again provided they are not overcooked, at which point the texture gets weird. They also make, oddly enough, vegetarian corn dogs, which again, are indistinguishable from the real deal at the State Fair. How odd to mimic one of the foods most reviled by vegetarians and vegans, as a vegetarian-friendly food. They are really good, though, the real ones and the Morningstar variety.
There are plenty of other brands as well. We bought as a novelty, a line of "chick" tenders made with pea protein and bamboo fiber (!!) which sounds like eating the furniture. They were OK, but were made with egg whites, which would knock out all the vegans out there. Plus, a serving size of four tenders was 220 calories (!!) which is a lot for a snack. And the price - well, you could buy a whole bag of chicken wings for the price of this dozen novelty tendies.
Of course, you never want to turn over the package and read the list of ingredients - there are more chemicals in these things than at a DuPont plant. It goes on for paragraphs with additives and preservatives and something called "natural flavor" and "spices" which I think may be a euphemism for MSG. I am not sure the alternative to meat and dairy is a chemistry set.
(I am not going to mention by name the company that recently did an IPO and made a big deal about selling fake meat - even getting it sold, albeit briefly, at fast-food restaurants. It was just another IPO flash-in-the-pan, not a real new development, from what I can see. And I say this based on the hype on the Internet about the company, which evaporated right after the IPO dropped. No profits, no dividends, and no prospects of ever doing so - more hype than substance. And yes, like any good IPO, the share price spiked, allowing the founders to cash in, and then tanked, causing the little people who invest based on advice from Reddit, to lose their shirts).
That right there is the problem, of course. Going to fake meat, or fake cheese or fake whatever as a substitute isn't the solution to a vegan or vegetarian diet. Rather than try to get vegetables to ape the look, feel, and taste of meat and dairy products, it is a better idea (I think, anyway) to embrace vegetables for what they are, rather than try to make them into something they aren't.
Every Thanksgiving, someone tries and fails at making a "Tofurky" out of Tofu. So many vegetarian and vegan dishes turn out this way - very unsatisfying and unappetizing. A friend of ours who is a vegetarian, but eats dairy (which she claims includes eggs, but I refer to as mono-cellular chicken) and actually works for a vegetarian organization, put is this way: Cooking a vegetarian meal requires you put together dozens of ingredients, cook it for hours, and it still comes out tasting like crap. Now, that's a vegetarian talking, not me - you heard it from the horse's mouth!
A better approach is to prepare these foods as they should be. Tofu is a traditional food in Asia, and stir-fried (with vegetable oil) and assorted vegetables, herbs and spices, is a satisfying meal. Trying to sculpt a fake turkey from it, on the other hand, will have the family setting out for McDonald's right after dinner.
Are we going to go vegetarian or vegan as our doctor suggests? Not likely, but as you get older, you find you cannot digest meat, particularly red meat, as easily as when you were a youth. I used to have a drinking buddy when I was in my 20's, and we would go to the grocery store and buy the largest, cheapest cut of meat we could find and grill it in his fireplace (of all places). He called it, jokingly, a "mis-steak" and he was one of those meat-eaters who was always very thin, despite wolfing down such awful food. Back then, I could partake in "mis-steak" but at my age, I would be up all night sweating after a meal like that.
So, naturally, we are inclined to move away from red meat, and more toward vegetables, as we get older. Cheese and dairy are the real killers (often quite literally) and our country is awash in a sea of cheap cheese as I noted before. When I was a kid, McDonald's sold hamburgers - tiny things, really - for 25 cents apiece. Cheeseburgers were some kind of novelty back then, and I remember my Dad making a big deal about putting cheese on a hamburger (which of course is not kosher!). Today, it is pretty much the norm. Can you even get a regular burger anymore?
My vegetarian friend eats cheese - and this illustrates how different vegetarians view these things. Some call themselves vegetarians but eat fish (pescatarians) while others make other variations on the theme. But dairy foods can be as bad for you as red meat, if taken in large quantities.
And I guess that is the real answer - everything in moderation. Americans, of course, have lost their sense of moderation in recent years, as more and more people use restaurants as their kitchens, and commute to work in vehicles that were once only the province of utility companies and commercial plumbers.
We are at a campground, and the folks we are meeting are all from the big city, and all work in the medical field - doctors, nurses, medical technicians, etc. I mentioned that the medical industry (and it is an industry) is one of the largest in the country - larger than manufacturing! A nurse replied, "Hell yea - thank you very much McDonald's!" And that right there told me a lot about what sort of patients he was seeing and what the bulk of the medical practice is these days - trying to cure people from their self-induced problems. And I guess without cigarettes, cheese and meat are the new drug.
Maybe my doctor is right!