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Tofu or not tofu: The high cost of vegetarianism is puzzling her

July 14, 2011 | 11:48 am

Quinoa

When my friends used to ask me why I became a vegetarian, I trotted out the standard responses: for ethical reasons, for health reasons, because I have more energy, because broccoli doesn’t scream when you kill it. You know, the usual.

Now, of course, I do it mainly to annoy people. And that works on so many levels — sending them on guilt trips, sometimes in mid-bite, or prompting them to contemplate their entrée’s mother. Of course, it can backfire, like when my dining companions make a show of shoveling pulled pork or fried chicken or ribs or pepperoni pizza into their pie holes with an overly dramatic “Mmmmmmm, you don’t know what you’re missing.” Or, “That’s fine. More for me.”

After nearly 15 years, I yam what I yam: used to it. But something’s become stuck in my craw of late, and I’m going to break radio silence. We hear again and again that a plant-based lifestyle will save our health, our planet, our wallets ... but am I the only one out there who feels like I'm being punished financially for giving up meat? Why should I pay $4.99 for 12 ounces of Litelife Smart Ground (yes, that’s fake ground beef -- much to my carnivorous husband’s dismay -- which shakes down to $6.65 per pound), when real ground beef is $2.99 to $3.99 per pound, depending on fat content? I mean, Google says it takes between 2 pounds and 16 pounds of grain or feed corn to create one pound of beef. (The numbers vary wildly depending on whether you want to believe PETA or the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn.) Well, I’m buying 12 ounces (4 ounces short of a pound!) of … plant stuff. Seriously? What did they water the plants with? Dom Perignon?

Here’s just a rundown of veggie meat (I like to call it “fake meat” because that seems to annoy people more — yeah, I’m a middle child) prices at my local chain grocery store:

--Veggie hot dogs, $4.99 for eight hot dogs; real hot dogs, $2.74 to $5.49 per package of eight, depending on beef versus pork, house versus name brand.

--Veggie bacon, $4.99 for 5 ounces (that’s $15.97 a pound); a pound of Farmer John’s bacon, $6.99.

--Veggie chicken wings (stop laughing at me!), $5.99 for 10.5 ounces, or $9.13 per pound; real (frozen) wings, $9.99 for a 28-ounce bag, or $5.71 a pound.

--Veggie turkey, bologna or ham slices, $3.99 for 5.5 ounces ($11.61 a pound); house brand ham or turkey breast cold cuts, $3.99 a pound.

--Veggie cheese slices, $3.99 for 12 slices (7.3 ounces), or $8.75 per pound; American cheese slices, $3.49 for 15 ounces ($3.72 a pound).

Those aren’t even sale prices. Stores often will lure customers with steaks that are under $2 a pound and fryer chickens under $1 a pound.

Do vegetarians have a right to be, well, squealing in anger?

While we’re at it, let’s take a typical trip to your average Mexican restaurant. A two-item combo platter (for me, that’s two cheese enchiladas, rice and beans) at my local chain restaurant (home of the generous Chard pour — thanks, boys!) is $10.79. But for my hubby, that two-item combo is a chicken enchilada and beef tamale, which also is $10.79. Yeah. It’s priced by the item, regardless of the meat factor. But I’m not criticizing any particular chain — the combo-platter price policy is basically the same at most of them. Easier for the cashier, I guess.

At my favorite chicken place (that would be a chicken place that offers falafel), my falafel platter is $8.29. My hubby’s half-chicken plate is $9.19. Huh? That’s chickpeas versus an actual, well, chick!

At my Chinese “express” place, my order of chow mein and two scoops of eggplant tofu is the same price as my husband’s order of rice, orange chicken and broccoli beef.

And what about pizza places? Order a two-topping pizza, let’s say pepperoni and sausage, and the price is exactly the same as if you order the same size pizza with mushrooms and green peppers. This is also a nearly universal practice. What’s wrong with this picture?  My poor husband (don’t think I’m totally callous to his needs — this isn’t what he signed up for, as I was quite the steak-o-saurus back in the day) insists on meat on his pizza, and I gladly compromise. But if we order a half-pepperoni-half-roasted-eggplant pizza, we are getting half the number of pepperoni slices and half the number of eggplant, yet sometimes we are charged for two toppings. Probably makes billing easier. But … damn.

I’ve never complained. Until now. To you. (Full disclosure: I still eat sushi. PETA: Do your “wurst”!) Has anyone else noticed this or felt cheated by the system? Am I making a mountain out of a chicken mole? I would love to hear from meat eaters and non-meat eaters alike.

ALSO:

Chef Tal Ronnen says make it vegan -- but delicious

Vegan and vegetarian recipes from the Times Test Kitchen

Café Gratitude in L.A., for the vegan Stuart Smalleys of the world

-- Linda Whitmore

Photo: Quinoa-stuffed bell peppers from the L.A. Times Test Kitchen. Click here for the recipe. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

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