Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thoughts on My Recent Move

About a year and a half ago, I moved from Connecticut to Pennsylvania. I've moved before. This is my fifth state. I know that every location has its ups and downs, but, culturally, things are even more different here than I anticipated.

One of the ways in which I was surprised was the lack of understanding and hospitality around vegetarianism.

My previous experiences (primarily CT and NY) taught me that there is always a vegetarian option. It wasn't always perfect, many treated the vegetarian option as an afterthought. A lot of the time, we got stuck with pasta or some sort of squash based stir fry. I often found myself craving protein. But there was always something there.

Its clear now that I am one of very few vegetarians in the area. Unless I'm near the local university, restaurants have very little to offer me. And I need to be cautious because even things that appear vegetarian have often been cooked in lard or on the same grill as meat.

The local culture seems to dictate that you use lard where I had always seen butter. Animal stocks are added to dishes I never would have guessed. Things I never thought twice about are suddenly toxic: pie crusts, mashed potatoes, sautéed veggies...

And there seems to be a lack of understanding. Locals have assumed that chicken is not a meat. Or that if there aren't visible chunks of meat, it must be ok. They have failed to come up with a simple vegetarian option at all but one event.

It is incredibly awkward to be the vegetarian pastor and spouse in a community that doesn't understand. So much of a church community revolves around food. For example, two recent church picnics have come with invitations that say "the church will provide hamburgers and hotdogs, we ask that families bring a side or dessert." They complain when we don't eat with them, but none of them has considered supplying a veggie burger, and I can only trust the side I brought myself.

I have declined at least three invitations to formal events because they came with a card requesting your meal choice in advance. Not one has had a vegetarian option.

This is only one piece of the cultural differences, there are several other factors, but I have never felt so alone. I am so much in the minority that the local idea of hospitality actively ostracizes me.

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