On Trend at IFBC: Becoming Vegetarian

by Mary on September 24, 2014

karen and andrew

Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg at IFBC: photo credit Meagan Davenport

I was surprised and gratified that vegetarianism and healthy living were highlighted at the  International Food Bloggers Conference! While I’d be interested to read any cookbook by keynote speakers Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg, their upcoming book The Vegetarian Flavor Bible is especially relevant to my kitchen. My husband and I are pescetarian but were vegetarian for decades and the large majority of our meals are vegetarian or vegan.

Karen Page shared that although she and her husband had been in the food world for a long time– he as a chef, both of them as writers– and had explored many aspects of food and dining, she never gave much thought to nutrition until recently. Their focus had been on pure pleasure. They’d become sommeliers, learned about the world of restaurant critics, and developed their index of flavor affinities through several of their books. But only when their parents and step-parents died within a ten-year period, all of cancer, did they turn their attention seriously to nutrition.

Page got a degree in nutrition, learned about the increasing health consequences of obesity, and studied the The China Nutrition Study. The two of them changed their diet and have been “eating vegetarian for the last 2 1/2 years.” She claimed vegetarian diets as a current ‘mega-trend,’ citing a USA Today survey that slightly over half of Americans were trying to eat less meat. She shared a fun, simplistic but true in its way quote from Bill Maher, “We won’t stop being sick until we stop making ourselves sick…The answer is not a pill. The answer is spinach.”

Another trend she cited is ‘treating plants like meat’ in cooking: smoking, grilling, ‘butchering,’ etc., creating meals far more exciting than the traditional ‘veg plate’ which she declared ‘dead.’ She pointed to Eataly Le Verdure NYC as an example of a restaurant creating truly exciting meals with vegetables alone. I left Karen and Andrew’s talk wondering whether they were right about vegetarianism as an increasing trend. I hear a lot about counter-trends like meat-heavy low-carb diets and the paleo diet. I certainly hope they are right: for one thing, it would be far better for the earth.

salad from Eataly Le Verdure, photo by Eataly

menu item from Eataly Le Verdure, photo by Eataly

For me, concerns about health, the environment, and the treatment of animals have been important to how I’ve eaten and cooked since I was a teenager. When I was a teen, environmental concerns about meat-eating were more centered around the acreage it takes to produce meat, far greater than the acreage needed to grow the equivalent amount of vegetarian staples, and the idea that eating less meat would make it possible for all the world’s people to be fed. Diet for a Small Planet popularized that concept. Now that same concern about the amount of resources needed to produce meat is expressed more in concerns about climate change.

Later in the conference I heard a talk by Joe Yonan, food and travel editor for the Washington Post and author of Eat Your Vegetables. His talk was billed as being about how he found inspiration through change by taking a year to homestead on a farm in Maine. I was surprised that he too, talked about how he had recently become a vegetarian. He had begun the shift before his year in Maine but consolidated the change there. At the farm he spent his mornings doing labor like spreading manure and sifting the pebbles out of rock dust using a back-breaking homemade machine for the task. He cracked me up by saying that after sifting the rock dust “he would never complain about a chinoise again.”

He used his gardening time to get used to what he hilariously called ‘monotasking’ as opposed to the usual journalist or blogger whirl of Instagram/Pinterest/Facebook online posting and networking. In response to an audience question about how to not let all those unread emails and other tasks become a mental distraction, he said that he found exercise the best thing to calm his mind, quoting his friends Page and Dornenberg, “The healthiest people we know who are passionate about food are also passionate about exercise.”

I asked him what his inspiration was to become a vegetarian and whether it had anything to do with climate change. He said that he had looked in his freezer one day and seen that it was filled with humanely raised meat that he was not eating. With his job he ate out at restaurants a lot and was eating “clean and lean” at home to try to make up for that. It occurred to him that it might be better to flip that and eat more that way when he was out of the house, when it was not always possible to know whether the meat he was eating was humanely raised. He cited his current motivations to be vegetarian as “health, environmental concerns/fossil fuel, and a lighter conscience.” In answer to another question he noted that the amount of eggs and cheese he’s been eating has been gradually diminishing as his body and palate adjust to a vegetarian diet.

I’m so encouraged to see such influencers in the sphere of cooking and dining take a stand for less meat and a healthy lifestyle. In Karen’s talk she spoke of the mission of a food blogger to inspire, entertain, and ultimately to change the world. I hope the writings of these three will do all of that in the direction of a healthier population and planet.

Photo courtesy of Meagan Davenpost of The Curried Nut.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Marcia September 25, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Although I am married to an avid Paleo guy aka the Caveman, I find myself naturally gravitating to a more plant-focused diet. I love gardening and I love the humane aspects of it. It just feels “right” for me. What an interesting discussion.
I had to tell you because I know you will appreciate this: My 13-yo was selected to perform at Skate America next month. We are all SO shocked and happy for her! She’s working with Suzy Wynn as her choreographer. From back in my era. Ha!
Marcia recently posted..September Stuff I LoveMy Profile


mary September 26, 2014 at 10:39 pm

Wow, that is great! What an honor! Will you all be going to Chicago (actually I’m not sure where you live)? I would so love to go to Skate America and see Jason Brown and Jeremy Abbott in the men’s.


Joanne September 26, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Excellent write up. So enjoyed it! I’d love that new book “The Veg.Flavor Bible” – signed up to be notified come 10/14 when it’s available. 🙂
Joanne recently posted..Grilled Salmon with Sweet Corn and Plum Tomato Salsa, Sweet Potato Wedges, and Green Pepper VinaigretteMy Profile


mary September 26, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Thanks! I enjoyed being there and I do love to write. If it weren’t for the Amazon/Hachette conflict you could have ordered the Vegetarian Flavor Bible already.


Hannah September 27, 2014 at 2:26 am

The Flavor Bible is honestly one of my favorite favorite food-related books, and one of the few that I do actually reference frequently. I’m both stunned and thrilled that the authors are coming out with an entirely vegetarian version, and while I’m completely stopped buying cookbooks these days, I will make happily an exception in this case.
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mary September 27, 2014 at 7:16 am

Won’t it be great?


Angie September 29, 2014 at 9:58 am

Though I am not a vegetarian, I do eat less and less meat….I once tried 3-month meatless diet and got my protein simply from legumes. I can’t agree more about health and exercise. Well, not that I am crazy about exercise, but I do it every day because I know it’s good for me.
Thanks for sharing, Mary.
Have a wonderful week ahead!
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mary October 7, 2014 at 2:39 am

You’re welcome! You are an adventurous cook, Angie, I can definitely see you running that legumes-only experiment!


jill conyers October 5, 2014 at 8:34 am

I really enjoyed reading this! From a fitness enthusiast that is passionate about nutrition.
jill conyers recently posted..Ultimate Coffee Date #6My Profile


mary October 7, 2014 at 2:39 am

Thanks Jill!


Khushboo October 6, 2014 at 4:24 am

This was such an interesting post to read- thanks for reading. Although I am not a vegetarian, many of my meals end up being meatless. It’s assuring to know that making such a small change to my diet can have an impact on the environment. One thing that continues to shock (and annoy me) is the idea that vegetarian diets are low in protein. So long as you’re willing to do a bit of research and explore your options, it’s pretty easy to eat enough protein without meat!
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mary October 7, 2014 at 2:43 am

Yes, that myth about protein just goes on and on! Thanks for visiting, Kushboo, and good luck with your own blog and your dietary consulting1


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