When Sage O’Harrow was about two years old, her mother Robin brought her over to our house to have dinner with us and some other friends. Robin had raised her child to be a vegetarian out of moral concerns about the way animals are raised in the United States. Sage had never seen a pepperoni, a spicy Italian sausage that I put out as part of an antipasti tray at many family gatherings. She tried some, and then some more, and then a lot. After about half an hour, Sage had eaten a huge amount of the sausage – so huge that fourteen or so years later, I still remember her incredible feat – and so does she.
I ran into Sage today at her mother’s vegetarian restaurant, Munch, on Marion Street in Oak Park. She is still a vegetarian, though neither she nor her mother are doctrinaire in their personal lives, and their preference for vegetables is more motivated by morality than taste preference.
Oak Park is a town that seems ready for a restaurant that focuses on the lower (and usually healthier) end of the food chain.
We were told that the most popular item on the menu is the Amazing Black Bean Burger, so I had one of those with “bacon.” I am philosophically opposed to foods that masquerade as something they are not, and the bacon here is made of seitan (a wheat gluten product made of meat-like protein), but I found it tasty, and actually quite pork-like, I cannot say it is as attractive or as delicious as a fried slice of pig belly. The burger was soft, lightly spiced, and satisfying – I had just had a hamburger the night before, and I have to admit that I prefer meat, but on a warm day, or if you’re trying to avoid eating animal for moral or health reasons, it’s a good sandwich.
After lunch, I chatted with Robin, and she told me that cooking with only vegetables is hard work. Not only because there’s a lot of chopping and other “prep” work, but because you have to work harder to make a dish without meats that’s fully satisfying.
I have to believe that it’s also hard dealing with vegetarians. Now, let me be clear: I admire people who avoid meat for reasons of health or morality. Unfortunately, vegetarianism and veganism can sometimes lead to a a revolting holier-than-though attitude that does a disservice to what could be a very admirable cause.
Meat is the main attraction on most American plates, and many of us feel almost as though we haven’t eaten if there isn’t a slice of animal protein in front of us. Munch faces the challenge of satisfying the diner without resorting to serving a piece of meat.
After lunch I asked Sage if she would ever eat another pepperoni. She said she probably would.
Editor's note: Health blogger, Lisa Browdy, also shares her prespective on Oak Park's new vegetarian restaurant and encourges even the most carnivorous diners to give Munch a try. Read more...