Dead meat: The New York Times' terrible take on vegetarianism in Kansas City

Strawberry Salad With Poppy Seed Dressing is a simple combination
of romaine lettuce, strawberry slices and almond slivers.

Strawberry Salad With Poppy Seed Dressing is a simple combination of romaine lettuce, strawberry slices and almond slivers. by AP Photo

Earlier this week, I was somewhat livid. I'm not the type to get angry, and the source of my anger was kind of surprising, I suppose, if you know how journalists are: The New York Times.

More specifically, a story posted on Tuesday entitled "Meatless in the Midwest: A Tale of Survival."

In it, we read the story of A.G. Sulzberger, who in the year that he had been assigned to the Times' Kansas City bureau, had been, well, hungry.

And no wonder, by the sound of it, he'd spent a lot of time checking out the region's famed barbecue joints with colleagues and friends, all the while doing some really terrific coverage of the tornado in Joplin and the Iowa Caucus.

In reading his tale of "survival" at first I was really upset. Seething, I described it as not so much a tale of survival as a dated, elitist tongue-in-cheek painting of how the Midwest is still the frontier, devoid of culture. (See, I was MAD!).

His sources included a restaurateur who knows better (“The mentality of the Midwest is, green is garnish,” explained Heidi Van Pelt-Belle, who runs Füd.) and a guy who turned vegetarian in Omaha and then moved to New York, where, presumably, he could be with his kind.

I thought, "How could they print this?" Then, "Who is this article for?" When I thought about it, all I could come up with were New Yorkers who have never been west of the Mississippi, or possibly ex-Midwesterners (like the Brooklynite) who would relish the fact that they were smart to leave in the first place.

As someone born and raised in Kansas City, I went from upset to outright offended. I thought of all the eyes who'd seen that article before publication — editors, designers, web producers — and thought, "Really? No one thought, 'Hey maybe this is a bad idea?'"

Someone had to have thought about the fact that people in the Midwest read The New York Times. In fact, they had to have known we read the Times because they opened a bureau here. And there's no more sure-fire way to piss off your neighbors than by making fun of them and thinking they're too dumb to know about it.

And pissed off they were. Twitter blew up, Facebook, too, all with angry Midwesterners going on the defense.

So, I did something I never do. I emailed another journalist about the article he wrote. And not just any journalist — the SON of the publisher of the most powerful paper in the country. Yes, A.G. is Arthur, son of the publisher and, thus, the heir to the Times.

I was very cordial about it, introduced myself, told him I cover food and that I grew up vegetarian in Kansas City and told him that it was a crime that he hadn't seemed to have found Eden Alley or Mudpie Bakery. Both of which are completely vegetarian (in Mudpie's case, vegan) and hugely popular (Eden Alley has been my favorite restaurant for more than half my life). He had hinted that Kansas City had two fully vegetarian restaurants, meaning Füd and Eden Alley, but because he'd only talked to the owner of Füd, I figured maybe he wasn't in the know.

After I sent that message, I started to feel bad for Arthur. I know what it's like to be a vegetarian journalist in a strange place with weird hours, lots of stress and coworkers who'd rather power through lunch in an effort to save money and calories for later sustenance over pints and darts.

I also knew that though my message was in good taste and cheerful, his inbox was probably brimming with hate mail. Emails spewing rage and probably calling him out for being just another East Coast snob. Or picking on him for being born into power. Or chastising him for going against his people — how could he turn his back on other vegetarians? How?!

That night, I received a response from Arthur. Simple, professional and shocking, because I totally expected to be skirted away with the inbox riptide.

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for the note. I have actually been to Eden Alley a few times. As for the restaurant in Omaha, thats great news and I'll look forward to checking it out.

Best, Arthur

It's a nice note — short, to the point, and proves that he read my message and thought about it. (I had mentioned that Isa is opening a vegan restaurant in Omaha).

So, look, though I'm late to the party, I was asked by several people to write about the "tale" that upset both vegetarians and omnivores alike.

But I'm not going to go on about how it's all an elitist conspiracy from rich people on the coasts to look down upon the Midwest.

Because that's just as big a stereotype as saying that vegetarians are as rare four-leaf clovers once you land in the pastures past the Mississippi.

And it also feeds into another stereotype: That vegetarians are back-biters, eager to look down on everyone, even their own kind, for silly reasons like a personal preference for honey or subsisting on vegetarian (but not so healthy) deep-dish pizza.

So, I'm not going to do that.

Instead, I'm going to take my friend Christine's suggestion and make a list of some wonderful vegetarian options in Lawrence, should Arthur or any visiting vegetarian need to know.

In no certain order:

Honestly, this list could go on and on. Lawrence is rife with vegetarian options, and they're all wonderful.

I am aware this isn't the case everywhere in the Midwest. And, like Arthur, I have dined on what amounts to being iceberg lettuce salad. But we do have options ... and it would be nice to have more.

What's your favorite veggie meal in Lawrence?

Comments

rikkiends 2 years, 7 months ago

Sarah, I've been living in Lawrence since my 15-year-old daughter was a newborn, and she's been a vegetarian her entire life. There's no problem finding veggie options here or in Kansas City. Smaller towns, which have limited restaurant options anyway, can be difficult, but that's true in most states. Thanks for the nice correction!

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Dunadan 2 years, 7 months ago

Thanks for the article, Sarah. You were right to come up with the response that you wrote. I am a big fan of the curries (with tofu) at Zen Zero, but I have a big list of favorites, also.

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tuxedogirl 2 years, 7 months ago

Zen Zero is great, but I wish they would offer more of their curries as truly vegetarian, i.e., without the fish sauce. The last time I checked they only offered a couple of them that way. It would be nice if that was at least an option.

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skye 2 years, 7 months ago

You have to go ethnic. If you're a vegetarian living in a "smaller" city, you must learn to like foods from other cultures. I'm vegetarian and for my work I travel all over the US, and if I'm ever stranded in west Texas looking for a meal, I find the closest Thai or Indian restaurant and indulge in their delicacies. These restaurants are everywhere, and if you've ever met me... you can tell I'm hardly starving!

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Sherry Warren 2 years, 7 months ago

Some co-workers recently flew into KC and when they asked for a good veg restaurant, they were told that they might want to head to Lawrence. Personally, I LOVE Eden Alley in KC and eat at Aladdin's all the time in Lawrence. Not totally veggie yet but I am getting there.

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kappelmon 2 years, 7 months ago

Sarah,

I'm glad you gave Arthur a piece of your mind. Being a vegetarian is not hard AT ALL in Kansas, especially in Lawrence.

Best vegetarian/vegan: Local Burger Encore (VEGAN General Tsao's Chicken....SERIOUSLY awesome, they tons of vegetarian entrees) Rudy's Pizza (Vegan cheese is soooo good, eating a piece now)

My list could go on and on. It's just not possible that Arthur had a sufficient sample size for his article.

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matthew2600 2 years, 7 months ago

The NYT article says nothing interesting. Another vote for Vegan General Tsao's Chicken at Encore and Local Burger here. I've had vegan fast food and Asian in New York and these two Lawrence places are as good as what I would get there. A good friend living in Manhattan prefers Thai Siam over any Thai in the city. Maybe explaining this wouldn't make for a good article.

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Lawrence Morgan 2 years, 7 months ago

I specifically made comments YESTERDAY before this newer article was publshed today giving the web site to the New York Times in my comment. She doesn't mention my comments, which were the first to be published on the original article yesterday and on the Journal World website, whatsoever.

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lwhite 2 years, 7 months ago

I'm not a vegetarian but many of my favorite meals are - drunken noodles at Zen Zero are absolutely fantastic!!!

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Kristin Van de Liefvoort 2 years, 7 months ago

Just a warning...this dish has oyster sauce, so it's not actually vegetarian unless they're using a mushroom-based "oyster" sauce. Zen Zero does offer lots of great veg dishes, though! My personal favorite is the Thai Basil Tofu.

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littlexav 2 years, 7 months ago

Pescatarian is sooooooooo much easier for this very reason. Although it's morally tenuous, it makes life pretty delicious.

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Victoria Partridge 2 years, 7 months ago

Actually...being a vegetarian IS kind of hard in Kansas; it just depends on where you live. As a past resident of Lawrence, I am currently a resident in Emporia. Having experienced the luxury of having many restaurants that offer vegetarian fare, the transition to what Emporia has to offer has not been easy. Eating out at restaurants is limited to pizza, cheese and vegetable quesadillas at one of our local Mexican restaurants, or sandwiches from a sandwich joint. Yesterday, I was excited to see that Amanda's Bakery and Cafe was serving Vegetarian Chili as their lunch special...but was disappointed when it actually turned out to be more of a stew. Still, I was grateful for the meat-free option. More than once, I have been told by a waiter/waitress that the eggrolls are meat-free, only to find out that they contain pork (which, the last time that I checked, is a meat). A few weeks ago, I ordered a fried cheese ravioli appetizer; upon biting into it, I discovered that I was actually served the meat version. Living in this town as a vegetarian is extremely disappointing. Most salads do, in fact, only come with iceberg lettuce or have to be requested without bacon. The few restaurants that carry good vegetarian options, I am very grateful for. For others looking for meat-less options in smaller towns, here are some of the gems that I have found:

Do-B's: Vegaburger. They also make fantastic salads (even though I am not a salad person). Freddy's Custard: They will substitute their veggie burger in any other burger. Try it as a Paddy Melt, if the thought of a shared grill doesn't bother you. Taco Bell: Always a mecca of veg/vegan fare. La Hacienda: The Quesadilla Supreme is awesome. Casa Ramos: Many veg friendly options, including lard-free beans. Subway, Mr. Goodcents, Jimmy Johns, Planet Sub, pizza joints...they will save you when you are hungry and don't want to cook. And, for vegans living in Emporia, Wheat State pizza now carries Daiya. :)

So, there it is. My side of the story. When I read the article "Meatless in the Midwest: A Tale of Survival", I actually shook my head with understanding quite a few times. I am an outcast here in Emporia. Even the grocery stores carry very few meatless substitutes, with Wal-Mart being my best choice to find what I need.

Still, as challenging as it is to be a vegetarian in one of the midwest's smaller, and definitely pro-meat towns (there is a Tyson processing plant located near the center of town), it is not impossible. It just means that I make a lot of meals at home, and I have a greater excitement for my visits to Lawrence.

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lithium45 2 years, 7 months ago

I have been to many restaurants with friends and co-workers in the Kansas City area in which I looked at the menu and it was going to be 'just a salad' - to paraphrase the 90s Seinfeld episode. In many of these restaurants I have to ask for the bacon to be removed. Of which, always comes some good-natured ribbing: "Who in their right mind doesn't like bacon."

In reality, I go out with co-workers and business folks from other states who always want to go get barbecue for lunch meetings. I of course go along and get - just a salad minus the bacon. For health reasons of course.

As a vegetarian for around 30 years growing up in a small rural Kansas town - I do understand why Arthur wrote what he did and being in a new place where he doesn't know many of the great places to get a good vegetarian meal would be hard - especially in some of the smaller mid-west towns...where chicken and Lard are not necessarily a true meat.

I have been to the east and west coast of the United States and Europe where vegetarian options on the menu are abundant - if you are used to this kind of access...coming to the mid-west is a bit of a shock. Now if this reporter was in Lawrence or even Boulder Colorado he might feel a bit more at home. Perhaps he was just hungry for home and the restaurants he knows will provide the vegetarian comfort food he craved.

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awas1980 2 years, 7 months ago

out of towners may want to do a little research first... http://www.vegguide.org/region/2

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lama 2 years, 7 months ago

Perhaps the Times should look beyond the publisher's family for reporting talent.

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bramey 2 years, 7 months ago

One of my favorite parts of the times article was... "It should be stated right up front that the Midwest, with its rich culture, stark natural beauty and superlative decency, quickly defies stereotypes." The one stereotype that eluded the writer is that the "Midwest" is not one homogenous glubjub- it's actually really big, maybe bigger than New York City even? :P That quote would've been better prefaced with "all jokes aside" or "with all due respect"... haha

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awas1980 2 years, 7 months ago

Wheatfields has many options on the menu. Great salads and sandwiches, not to mention they typically have a veggie dinner options as well.

even fast options like Chipotle, Jimmy Johns offer veggie meals.

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Megan Green Stuke 2 years, 7 months ago

I had no shortage of options for tasty food during my (2 year) tenure as a vegetarian. FSB has several, and we shan't forget what The Burger Stand has to offer.

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alineh 2 years, 7 months ago

I also read the NYT article and I agreed with much of it. When we first moved to Lawrence, we took a trip around KS and a bit of NE for spring break. We ate horrible salads, awful enchiladas and spaghetti. We saw a lot of neat things, Lucas, Lake Wilson, ball of twine, Willa Cather's home, etc.. I think that the food would not have been near as bad if we were meat eaters. I was so happy to set foot back in Lawrence at the end. We went straight to Free State.

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somedude20 2 years, 7 months ago

Dempsey's has a number of veggie options if you must deny the meat. I have seen two people eat non-meat there and both liked it very much...the fries rock as well.

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readit 2 years, 7 months ago

Esquina's vegetarian rice and bean bowl. Free State's portabello mushroom salad.

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sk_in_ks 2 years, 7 months ago

Esquina's chilaquiles (carnivores can add meat, but since they come with two fried eggs on top there's no need for extra protein) and any of their veggie tacos.

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Ali Edwards 2 years, 7 months ago

The falafel burger at The Burger Stand. Ohhhhh goodness.

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morroray 2 years, 7 months ago

The bigger story though is that the Times is a trash paper these days whether it's politics or stories of general interest. Seldom factual.

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avoice 2 years, 7 months ago

What seems the most difficult is trying to find a variety of dishes available at any one place, but especially with Lawrence caterers. Planning two meetings a year and trying to provide interesting and tasty vegetarian options is more than challenging! When you keep rotating the same three veggie entrees you get weary of the lack of choices. All the while, you tune into shows like Rachael Ray and wonder why local caterers can't pick up on some of those amazing vegetarian offerings.

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fsteacher 2 years, 7 months ago

Check out Culinaria here in town. They are wonderful to work with and will design a fresh menu based upon your tastes.

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fsteacher 2 years, 7 months ago

Of course being a vegetarian is difficult no matter where you go. Evolution built us to be omnivores, and cutting out animal products eliminates a huge number of options, because any successful restaurant will cater to the majority of its clientele. In Kansas, most of that clientele happens to be meat-eaters (who, I may add, have no trouble recognizing that meat is muscle, as Sulzberger wrongfully assumes). But seeking out vegetarian options in an unfamiliar place, though initially challenging, is incredibly rewarding. Though not a vegetarian, I love vegetarian dishes, and I agree with Ms. Henning that there are many options right here in Lawrence.

I think Free State Brewery does a fantastic job of keeping plenty of veg options on the menu, always more than just the standard salad or meatless pasta options, and my vegetarian friends agree. I'm also a big fan of the felafel and cauliflower gyro at Aladdin. My favorite restaurant in town is 715, and anyone with vegetarian limitations would have to be an awfully picky person if he cannot find anything on their daily menu or their vast and constantly changing menu of daily specials.

I also read the Sulzberger article yesterday, and the Midwestern stereotypes are what bothered me the most as well. I find it no coincidence that he selected a photograph of four obese men standing in line at Arthur Bryant's to serve as a visual introduction to an article about vegetarian options in the Midwest. That move instantly affirmed any negative assumptions readers may have about those of us living in the heartland. I've grown awfully tired of the cliche that Midwesterners are a "quaint and humble folk", ironically, perhaps, perpetuated most violently by Garrison Keillor. A wonderful entertainer, to be sure, but still a relic who provides a limited outward perception of the diversity in the Midwest.

Finding vegetarian meals in Kansas may be just as challenging as finding an affordable meal in New York City, but I've easily managed to accomplish both. All it takes is a little extra investigative effort and asking those in the know; something a professional newspaper reporter should have no trouble doing.

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lacevents 2 years, 7 months ago

I'm not even a vegitarian but I often chose vegitarian options at Lawrence restaurants. I have never eaten meat at Zen Zero- the tofu is too yummy. And Local Burger's veggie burger is better than any hamburger I've ever had! There are tons of delicious veggie options in Lawrence, thanks for posting this article!

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Robert Rauktis 2 years, 7 months ago

Consider that procurement difficulty an extra penance so you can dangle higher on that cross.

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parrothead8 2 years, 7 months ago

What do you expect from the New York Times? This is the paper with an editor who polled readers to ask a pressing question. His question?

"Whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge 'facts' that are asserted by newsmakers they write about."

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damienoujia 2 years, 7 months ago

There may not be a lot of fully vegetarian restaurants in Kansas City, but there are A LOT of places that offer vegetarian options. From bar food (such as Beer Kitchen No. 1, 75th Street Brewery and Swaggers) to family style restaurants (Waldo Pizza and Governor Stumpy's) to faster options (Ingredient and Unforked.)

Those are just a few options off the top of my head. Kansas City is teeming with vegetarian options, mostly from locally owned places. Corporate chain restaurants, however, are not very vegetarian friendly at all.

I watch Check Please KC on PBS every week and most weeks at least one restaurant they review has vegetarian options on their menu.

Unfortunately, these restaurants are NOT mentioned on sites such as Happy Cow or other vegetarian sites that list places to eat. But Kansas City has them. And many of them are worth seeking out.

If full out vegan is your thing, yes, that's a lot harder to find in Kansas City, but I do know Waldo and Governor Stumpy's and Beer Kitchen No. 1 will accommodate you if that's your thing. (Personally, I LOVE vegan food, but I will eat cheese on occasion if it's just a compliment to the meal and not the large chunk of the meal to replace meat.)

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tuxedogirl 2 years, 7 months ago

As someone who has lived in Kansas and Missouri her entire life, I completely understand where Sulzberger is coming from. Yes, Lawrence does have a number of good options, but before I moved to Lawrence, I lived in Lee's Summit, and it sadly lacked in vegetarian fare. Granted that has been a number of years ago and things hopefully have changed for the better, but generally I've found the Midwest to be very meat-centric. And, yes, as the article points out, the Merc does have a decent salad bar, but it's still just a salad bar at a grocery store - a grocery store that is increasingly offering more meat and fewer vegetarian options on their hot, ready-to-eat bar. Think about Sulzberger's perspective. He's coming from a huge city with more options than someone like me who grew up in Kansas can possibly imagine to K.C., a city that's super proud of its barbeque contest each year. I think the vast number of "eat beef" license plates I see all the time says it all!

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larrie 2 years, 7 months ago

a city the size of kc has three vegetarian restaurants and lawrence has limited vegetarian choices here and there. i totally cannot see how this might be considered "rife with vegetarian options." i choose to live in lawrence and am happy to be here. however, i do so in spite of what seems to me to be extremely limited food choices. i can totally relate to the sulzberger article and am, in fact, pleased to see someone telling it like it is.

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