Dead meat: The New York Times' terrible take on vegetarianism in Kansas City
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.
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.
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:
- The avocado chimichurri at Free State
- The veggie burger salad at Local Burger
- The Thai sweet and sour with tofu at Zen Zero
- The veggie roll combo at Yokohama
- The Merc salad bar — which is completely vegetarian
- The chana masala at India Palace
- The "make your own salad" option at Ingredient
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?