Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Vegetarian meltdown in South Dakota

The last two days have seen me driving through Minnesota and South Dakota. Today I approached a nutritional breakdown after eating at non-chain restaurants for a couple meals in a row. The problem is that I am a vegetarian and the menus of these privately owned, relatively old restaurants represent the idea that meat=success and fortification.

Although Subway has gotten rid of its veggie pattie, it can still muster a decent vegetarian sub. Wawa or Sheetz will kill you with cheese, but at least it's filling. Burger King has a very decent veggie burger. McDonald's blows--what did you expect.

But at the places where small town locality gets to express itself through food it seems to do so with strong disregard to vegetarianism (a billboard on entering South Dakota exhorts visitors to try their beef). Veg options are fried or based around iceberg lettuce and ranch. The place I am from is the same way.

One might surmise a repetition of the "what's wrong with Kansas" mentality from such experiences. But let's think about it. If one were to open a veg restaurant along I-90, advertised with Wall Drug fervor, would it succeed? Perhaps. Or maybe it would fail because the consensus on meat consumption is endemic to American culture at large right now, and few people driving through would really care for such a fringe--and imported, inauthentic--experience.

But wait--this thought experiment selects for only that population who would actually be driving across America, or rather, America's "fly over country." We're missing out on the intelligentsia who are 30k feet in the air. This cuts two ways: if our hypothetical vegetarian oasis fails, it's not because people in certain states are really backwards or ideologically blinded, but because the subgroups that inflect or create access to vegetarian/vegan food have given up or never thought of the agricultural torso of America. It is a shame that Subway is my best bet for a decent meal in more sense than one.