The Great Meatout: A Diary | Dish | Indy Week
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The Great Meatout: A Diary 

A meat lover experiences how the other 20 percent lives

Every year on the first day of spring, vegetarians encourage the meat-eating public to go without meat for an entire day in what is known as the Great American Meatout. On a similar premise, The Independent asked its own classifieds manager, Robby Robbins, to do without meat for a whole week. While this task may seem relatively simple to many of us, even those who aren't vegetarians, one could easily say that Robby has a love affair with meat. An acknowledged country boy, raised on a farm where Grandma plucked chickens by hand, Robby rarely has any meal that is free of meat products. The kind of man who complains, quite vocally, when special allowances are made at company dinners for the vegetarians on our staff, with no consideration for his obsession, he was a natural choice for this weeklong meatout. With much razzing from co-workers, Robby graciously accepted, demonstrating his willingness to see how the other half--or rather, approximately 20 percent--lives.

We asked personal chef Terri McClernon, a.k.a. The Food Fairy, to create eight days' worth of meatless lunches and dinners (Robby generally skips the "most important meal of the day" in favor of black coffee with lots of sugar). After Robby sat down and discussed his vegetable preferences with Terri (no mushrooms, no asparagus), she spent hours in her kitchen conspiring to create a diverse and savory collection of vegetarian meals, delivering them to our office March 7. He was then handed a tape recorder to document his comments, feelings, ideas, frustrations and revelations each day during the "experiment." The following are excerpts from his diary, complete with his menu. --LAURA HATMAKER

Day 1:

Last night I had a very meat-oriented meal: fried chicken, mashed potatoes with bacon bits mixed in and green beans with chopped-up ham pieces--country style ham, of course, to flavor them well. Ate that and now I'm ready to take this on.

Upon arrival this morning I went around to embrace my fellow vegetarians, Clancy and Tanja, and Clancy said, "Welcome brother, and thank you for stopping the circle of violence," as she drew a big circle with her hands. It was quite warming.

Not really missing meat on day one. We had sandwiches brought in and Sioux (our publisher) was kind enough to have vegetarian sandwiches, which consisted of very hard-to-chew bread, a piece of cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, sliced cucumbers and peppers. Of course, I had to take the peppers off--not fond of peppers. Fed them to Clancy who, of course, sat in front of me and ate tuna salad. Then she had the nerve to offer me her tomato off of her tuna sandwich. And me, the proud vegetarian that I am, said, "No, thank you. That's touched tuna." But the sandwich was pretty good--I actually had two.

Discovered after eating a vegetarian sandwich that I really didn't crave a cigarette, so maybe this light food doesn't make you wanna smoke. Who knows?

Eating my sandwich today was kind of weird; when I went to bite into it, I didn't really feel like I ate anything, and after I ate the sandwiches, I really felt kind of empty. That may be psychological or it may just be that I'm missing having that meat to bite into.

The food has arrived and smells good. Five bags of food, so it looks like I'll at least have something to eat. We'll see how it goes. I think I'll try the tamale pie tonight. It's nice and hot and smells good. Looks like it's got some cheese on top and some beans and corn and corn tortillas but smells real good. Made my stomach rumble. I must be hungry. Those little veggie sandwiches have left me.

Checking out the goods. Tasted the barbecue tofu. I have to eat a whole sandwich of this stuff. It's pretty tough and chewy, has a good flavor but it doesn't chew up good. Tamale pie looked good. Bosnian meatballs smell good. I'm curious about their texture. Shepherd's pie looks good but will find out once I get into it. And the skinny red beans thing has ... OKRA IN IT! I forgot to tell her I don't like okra. I can eat around that. I didn't look at the Indonesian squash soup. Oh God, I wonder what that's gonna be like. We'll see. Oh God, and that kale. I hope I have a lot of vinegar in the house--it's gonna need some cover-up.

Big dandelion greens. I don't know where she got these. Cows won't eat 'em for God's sake. But I'm gonna try one. If I were a vegetarian I would have to become a vegetable snob. Only the best if that's all I could eat. Peeled a waxy cucumber. Probably a bad idea. I'm sure I should have left that on. That's probably some essential part of me eating a cucumber, but I can't take it.

Dandelion greens are kind of bitter. I don't think I'm putting them in my salad. I just don't want to mess my salad up. I'll try 'em later.

I would swear that Sloppy Joe mix package in the pantry jumped out and winked at me.

Not that it's driving me to drink, but I'm gonna have some blackberry wine with this next meal. Might as well make it a festive occasion.

Pretty good tamale pie. Cheese on top is helping some. Salad's good. And blackberry wine tastes great with it. I might just make it.

Ranch dressing is definitely a meat-oriented salad dressing. It would taste better with meat. Just not working with this tamale. Needs Italian, something light.

I think I'll definitely lose weight during this, because I don't eat near as much. Because its just not as appealing to me. I'll put it nicely that way. So far.

I sit here as my partner, Bryan, fries pork chops in the background. God, they smell good. You could not be a vegetarian without the support of the people in your household. It'd be hard to live with someone eating meat.

It's 9:27 p.m. and I find myself somewhat hungry and thinking about what I might eat for breakfast. I never eat breakfast.

Mom reminded me that I can have Cap'n Crunch on this diet. Definitely could not be a vegan. That would just be out of the question. I could not deal without the cheese or the milk.

Day 2:

Not hungry this morning but woke up dreading eating tofu for lunch, and really, really thirsty. Oy, the smell of tofu, barbecued, this early in the morning is not pleasant. Bryan's apple crisp however, tastes pretty good.

I feel kind of weird wearing a leather coat this morning to work. Being a vegetarian, it's kind of an awkward situation I find myself in. Oh, and these shoes too. And my belt. If I was a true vegetarian, would that be totally uncool?

Not real fond of the texture of the barbecue tofu. A little grainy. I think that any attempt at making meat out of vegetation is probably gonna be a feeble attempt. I mean, I don't know why you'd want to eat a "burger" when it's not a "burger." Never understood the concept of making fake meat--hamburgers, chicken tenders, meatballs--I mean if you're gonna be vegetarian, be vegetarian.

Dinner, day 2. I'm gonna have Bosnian meatballs. And that goes with dill sauce, noodles and broccoli. Looks pretty good. Tastes pretty good. The broccoli has a very strong red pepper taste. But the meatballs are pretty good. They have a good texture. They're kind of moist inside even though they looked dry. Kind of grainy, but all right. Find myself being full, really quick, again.

Constantly being barraged by hamburgers on the TV and dancing chicken fingers and all kinds of meat parading in front of me. You never see ads on TV for vegetarian fare or a commercial for lettuce like you do with beef. I guess, if they spent some money toward marketing it, it might become a better idea and combat the huge amount of meat that parades across the TV.

Feel somewhat bloated. Kind of have a weird after-taste in my mouth. I don't know what may have been in the meatballs, but it's kind of a plastic taste. And no, I'm not crazy.

Bryan's granny was gonna cancel dinner on Sunday for the general purpose that "Robby's a vegetarian" and I think she thought it impossible to cook a meat-free meal for me. But after discussion, we decided I could eat macaroni and cheese and she would make me some special green beans, without any meat in 'em. And some bread of some kind. She's gonna make stroganoff, beef stroganoff, for everyone else, but I can have some pasta tossed with maybe some parmesan cheese.

Day 3:

Feeling pretty good. The indigestion is gone. I've got pretty good energy--I mean, I think the meat probably drags my energy level down some. I think this vegetable stuff probably would make you have more energy and feel a little more active, so maybe I'm learning a lesson here.

OK, now I'm even getting abuse about my vegetarianism in memos at work. Tanja Atkins, our general manager, puts out a memo and it says--it's about a meeting--"you can bring your own coffee and I'll bring sausage and egg biscuits for everyone." Parenthetically below that is, "Robby, if you decide to become a permanent vegetarian by then, let me know, and we'll make yours egg and cheese." She's so thoughtful. And smart-assed.

Experiencing indigestion again today. I think maybe the tofu is a little hard for me to take.

Dinner tonight is gonna be shepherd's pie. It says serve with pickled beets and stout. Looks interesting. Looks kind of like it's filled with beef stew. Carrots and green beans and potatoes on top. (Cat meows in background.) Fritz, you don't want this, trust me. Looks like it's gonna be another one of those meals with cheese on top. Put cheese on anything and it'd be OK.

God, even Hamburger Helper sounds good.

How does a vegetarian determine what wine to serve? Red wine with red meat. White wine with white meat. What the heck do you use to determine you vegetarian wine choice?

The cheese helped and the beets are OK with the shepherd's pie. They kind of add a little crunch to it and the vinegar helps to cover up and add a little zing. I mean, it doesn't taste bad; it's mostly mashed potatoes, but with some weird gravy on the bottom--there's no meat or anything in it. I really think it would be great with some meat in it!

Had apple crisp and ice cream for dessert. Really full now. That was pretty good. I could eat more potato-oriented stuff, but I know I'd need to have that tofu. That's the thing is the access to protein. Fulfilling that meat dietary requirement could be quite difficult for me to get used to. Tofu doesn't cut it for me. Sorry.

Day 4:

Halfway through the vegetarian thing. Feeling OK this morning. Definitely becoming more difficult to go to the restroom, so I think I need to increase my water intake.

Well, it's Saturday and we've been working around the house, and I am hungry! So we are going to Golden Corral. I figure that's the one place where Bryan and I can eat and both get good and full.

Good Lord. An all-beef hotdog sounds good. Have a strong inclination to go to Costco and buy bulk meat. I can buy it. I just can't have it.

Finding myself getting stuffed much quicker than before. I guess this is because I've been eating smaller meals. Normally at Golden Corral I can eat a baked potato plate, salad, and then go back for an entree plate. Barely could finish the baked potato and the salad.

Dinner for Day 4 is the Indonesian squash soup to be served with sesame noodles. It's got snow pea pods and onion. The soup has chunky pieces of squash and some greens of some kind. Not a big greens fan, but it kind of has a curry smell to it. We'll try it. Might have to have a cracker. It's actually not too bad if you don't think about what it is. I like the noodles.

Day 5:

Haven't eaten anything much today. Just been busy, I guess, avoiding eating because I don't want to eat vegetarian. But feeling pretty good, had pretty good energy today. Did some stuff around the house but going to Granny's to have the Sunday dinner that she was gonna cancel. Gotta get cleaned up to go to her house and see how I fare at the old Southern Sunday dinner.

My skin seems a little dried-out today. I need some meat grease. Rub it on, or eat it, or something.

Well, I'm sitting here with a plate full of food. Even though there's no meat on it, Granny can still cook enough to make me big and fat. The smell of the stroganoff is really killing me. It looks really good. I'll have to have some Wednesday--at midnight.

Being a vegetarian has definitely changed my digestion. It takes longer, seems longer, to digest food. Maybe my body is using it more completely. And definitely need to increase my hydration.

Day 6:

I think I want meat today more than any other time. I could do with some sausage and bacon for breakfast. Or just wallow in some grease.

Clancy was quite upset this morning because she felt that I was not eating appropriately as a true vegetarian. She saw a pita bread and a meatball in a bag, and thought that was all I was eating. So pizza worked out pretty good. Looks great. As always, taste-wise, it's probably my favorite thing.

As a vegetarian I'd have to watch my junk-food intake because these Cheetos have been real good with this pizza.

I think it is most difficult for me to convert to vegetarianism because I was raised on meat. Meat that was treated nicely. Pets even. Sounds awful, but they were well-treated, well-fed animals. Lived in healthy conditions in a nice barn. Kept warm in the winter. Fans in the barn in the summer. Lots of pasture land. I was raised to eat meat like that. Society has evolved to where I can't live like that and have my own animals, but I still have this desire that's been bred into me from a long line of meat-eaters. If I was from a long line of vegetarians, it might be different. I wouldn't know any different.

Maybe if efforts were made to become "logical meat eaters," and make sure animals are treated fairly, the industry sway might be enough to achieve what we're trying to really do here. I mean, just think about it, if you stop production of all the meat, what would happen? I mean, whole industries, jobs, equipment, the surplus of animals?

I have a strong disagreement with vegetarians that will eat seafood. Not quite understanding that at all. Lots of people have said that, you know, they roam free or whatever, and well, if I go kill some squirrels or bag a deer and put that in my freezer is that cool with most vegetarians? Same principle. I mean if you're gonna go vegetarian, you need to be a vegetarian. If you're gonna commit to something and preach about something you should abide by it. I mean, that's just kind of the way I look at it.

I'm gonna have to hijack some pasta from Granny's dinner last night. This skinny bean stew is just, I mean, I know it's a vegetarian diet but it's all vegetables. It's just, gotta add something to it. And I don't know that I'm gonna be able to eat this kale. It's pretty strong, but I'm gonna try it with some vinegar. Salad looking good as always. Tossed a little pasta in the skinny bean stew, looks much better. Some rotini pasta. It was just too plain looking and, I don't know, maybe it'll help me pick out this damn okra.

I've just been accused of filling up on salad so I won't have to eat any of this other stuff. But I'm gonna try the kale and I'm gonna eat the pasta and the skinny beans.

Carrots are still kind of crunchy. I probably overcook all of my vegetables, but these are still kind of crunchy. Kale is palatable with vinegar. The skinny bean stuff is OK.

Day 7:

Well, Beth Livingston, a fellow vegetarian, was kind enough to think of me. She brought me two burritos and a book, Kind Veggie Burritos, and it's in loving memory of Jerry Garcia--that's so sweet. "Written by deadheads everywhere, compiled by Beth Livingston." Vegetarians seem to be a very kind and supportive organization of people.

The burritos were pretty good. This was the closest I've been to Taco Bell in seven days.

Burritos are definitely talking to me. Those onions are gonna kill me.

I'm getting kind of tired of the vegetarian affair. It's good food. I don't ever want to slight the food. It's been prepared well and done well by Terri, but I'm just kind of tired of it. But we're gonna do a little rerun here and eat some tamale pie.

Hiding in the back room again because of Bryan's cooking. Barbecued pork chops in the kitchen. My food was pretty good. Cooked an ear of corn to go with it. One more day, and I'm done with this. Definitely ready to go back to eating meat. That smell of pork chops just kills me. I could live this way, but the thing is, I really enjoy a good steak, or God, a roasted chicken. I mean, that's just really good food to me. I'm an animal lover but I guess it's too ingrained in me to get into the bigger scope of things and as Clancy says, "end the circle of violence."

Really missing eating with Bryan. It's kind of weird, we're missing the interaction involved in cooking together and eating together and enjoying food together. So again, you definitely need to have the support of a partner to be a vegetarian. You couldn't do it on your own. You kind of "share" a meal when you're eating the same thing and talking about it. Kind of interesting to see how we've missed that.

I'll put this as delicately as I can. With this vegetarian diet, I haven't had to strike near the matches in the bathroom that I was doing before.

Day 8:

Gorman Ruritan Club is having their barbecue and brunswick stew sale this Saturday, so I know what I'll be eating: Mmm, mmm. Meat, meat, meat.

I talked to Terri McClernon about why vegetarians want to, or seem to have the desire to eat meat-like products. She said it just kind of fills a void, that my feeling of wanting to have a hamburger is very real, and she also said that there may be some bodily need that some people have. Not everyone is cut out to be a vegetarian.

On my final night, I'm going to have a cheese pizza from Satisfaction, with green olives and feta cheese. It's 8:30 p.m. I have to go until midnight, but I'm not gonna break my deal here.

Day 9:

My first day of not being a vegetarian. It's gonna be great. I think I'm gonna go eat some meat. PETA is in town protesting some restaurant in Raleigh, maybe I'll go over and picket with 'em.

One thing that's come out of this experiment is that I probably will no longer pick food apart. I've tasted a lot of combinations of vegetables and cooking with them in different ways this week, and I think that they're not gonna kill me. So I probably can just, like, sit down and eat something at a nice restaurant and be done with it.


I truly enjoyed the opportunity to experience the challenges felt by vegetarians in our society. However, the experience has not convinced me to stop eating meat. I will probably think more about the source of my meat and be open to more vegetables in my life. At the very least I come out of this knowing that if the mad cow, crazy chicken or psycho pork disease ever halts meat distribution in our country, I can survive.

Robby Robbins' Menu (Courtesy of The Food Fairy)

Barbecue Tofu in a Pita, with a side salad

Tamale Pie with Salad (romaine lettuce, dandelion greens, avocado, cherry tomatoes, cucumber)

Bosnian Meatballs with Dill Sauce, noodles and broccoli with red pepper

Pita Pizza (Bosnian meatballs, marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese toasted on pita bread)

Shepherd's Pie with pickled beets

Skinny Red Beans, kale, cornbread

Indonesian Squash Soup, sesame noodles (served hot or cold)

More by Robby Robbins


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