A summer of vegetarianism
If you want to give vegetarianism a go, Brooklyn's the place to be.
Juice bars, quinoa bowls, black bean patties, tofu scramble, vegetarian dim sum - it's almost harder to find a restaurant without vegetarian or even vegan options. With the abundance of almond, cashew and oat milk, seitan and tempeh, and almond and cashew parmesan, these alternatives are more than trending the front-page of Instagram: they nullify the association of healthy diets with bland, tasteless food.
Recently I started to pursue a vegetarian diet, progressing from selecting vegetarian options only if available to actively seeking out and supporting animal-free products. Aside from the health benefits, animal rights and environmental justice provide more than enough reason to support vegetarianism. And as someone interested in pursuing sustainable development, I felt like a hypocrite if I didn't at least try a lifestyle forgoing something that doubles as one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world.
Nevertheless, this post isn’t about my journey to vegetarianism, nor is it an argument for it (I nominate Jonathan Foer for that). The choice to educate and acknowledge the reality of what you eat is strongest when made on your own. The moral and ethical horrors associated with animal suffering in factory-produced meat are undeniable, yet the action of taking it upon ourselves to make a serious change is one of society’s greatest dilemmas, one riddled with excuses: do we as humans have to sacrifice for other animals? How can a single diet make any difference? Do you even know what fried chicken tastes like??
Personally, I am still coming to terms about how to commit to this lifestyle change, but for different reasons related to the social and cultural traditions of my own ethnicity. Not only does traditional Asian food rarely accommodate for vegetarianism but also it emphasizes resourcefulness and conservation: eating anything physically possible, whether pork belly or beef intestines, and wasting none of the animal. Telling my grandmother I wanted to swear off meat would be akin to telling her I wanted to starve myself.
So for right now at least, what I can do is demonstrate how plant-based diets are overtaking the modern American food industry and encourage awareness that vegetarianism is worth more than a superficial health fad. A modern, metropolitan environment that often pioneers social trends for the rest of the world, New York City is ripe with support and opportunity for alternative diets.
My favorite vegetarian spots in NYC
I’ve shamelessly tried a majority of by CHLOE’s items ever since my company added it as an option to our Caviar team lunch order. They have 100% vegan salads, sandwiches, pastries, and smoothies, with typical options like kale and Caesar salad along with exotic ones like Matcha kelp noodles and Charcoal smoothies. The portions are so large I often have enough leftover for a second meal.
Favorite order: Spicy thai salad and Banana Walnut bread
I’m not a big burger fan to begin with, but Quinoa Kitchen is close to changing my mind. Juicy and tender, their Beyond Beef vegan meatballs are the most authentic among all the vegetarian options I’ve ever tried. It’s topped with smoky, caramelized onions, roasted mushrooms, and sliced avocado, along with a sweet and spicy chimichurri sauce. The veggie patty comes with quinoa, a side salad, and the best pesto and cheese to grace this Earth.
Favorite order: Vegan meatball bowl
The sheer variety of food vendors make Smorgasburg suitable for any picky eater or diet trend. Between the two venues, the Williamsburg location on Saturdays sets up inside a large, empty parking-lot, with a beautiful view of the harbor, while the Prospect Park location on Sundays offers similar food but burrowed inside the park on open, grassy ground, more suitable for picnics.
Favorite order: okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake)
(PC to Sharon Xiang)
While Grimaldi's isn’t a vegetarian-specific restaurant, the pizza is so mouth-watering it is impossible not to include. Its sister restaurant, Juliana's, also serves the same, delicious pizza, but even with two establishments neighboring each other, hour-long lines flow out of the door every night. Both meat-eaters and vegetarians flock to these pizza places. Fresh lily-pads of basil on top of a creamy thick bed of mozzarella, cracker-thin crispy crust, layered ricotta oozing over the side of the pan: I never understood the hype behind “Brooklyn-styled pizza” before trying a slice of Grimaldi’s.
Favorite order: Grimaldi’s white pizza
Another one of my go-to Caviar lunch places, Mulberry & Vine is a healthy chain restaurant that just opened up a location in DUMBO on my way to work. It offers both vegetarian and meat-based plates with a variety of toppings, bases, sauces, proteins, and crunches.
They also have filtered water, but at $3 a bottle it reminds me of kombucha - novel, interesting, over-expensive, questionably healthy...and just not palatable in the slightest.
Favorite order: Tofu bowl with carrot chili sauce + pick-your-own toppings
This place is contemporary American brunch in the heart of Nolita, filled with lively white décor and smooth wooden tables. The Butcher’s Daughter serves 100% vegetarian fare, along with pressed juices and smoothies. Four out of the five people at my party ordered the Smashed Avocado Toast Benedict, a testament to how good it looked on essentially every other table we saw.
Fair warning: although we went right as it opened, we already had a 30-minute wait. Millennials really love their brunch.
The last of my top go-to Cavier lunch options! honeygrow offers create-your-own (CYO) salads or stir-fries, which come with a wide selection of vegetable toppings and noodles (egg, rice, wheat, vegetable). They also have desserts and yogurts served with their trademark honey. While their stir-fries can sometimes resemble greasy Chinese takeout, their salads and signature bowls are usually filled to the brim with colorful vegetables, fruits, and nuts.
Favorite order: Summer seasonal salad topped with avocado, watermelon, spiced cashews, and tofu
My 10 weeks here have only scraped the surface of the food scene in NYC. One of the best parts of living in such a dynamic city is that every week a new restaurant or trend seems to pop-up. Among the dishes I’ve yet to try include the specialty black rice rolls from Beyond Sushi, Impossible Burger from Bareburger, vegan Pan-Asian food from LuAnne’s Wild Ginger.
A few months ago, I would have had difficulty predicting whether this diet would be a passing fad, gone the moment I step back on campus, or a serious lifestyle change that accompanies me regardless of how vegetarian-friendly my environment is. However, reflecting on the many talks and events held through Princeton this past summer, one word strikes me as the most memorable: ownership.
Danielle Cohen-Shohet of GlossGenius described ownership in the context of entrepreneurship: of taking full responsibility for an idea or business you planted, developed, and nurtured, regardless of how tall it grows. To me, ownership of mental and personal development is an even more important initial step: looking back on how you’ve changed, what you’ve changed, and what changes you’d like to continue. Committing yourself to a select few changes in the long-run, even though you can't see what's over the horizon. Whether it’s a physical change like vegetarianism or exercising, or mental, like optimism or self-esteem, the changes you choose to own are the ones that propagate through to influence your core principles and individual values.
To be honest, I’m nervous going back to school. I’ll be peeking through my fingers to see who wins when a summer’s worth of rejuvenation and self-care goes up against the anxiety-ridden agents that come steaming from a boiling pot of academic and social pressure. Exams and papers, recruitment and interviews, extracurricular clubs and eating clubs, grad school, research, rec letters, thesis prep – it’s no wonder fried chicken is more of a comfort food than quinoa and kale.
That's not to say all is hopeless and that the will we have in controlling what how we treat ourselves during the school year exactly matches the will we have to succeed. But they are linked in ways that are not as apparent when self-improvement and self-care take a backseat to the fast-paced rigor of college life. To the addiction of "keeping busy" and flying through a headwind simply because you see everyone else doing the same. To the urge to catch all the opportunities that zip by in four precious years, like fireflies flickering in the night.
That's why ownership of relationships – and of the promises you make to stay in touch with old and new friends – is the final takeaway I want from this summer. Friends and mentors you meet outside of the Bubble are some of the most invaluable inside of it; they provide perspective, reminding you of the ideas and dreams you shared unrelated to surviving the next bombardment of assignments and deadlines, and the experiences you enjoyed outside of eating clubs or dorm room pre-games. Of a peaceful stroll outside to look at the skyline and people-watch for an hour simply because the weather was nice. Of personality and Buzzfeed quizzes and card games played late into the night like back at summer camp. Of the simple and seemingly insignificant moments that end up being the most effective at re-charging your will and motivation back to pre-frosh levels (or even just 50% of that).
I admit that I won’t be eating vegetarian every day in addition to going to the gym in the morning, meditating before work, reading 100 pages, reaching out to old friends, and writing at night. Despite the neat bullet-point list staring me down every time I sit at my desk, I find it challenging enough to accomplish half of those even now, when the hardest problem I face after work on some days is deciding where to eat.
But I will do at least one, every day. Even you, my dear reader, can hold me to that.
-Jessica Ho '20