To really experience a new culture, one must go outside of his/her comfort zone, try new things, take a walk in someone else鈥檚 shoes (or take a bite with someone else鈥檚 fork聽?).聽Knowing that Uruguay (like much of South America) prides itself on its barbecue, we began our travels with the understanding that it would be difficult to maintain our vegetarian lifestyles.

Part I: Herbivores

We were facing a traveler鈥檚 dilemma. Being vegetarian had become an important part of our identities, and yet:

la-pulperia-parrilla-steak-sirloin
Irresistible?… Spoiler alert: yes.

Now, about three weeks into our adventure, our relationship with vegetarianism looks something like Taylor Swift鈥檚 love life: one day, we鈥檙e laughing on a park bench thinking to ourselves, 鈥渉ey, isn鈥檛 this easy鈥; the next, we鈥檙e OTPHJing the other One Direction bozo while Ed Sheeran cries ginger tears from deep in the corner of the friend zone 鈥 Simply put, 鈥渋t鈥檚 complicated.鈥

Flashback: How We Became Veggie Heads

One fateful Saturday during the Fall of 2015, Cat grabbed a beer and some cheese (probably), snuggled up on the couch, and browsed Netflix for something to watch. Not unusual. For reasons unknown, she decided to watch the documentary, Cowspiracy.

cowspiracy-cow-with-eye-of-providence
Given that the Netflix version of the documentary was produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, it should come as no surprise that we took the bait, hook-line-and-sinker.

Kale joined about 20 minutes in (perhaps after hearing Cat鈥檚 squeals) and roomies Max and Andy tuned in soon after.

When it was over, we were all*聽a little shaken. We won鈥檛 go into the details of the documentary (if you鈥檙e interested, check it out), but the decision to become a vegetarian household1 came easily and with little debate.

*It鈥檚 worth noting that our roommate, Andy, was only ever a domestic-vegetarian. When he was out of the house, he would gorge on burgers and Panda Express. At home, he would douse his veggies with Sriracha (likely as a coping mechanism). So his 鈥渧egetarianism鈥 comes with an asterisk, just like his first (and only?) win in our household鈥檚 favorite board game, Ticket to Ride.

andy-the-domestic-vegetarian-and-cheko-the-cat
Andy the domestic vegetarian and Cheko the cat. Follow Andy on Instagram: @fat.andyy

why-vegetarian-updated-brussel-sprout

  1. The environment. 聽We were Cowspiracy-sold. We had a refreshed understanding of how meat is produced and sold and the harmful effects this mass-production has on the environment.
  2. Our health. 聽It鈥檚 no secret that animal products aren鈥檛 great for your health. And with full-time desk jobs and a lengthy commute, it was becoming increasingly difficult聽to find the time for regular exercise.2
  3. Culinary versatility. Prior to being veggie-heads, cooking was a chore. We didn鈥檛 know, or experiment with, much and a 鈥済ourmet鈥 dinner consisted of a protein + one (maybe two) veggies. Heck, Kale didn鈥檛 even know what a mushroom felt like (they鈥檙e surprisingly light and spongy!)鈥 With vegetarianism, we became more creative with our dishes, experimenting with new fruits, veggies, herbs and spices. Our household developed a great system. Each night, one roomie would be promoted to Head Chef of Kitchen 2323 (the name we gave our 鈥渞estaurant鈥). Head Chef had the responsibility of 鈥淭he Vision鈥 while one or two sous chefs would assist with washing, chopping, stirring, etc.3
    kitchen-2323-veggie-burger-and-magic-squash
    Left: A Kitchen 2323 veggie burger. Our take on a guest chef鈥檚 recipe (thanks, Mike!) Right: This magical squash was recommended to Max by a mysterious old lady at Dean鈥檚, his favorite local produce store. In true 鈥淛ack and the Beanstalk鈥 fashion, it began sprouting after a few days on our counter. Alas, Andy got freaked out and threw it off our balcony to an unknown fate…
  4. Tempeh. And on the 8th day, God created tempeh… Cheap, filling, and healthy, this meat substitute made being vegetarian easy. Saying 鈥渘o鈥 to a bloody-delicious protein is tough, but with tempeh in the fridge, our meals were always hearty and full bodied.
kitchen-2323-executive-chefs-cat-max-andy
3/4 of Kitchen 2323鈥檚 Executive Chefs. Not pictured: Kale (likely behind the camera or attending to his charlie-work).

Buying Organic 鈥 Dirty Dozen & Clean 15

With our entry into vegetarianism and our increased appreciation for all things veggie, we naturally became more curious about our food. Should we buy organic produce? What does free-range really mean? If a label is marked 鈥渘atural鈥 is it organic? What is the carbon footprint of these blueberries?

This is an expansive topic and we鈥檙e just going to focus on one of the issues: Organics.

What does 鈥渙rganic鈥 really mean? Is it just a marketing ploy to price gouge fearful millennials?

Simply put, if a product shows 鈥淐ertified Organic鈥 or 鈥淯SDA Organic鈥, then it must be at least 95% free of synthetic additives like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and dyes, and must not be processed using industrial solvents, irradiation, or genetic engineering. The remaining 5% may be processed with additives from an approved list (ominous, huh?).

If a product shows “100% organic,” then 100% of the ingredients must meet the guidelines above (duh!). More sneakily, however, if a product shows “made with organic,” then it cannot use the USDA seal anywhere on the package and must contain a minimum of 70% organic ingredients. The remaining 30% may be processed with additives on the aforementioned 鈥渁pproved list.鈥

In a perfect world, we would consume only 100% organic produce. Alas, buying organic is not always possible, and even when it is, it鈥檚 often ridonkulously expensive.

Enter the ideas of the 鈥淐lean 15鈥 and the 鈥淒irty Dozen鈥. These lists detail which fruits and vegetables, on average, are subject to the most (Dirty Dozen) and the least (Clean 15) contamination by pesticide use4 making them a useful resource when deciding which organic produce to buy — and when it鈥檚 ok to opt for the cheaper, non-organic alternative. Our rule of thumb: make an effort to avoid non-organics in the Dirty Dozen.

The Dirty Dozen (2016): strawberries, nectarines, apples, cucumbers, peaches, grapes, tomatoes, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cherries, celery, cherry tomatoes.
The Dirty Dozen (2016): strawberries, nectarines, apples, cucumbers, peaches, grapes, tomatoes, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cherries, celery, cherry tomatoes.
The Clean 15 (2016): cauliflower, kiwi, papaya, sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, asparagus, honeydew melon, avocado, pineapple, cabbage, sweet peas (if frozen), cantaloupe, mango and onion.
The Clean 15 (2016): cauliflower, kiwi, papaya, sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, asparagus, honeydew melon, avocado, pineapple, cabbage, sweet peas (if frozen), cantaloupe, mango, and onion.

And here鈥檚 a collage of 80s heartthrob Patrick Swayze, because there鈥檚 a 100% chance that 鈥淒irty Dozen鈥 font got you in the mood:

patrick-swayze-collage

Part II: Carnivores: Our Return to the Dark Side

The demise of our vegetarian souls can be summarized with one word: Parrilla (pronounced by Uruguayans PAR-EESH-AH).5

darth-vader-vegetarians-no-longer

Some Background on Uruguayan Parrilla

Uruguayos (pronounced OO-ROO-HUA-SHOS) are masters of the art of slow-cooking meat. Their grills, or parrillas, are slanted, which provides for variance in cooking temperature, and stoked by the embers of hardwood (rather than charcoal or propane) fed by the fat falling from the meat above, which contributes a unique flavor to the asado.

The asado, or the meat,6聽is comprised of various cuts of beef, all of which is grass-fed from birth (rather than corn-fed 鈥斅爐he norm in many other countries, including the good ol鈥 US of A). 聽A traditional asado also includes morcilla, or sausaged cow (or pig) blood.

The cattle industry is extremely important to Uruguay, a nation where cattle outnumber people 4-to-1. As of late 2014, Uruguay was the only country in the world with a completely computerized traceability system for its beef 鈥斅燼ll cattle are electronically tagged at birth, part of the sophisticated system that is entirely paid for by the state. 聽This empowers consumers at home and abroad with the knowledge of exactly where their beef comes from and how it was raised.

La Pulperia: A Vegetarian鈥檚 Graveyard

Our fantastic hosts, Federico and Laura, recommended one of their favorite restaurants to try local meat: La Pulperia. So on Day 4 in Montevideo and without much deliberation, we decided that we would take the plunge.

Since we didn鈥檛 have a reservation and the TripAdvisor reviews warned that this hole-in-the-wall fills up fast, we arrived at the restaurant right when they opened.

la-pulperia-parrilla-montevideo-uruguay-front-of-building
La Pulperia. 聽We ignored the PARE sign and proceeded to indulge as carnivores.

We scored seats right in front of the action.

la-pulperia-parrilla-montevideo-uruguay-grill-shot
View from our (bar-style) table. 聽Note the white placard (center), warning that excessive sodium (salt) intake can be detrimental to one鈥檚 health. 聽These signs are required to be posted in all restaurants in Uruguay.

And went bananas ham.

la-pulperia-collage-with-swayze

The food was amazing; the atmosphere, lively. We walked home happy and with full bellies, but not before we inhaled some dessert: flan con dulce de leche.

Our Turn: A Parrilla at Home

A few weekends later, it was our turn. With Federico graciously serving as asador (grillmaster), we enjoyed a traditional parrilla.

The parrilla is a progressive experience and lasts much longer than a typical meal. We began with drinks (cerveza and mate, of course) and enjoyed some sunshine and conversation with new friends while our asador prepped the grill and food.

parrilla-beef-peppers-eggplant-onions-queso
The food! From top left (clockwise): morcilla (cow鈥檚 blood sausage), berenjena (eggplant), cebollas (onions), queso provoleta (provolone cheese), asado (beef), morron verde (green bell peppers).

The event was also extremely educational! In the clip below, Federico explains which types of wood are typically used to fuel a parrilla Uruguaya.

asador-pokes-embers-of-parrilla
Here, el asador rearranges the hobbit/dwarf tree embers. Interestingly, the cebollas (onions) were cooked directly upon the embers. Note the slant of the parrilla – this provides the asador with flexibility in determining the cooking temperature of each food item.
parrilla-grill-loaded-front-angle
Impressively, the only tools used by el asador were a knife (cuchillo) and fork (tenedor).

The first item off the grill was the queso provoleta, a melted cheese topped with oregano and served with a toasted, baguette-style bread. This was followed by course after course (delivered via cutting-board by el asador) of bite-sized pieces of carne (meat), verduras (vegetables), and pan (bread). And yes, we even enjoyed the morcilla (blood sausage), which had a weirdly familiar7 and sweet taste to it.

asador-cuts-asado
El asador cuts the asado. Mmmmm.

The experience was unforgettable and the food, delicious — muy rico!

asador-el-jefe-post-asado-federico
El asador reflects upon a successful parrilla.

Part III: Un Poco M谩s, Por Favor

milanesa-collage-kale-eats
Left: Kale enjoys a traditional milanesa Uruguaya (breaded and fried steak). Right: Milanesa napolitana. After the steak is breaded and fried, it’s topped with a slice of ham, tomato sauce, and melted mozzarella cheese.
chivitos-con-papas-fritas
Chivito y papas fritas. Something akin to a steak sandwich, with french fries.

What Now?

Though we aren鈥檛 calling ourselves 鈥渧egetarian鈥 anymore, our veggie-only shopping habits haven鈥檛 kicked yet. Going forward, we expect we鈥檒l maintain a mostly vegetarian diet — it鈥檚 a healthy lifestyle that contributes to a healthier planet.

Bon provecho!


Mouth watering? For more on food and why you鈥檙e no different than Pavlov鈥檚 dog, check out our post on Visual Gastronomy.

3 thoughts on “Adi贸s to Being Vegetarian?”

Comment. Say hi. Talk shit. 馃憞