My Vegetarian Backstory

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I am not a vegetarian food critic. I am a food critic and food journalist. I’ve gotten the impression that some people think that I’m just a vegetarian foodie. Or put me in a labeled box that says “Vegetarian Food Critic.” While I often write and talk about restaurants and cuisine and vegetarian stuff, that’s because of my background as a vegetarian and person who adhered to an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet. I also write about these subjects because they need to be covered, as there are many vegetarians and vegans around Kansas City.

I no longer consider myself a “vegetarian” in the sense of a self-professed identity, but I do claim to adhere to a vegetarian diet as a daily practice (more on that later).

How and Why Did Chuck Become a Vegetarian?

I became an ovo-lacto vegetarian in June or July 1989, when I was living in south Lawrence, Kansas. It wasn’t a gradual thing. I quit meat cold turkey one day. Pardon the dad pun. Vegetarianism was not a rare thing in those days, but it was still very uncommon, even in a Midwest college town. An ovo-lacto vegetarian is somebody who still has eggs and dairy in their diet. This might be the most common type of vegetarian. Some vegetarians exclude eggs or dairy from their diets. A large segment are “strict” about ingredients such as gelatin or rennet. I also describe strict vegetarians as one who zealously ask about stocks and ingredients at restaurants. I was that way for many years after I started the diet, but got lax over the decades.

Vegans, of course, don’t eat any products produced by animals, such as milk, eggs, and for some, honey. Vegans also won’t wear leather, while vegetarians vary about wearing leather (I don’t shy away from it).

My reasons for changing my diet were many, but animal rights were not a reason, even though I was aware of that nascent animal rights movement.

Lawrence, Kansas, 1989

It was the summer after the year I graduated from KU and I was getting ready to move and attend graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I decided to just make a quick break with meat, instead of gradually. Initially, I wanted to see how long I could go without going back to a diet with meat. It was a challenge as a poor recent graduate to find vegetarian options in Lawrence (god bless Yello Sub). I was comfortable with cooking and that became very important in keeping to the new diet.

Family Connections

It helped that my mother is a lifelong vegetarian. She’s currently (almost) 90-years-old and is a strict ovo-lacto vegetarian. So my family didn’t give me any grief about changing diets. Mom’s journey as a vegetarian is a fascinating story in itself. Yes, she was eating a vegetarian diet during WW II as a kid in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

I also was exposed to lots of vegetarian dishes growing up as mom was also a great cook.

Personal Tastes

I just never enjoyed eating meat growing up. When I ate meat, I preferred that it be part of a bigger dish. A burger with bun and topping. Chicken in a casserole or with biscuits and gravy. I never like steak, pork chops, barbecue, roasts, or sausages. I was one of those people who preferred that my steak be well burnt. Eating anything off bones, especially fried chicken, grossed me out.

Seafood and Fish

When asked about how I became vegetarian, I explain that it was easy to give up seafood and fish, as seafood wasn’t easily available in Kansas City prior to the 1990s. If you wanted seafood and didn’t want to get McDonald’s, Long John Silver, or dine at a fancy restaurant, you could go to Red Lobster. Growing up, I never liked fish, either in fried, batter form or fresh from a lake. Fresh fish always tasted like lake. Salmon croquettes were sometimes made by mom for me and my siblings, but they weren’t missed.

I had tried lobster, shrimp and crab. I had enjoyed them, despite the mouth feel which turned me off. I recall enjoying crab meat and flavor more than anything. I recall having crab paella for the first time from a Spanish restaurant on the west side of the Country Club Plaza.

Ironically, in the years after switching to vegetarianism, when people asked me if I missed meat, I would admit to only missing tuna fish sandwiches. And now in 2024, when I do eat meat, it’s fish and seafood.

The Farm Crisis

There was a reason adjacent to animal rights reason for my change. I had been following the small family farm crisis since high school. Small family farms versus corporate agriculture was very much in the news in the early 1980s. I felt that by switching to a vegetarian diet, I could better support local farmers, buying their produce at farmers markets and grocery stores. It also was clear to me that small farms tended to treat farm animals better and that farm animals were part of a healthy farm ecosystem.


This relates closely to the farm crisis motivation. I had become an environmentalist as a pre-teen, mainly because of an interest in birding and the outdoors. I was a subscriber to Audubon magazine. It felt like switching to a vegetarian diet would be good for the planet.

Grad School Plans

As I mentioned earlier, in the summer of 1989, I was getting ready to move to Madison, Wisconsin to attend graduate school. I was looking at student housing co-ops for my housing. I understood that most of them had meal plans that were strictly vegetarian. It felt like I needed to try changing my diet in order to see if I could handle living in a co-op. Turns out I ended up at a small co-op that didn’t have a mandatory vegetarian meal plan, but had one that stipulated that vegetarian meals had to be provided to residents who were vegetarians.

Madison, Wisconsin – 1990s- Rivendell Co-op Years

Coming soon.

Washington, DC – 1990s

Coming soon.


Coming soon.


Coming soon.

A Vegetarian Diet Does Not Require One to be “On the Wagon”

There are many good reasons for a person to self-identify as being a vegetarian, vegan, keto, or gluten-free. Self-identification labels can be a short hand to enable one to meet like-minded people, or, start a conversation with people who are interested in your diet or lifestyle. Or people hostile to your dietary/lifestyle choices.

Even though I openly identified as a vegetarian over the decades, I always felt uncomfortable with the policing of the label and the proselytizing commonly seen among vegetarians and vegans. I’ve always preferred to set an example and several friends became vegetarians from my example.

Of course, word do mean specific things, so I’m all on board with vegetarians correcting ignorance about the diet. Such as people saying they are vegetarian while still eating meat regularly. But this obsession with policing people for “falling off the vegetarian/vegan wagon?” Lighten up people. You need to calm down.

Do You Still Identify as a Vegetarian?

No, I do not self-identify any longer, although I will argue that my diet is vegetarian. I still see my daily dietary choices through the lens of vegetarianism. I automatically look for vegetarian options on restaurant menus. I never make seafood at home. I may eat seafood once in a while, but that’s just to enjoy more choices or for this blog. My personal goal is to eat a whole foods, plant-based near-vegan diet, but that isn’t a hard set of personal rules.

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