Oh veggie, where art thou?

"We need to think more deeply about what we are doing on this planet," says Kaz Sephton, president of the San Antonio Vegetarian Society (SAVS).
(Photo by Erich Landry)
Meatless in steer city

In a land where cattle is king, it is odd to eat the monarch. Imagine if the French had made not only brandy out of Napoleon but fricassee from Louis XIV. Texans are jerky over meat, munching it incessantly - almost as if a chunk of rotting corpse could ward off death. Refuse to chew flesh in the Lone Star State, and you seem as weird as those who spurn worship of high school football.

More than in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and Fort Worth, vegetarianism in San Antonio is a solitary vice. Although its economy depends on tourism, and boosters boast about the variety of its cuisine, the ninth-largest city in the United States lacks any restaurant whose menu contains neither flesh, fish, nor fowl. New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles offer dozens. Like efficient mass transit, a solvent symphony, and Equity theater, a vegetarian restaurant is one of the assets of a great city. Though local chef Bruce Auden will be cooking something special for Dennis Kucinich during a planned campaign stop, this town is otherwise less hospitable to vegans - those who, like Kucinich, eschew all animal products, including eggs and dairy - than it is to fire ants.

Adelante, Gini's, La Fiesta/Patio, and Twin Sisters offer numerous non-meat options, and the Asian restaurants - Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese - are a safer bet than the hundreds of steakhouses, burger joints, and chicken shacks that stand as monuments of man's inhumanity to non-humans. Yet even a plate of tofu and broccoli can be noxious when accompanied by rice surreptitiously boiled in broth. A Thai restaurant recently fell off the list of local favorites when it was discovered that the cook slips fish sauce into everything. Since even guacamole often contains egg, vegans who depend on Mexican cuisine end up lean. Vegetarians savoring cheese enchiladas and huevos rancheros have to be anxious about the accoutrements; if the rice is not cooked in chicken broth, the beans are probably laced with lard. But if it seems hard to survive in San Antonio without consuming meat, consider how much harder it is for a cow, hen, or sow to die of old age.

"We need to think more deeply about what we are doing on this planet," says Kaz Sephton, president of the San Antonio Vegetarian Society (SAVS). Her thinking deepened 23 years ago when she gave up meat for good - the good of other creatures. "It's the passion for animals that drives me," Sephton explains. Sticking to an ethical diet is not nearly as difficult now as 20 years ago, when Sephton moved here from her native Britain. The variety of fresh produce and meat substitutes such as tofu, seitan, and tempeh at Central Market, Sun Harvest Farms, and Whole Foods makes it possible to sustain a healthy diet without sacrificing other lives.

Statistics on vegetarianism are unreliable, since some call themselves vegetarian while eating fish or even poultry. Sephton believes that though Britain is 20 percent vegetarian, only about 2.5 percent of Americans and 1 percent of Texans abstain from eating animals. The lingering mystique of cowboy culture accounts for why Texas is a leader in beef consumption, obesity, and heart disease. Part of the Lone Star Vegetarian Network, SAVS ([email protected]) was founded in 1989. A church's fish fry can easily outdraw its membership, just above 100. Sephton estimates that 30 percent of SAVS is vegetarian for ethical concerns, 40 percent for health, 30 percent for other reasons.

On the fourth Tuesday of each month, members dine together without fear of bones sticking in the throat, or blood congealing on the conscience. They alternate between a pot-luck feast at a member's house and a prix fixe restaurant repast that costs each participant $10-15. The chosen restaurateur gladly promises that not a single drop of animal fat will be served to dozens of demanding new patrons.

SAVS does more than just fill members' bellies with guilt-free sustenance. The group collects canned goods for the Salvation Army, the Battered Women's Shelter, and Ella Austin Community Center, as well as pet food for the Humane Society and Animal Defense League. On Thanksgiving, SAVS feeds the homeless turkey-free meals. Even in San Antonio, still echoing with stockyard shrieks, it is possible with a little care to eat well and do good. •


Question of the Week:

What do you eat at a funeral?

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