Vegan, Vegetarian or Texatarian (plant-based with Texas-specific meat days): How is Life for the Herbivorous in Texas?

In the land known for meat on the grill and animal footwear bragging rights, it used to be a brave move to go vegan. But today the plant-based food culture in Texas is in play.

Vegan, Vegetarian or Texatarian (plant-based with Texas-specific meat days): How is Life for the Herbivorous in Texas?
Photo by Iva Rajović on Unsplash

As with everything, we humans argue about who were the first vegans on the planet – not within the last 100 years but thousands of years ago. African, Asian, Mediterranean and South American cultures have ancient plant-based histories…and in each case, meat was adopted at varying levels by some segments of the population. With all due respect to history, this is about today’s vegan survival rates in the Lone Star state. (I first learned of the term, Texatarian from a Texas Monthly article by Lauren Larson).

"Texatarian makes exceptions for meats that feel especially Texan. Her definition of “Texan” may change from day to day and is between her and her god."

One of my first stories as a reporter with KHOU-TV in Houston was a 1981 Livestock Show and Rodeo assignment. I pissed off a cattle farmer because in the interview I asked him if the growing trend toward vegetarian eating was impacting his business. He went ballistic, I was confused.

A lot has changed since then. I stopped eating meat and all animals, but then crawled back into a vegetarian lifestyle (eggs, cheese), then pescatarian (seafood), and finally ate my way back to meat - off the plates of others. I think you call it, cheatatarian. But in my heart of hearts, I kept returning to a vegan lifestyle because the thought of eating an animal doesn’t sit well with me.  I’m not a vegan-gelist. It is not my business what people choose to consume. But I do wonder since the days of the angry cattle guy if vegans in Texas feel heard.

Let’s start with the true definition

Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans, and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals. In other words, all sentient beings are off the table. Plants are not sentient.

So why do meat eaters eat some animals but not others? In our society cows, chickens, pigs, and other animals are fair game, but we don’t eat golden retrievers or cats. Turns out, there’s no scientific reason to consider some animals friends and others, food. It’s cultural.

In Texas, barbecue pride is as big as the state. And signature dishes are brisket, ribs, chicken, or chicken fried steak.

So where does a human herbivore dine in Texas?

The answer: Move over, Austin. According to Culture Map Austin rankings last year, Houston had the most vegan restaurants in Texas with 312, to Austin’s 286. Dallas has 209 vegan or vegan-friendly places to eat, and San Antonio with 202.

The U.S. city that tops the charts for vegan establishments is New York with 1,464. Los Angeles is second place with 705. The west and east coasts are the highest-ranking regions for plant-based eating. However, the Texas Rio Grande Valley is emerging as the newest hot spot for vegan cuisine with plant-based Tex-Mex, vegan pastries, and non-meat barbacoa eateries.

What about fake meat?

Even plant eaters are divided on processed, wannabe-meats. One group believes the burgers, sausage and other meat creations from either grains, soy, or veggie proteins are a good way for meat eaters to transition or take a break from animal products. Another group of plant-based eaters feel that heavily processed foods are unhealthy even if made from plants.

Lawmakers in the Texas House approved banning fake meat labels using the terms beef, chicken, or poultry. They believe the labels are misleading and confusing. Apparently, the bill hasn’t gone to the state senate yet. Meat producers are major supporters of the bill.

The right to choose

There are several reasons people decide to adopt a vegan or plant-based diet; some cite studies that claim animal proteins are not heart-healthy and increase cholesterol, others do it for the protection of animals, and another group says that eating meat and dairy products fuels the climate crisis. It’s important to note that a plant-based diet can also be part of religious practice.

In any event, choice and change are alive and well in Texas when it comes to bucking the meat-centric culture. The options and number of restaurants, like the social acceptance, have grown. And it’s up to you whether you eat beef, pork, chicken, or armadillo. But never dogs or cats, that’s against the law.

Myra Jolivet is a storyteller. First a TV news anchor and reporter. Then came PR work and consulting. That's where she is today - banging her head against the wall - trying to help CEOs and political candidates tell their stories well. Myra writes a series of murder mysteries She was a kid with an imaginary friend. That says it all.