Oy, stop with the boiled leeks and wilted greens; I want real food!

My friend Christen just wrote a funny story about how she hates vegetarians, which got me thinking: What do vegetarians hate about being vegetarians?

Even as a vegetarian - sorry, "strict vegetarian" - I know plenty of those other vegetarians who give us a bad name. You know, the one's who make you watch footage of factory and battery farms, have you sign up as a PETA activist and give you a shirt that says "meat is murder." Or the assumption among our meat-eating counterparts that we are all a bunch of patchouli-wearing hippies.

As a vegan, I do not believe in eating or consuming anything that comes from an animal; it's a little bit more hardcore than just being vegetarian. I just have a problem with the utter lack of disrespect animals are given in our meat-eating world. But, it's more than just a respect or ethical issue for me. It's about the environmental and health implications on more than just the human race. While I do think there is a problem with the global and American food system, I will never try to impose my beliefs on anyone else. I will, however, engage in conversation with those willing to know why I am vegan and/or those who want to know more about the many flaws of our mainstream eating habits.

Yet, the mainstream doesn't seem ready for people like me. Just because I don't eat meat or dairy doesn't mean that I want boiled tofu and a mound of kale. Let's back-track on two instances that caused this outrage...

For my brother's birthday, we went to a local restaurant known for its seasonal menu and support of local farmers. It has also won numerous awards, is Zagat-rated and a popular locale among all the rich people in the area. (The chef kind of scares me a little bit, so I won't reveal the name.) There was a plethora of delicious, omnivorous choices. Unless I wanted a salad - hold the goat cheese and bacon vinaigrette - the only item on the menu was an Asian-style tofu over baby greens. Where I live, there aren't a ton of vegetarian restaurants, but I knew that if this was featured as a vegan plate, it should be fairly decent. Unfortunately, it was like eating a salt-lick, and wasn't worth the nearly $20 price tag.

Example number two involves an episode of "Top Chef: Las Vegas," when contestants cooked for veg celebrity Natalie Portman. Some of the dishes looked awesome - banana polenta, yum. Others, well, I was a little offended. One of the chefs made boiled leeks that weren't even fully cooked and resembled wet socks. AND he thought it was a protein substitute because it could look like meat. I love the rationale. He was subsequently eliminated.

I guess the reason I'm a little miffed is that vegetarians - specifically vegans - are treated either as elitists or second-class eaters. We are food snobs; we want good food when we don't cook for ourselves. Just like omnivores, we want meaningful dishes. So, stop giving us lack-luster veggies and mysterious analog meats. You can't go wrong with flavorful, whole food-based plates.