Going vegan might be a hipster cliché, but meat-eating actually feels like a bigger part of today’s dominant counterculture. Hipster iconography has always been rooted in nostalgia for, and ironic reclamation of, signifiers of 70s suburbia—the white flight world their parents created, from which they’d eventually escape to return to the cities: mustaches, Pabst, big glasses, big hair, etc. Along with these motifs comes meat—backyard barbecues and roasts on the dinner table. The socially conscious hipster has tweaked this quiddity; just look at Williamsburg’s Meat Hook, which offers local meat from small family farms (think “grass-fed beef”) as well as classes in butchering your own carcasses or making your own sausages.
Photographs by Joe Hume
Still, this push toward omnivorism could be interpreted as a rejection of the vegetarian/vegan trends that have typically been a part of middle-class youth culture since at least the mid-20th century: chances are you know someone who’s rejected meat—or that you’ve done it yourself! I’ve been trying to eat vegan for the last three years and been a vegetarian since 2005; I first got into it when I was in college, when a variety of people encouraged me and served as living examples of its feasibility. Cut to a decade later: the vegans I knew are eating eggs, and the vegetarians are eating fish, or at least bivalves, or they gave it up altogether! For many, vegetarianism is just a phase.
I’ve become the only vegetarian at parties and the only vegan in the office—the one who has to bring his own dinner to Chinese New Year and sit out pizza parties. Between my own experience and the rise of trendy meat-eating, I wondered, is that indicative of the borough at large? What is the state of vegetarianism in Brooklyn? I reached out to several restaurateurs, chefs and others in the food industry to get a sense of how much they have to think about vegetarian options, whether that’s changed over the years, what kinds of people ask about meat-less options, and whether it depends on the neighborhood in which they operate. Here’s some of what they told us. In short? The state of vegetarianism is stronger than it might sometimes feel—but it’s still anything but simple.