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By Ezra Klein

Helene York was annoyed to read a menu for steamed buns -- in Palo Alto, not in China -- that advertised three flavors: "Slow-Smoked Pulled Pork, Bacon Cheeseburger or Veggie." Two of those, you'll notice, actually correspond to flavor profiles. One of them doesn't. There is no such flavor as "veggie," except insofar as it denotes other uninspired dishes that went under the moniker "veggie," like soggy sandwiches anchored by cold Portobello mushrooms and zucchini.

A friend of mine used to say that the rhetorical separation between good food and bad food came down to adjectives. Onion omelet? Pass. Caramelized onion omelet? Sure. Chicken? What do you mean, chicken? Roast chicken? Sure. Vegetable salad? Yawn. Spring vegetable salad? I'll take a look. And it's easy to go on: Potatoes vs. roast potatoes, fish vs. seared tuna, beans vs. farmers market fava beans.

There are a lot of vegetables (and assorted other non-meat items) that can be prepared in a lot of different ways. But if you're not interested enough in the dish to explain what's in it and how it was made, it's a pretty good signal to potential buyers that it's not very good. You don't see menu items labeled "meat" and you shouldn't see menu items labeled "veggie." It's like a large, blinking, sign: "THIS WILL NOT TASTE VERY GOOD."

By Ezra Klein  |  May 25, 2010; 1:33 PM ET
Categories:  Food  
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Nice post, Ezra.

Posted by: AZProgressive | May 25, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, this is why I am omnivore. No need to limit the chef's creativity- and I would attach a similar label to anything where I am forced to adhere to similar constraints. Of course, I can't eat onions and am allergic to some nuts, so I have my own minefield to navigate. I am just waiting for a day to see a non-descriptive "nut-less dessert" on the menu.

At least you could eat meat if you wanted to!

Posted by: staticvars | May 25, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Ezra: You don't see menu items labeled "meat"...

But you do see cans in the store labeled "potted meat", as well as their kin such as "cheese food product". I also am dubious about the labels that start "may contain one or more of," which seem especially prevalent with oils.

Posted by: KenInIL | May 25, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Mr. static variables, your concern for the cook's stress is touching, but the reason I'm a vegetarian, and Ezra is trying to be mostly vegetarian, has nothing to do with what's tasty. It's that we believe doing something about global climate change is worth restricting our own comfort a bit and if you're trading your own pleasure for some global climate change gain, going vegetarian gives you the best bang for the yuck, as it were.

Posted by: dfhoughton | May 25, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

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