Barbecue lovers now include vegetarians and vegans, too

Nothing will ruin a family barbecue faster than talking about, well, you know.

Politics? Well, yes, of course, that can be problematic, especially nowadays, but that's not where I'm headed.

Religion? Sure, but you usually know what you're getting into ahead of time, especially with family.

Finances? Heck, yeah, especially if you still owe Aunt Betty that 5K you borrowed back in the day.

However, all these discussions pale compared to the ultimate family divide: Carnivores versus vegetarians.

What is it about deciding to forego meat that automatically gets everyone's hackles up?

What is it about giving up meat that gives you a license to lecture?

Chicago-style Not Dogs Kelly Allison Photography

As a 40-year vegetarian and mother to a vegan, I can attest to the family difficulties created by the great food divide.

We vegetarians make some people nervous because they want so desperately to please us. Others can't seem to get into their heads wrapped around the fact that “just a little ham” in the baked beans is not an acceptable non-meat dish. Ham is meat. Get it?

And then there are those who want to question every part of your life, not to mention your integrity. “If you really care about the cows, why do you wear leather shoes?” (Because I am a complicated, morally conflicted hypocrite, that's why).

Conversely, no one wants to hear about the condition of American slaughterhouses when they are about to bite into a big juicy burger. Actually, dropping some truth about slaughterhouses is never acceptable around the dinner table, at least not in my house.

Basically, acting morally superior is never a good tactic - even if you think you are morally superior. And, remember, you used to be a carnivore, too.

So with barbecue season upon us, what's the answer here? In my opinion, let's keep the food lectures to a minimum on both sides - and make sure there's plenty of delicious food for all to share.

Pulled Shiitake Mushroom BBQ Kelly Allison Photography

That's where the book “Great Vegan BBQ Without A Grill” by Linda and Alex Meyer comes in handy. They are the mother-daughter team behind the food blog called No rabbit food here! Everything is healthy, vegan and barbecue inspired. From grilled mushroom “steaks” to Chicago-style “Not Dogs,” you'll find flavorful recipes that will replace or supplement your more summer tradition fare.

Yes, at first glance there are a lot of ingredients in some of these recipes, but most of them are quite common and you probably already own many of them. The book does have recipes for dishes made with more exotic ingredients such as jackfruit (a fruit that can be shredded and has a meat-like texture) and wheat gluten. But, I'd say start slow and make things from ingredients you are familiar with - mushrooms, carrots, beans and other staples.

Also, get your expectations in check. Barbecue made from shredded mushrooms does not taste like pulled pork. It never has and never will. Yet, diving into a “meaty” sandwich dripping with a sweet, but tangy sauce on a toasty sesame seed bun is one of the summer's great pleasures - carnivorous or not.

Now, that's something we can all agree on.

M. Eileen Brown is the Daily Herald's director of strategic marketing and innovation and an incurable soup-a-holic. She specializes in vegetarian soups and blogs at

Vegan barbecue recipes

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