Can the Sharing Economy Co-Exist with the American Dream?

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global report by Nielson on the share economy found the US to be less receptive to the new sharing economy than Asian-Pacific countries. The survey showed 81% of Asian-Pacific respondents were willing to rent from others, while globally 68% of respondents were willing to share or rent personal items.

Marketing firm Leo Burnett conducted their own study “The Sharing Economy: Where We Go From Here” on the US market, looking into how Americans are interacting with the sharing economy. The study found Americans to be sharing less than their international counterparts, with the report suggesting the average American is unlikely to embrace the sharing economy, largely because of the high value Americans have traditionally placed on ownership. The report noted:

“For most Americans, owning a home and a car and advancing the next generation higher up the economic ladder are still the defining characteristics of the American dream of success.”

Based on a sample of 4,500 participants, the report found only 1 in 20 Americans have participated in well-known companies driving the share economy such as AirBnB, Uber and ZipCar. Indeed only 1 in 3 participants have heard of AirBnB. However it should be noted that a sample of 4,500 participants is also unlikely to accurate reflect the nation’s collective level of engagement in the sharing economy.

There seems to be a polarity between the research that have suggested the US is less receptive to the sharing economy, and the reality that many disruptive game-changers driving the share economy have been conceptualised in the US. Silicon Valley is certainly a testament to the fast-paced innovation that makes the US one of the leading countries driving international participation in the sharing economy.

The sharing economy has arguably never been driven purely by altruistic motives, and its success has more likely rested on “people’s practical needs and their ability to save or make money.” Tellingly, 52% of Leo Burnett survey respondents said they agreed with this statement, “I think most people would rather own than share, if they can afford to.”

Perhaps the more revealing question to ask Americans would have been, “would you monetise your possessions if given the opportunity?”

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How to Be a Vegetarian and Peacefully Co-Exist at Meal Time

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How to Be a Vegetarian and Peacefully Co-Exist at Meal Time

So you’ve decided you’d like to become a vegetarian, or maybe you already are. Welcome to the club. I’ve been a vegetarian for over a decade, and while it wasn’t always easy, I’ve learned to incorporate my food choices into my family and social life with the minimal amount of friction and hassle on both sides. Here are some tips for co-existing with our omnivore brothers and sisters at meal time.

Explain Your Choice Without Insulting Others

How to Be a Vegetarian and Peacefully Co-Exist at Meal Time

If you decide to eat vegetarian, great! But not everyone will be so accepting. You might be doing it reasons that are environmental, financial, medical or religious. Some omnivores might not think twice about it, while others may get a little judgmental or defensive. Unless you’re looking for an argument, it’s a good idea to try and stave off the debate early on.

If you tell others you are a vegetarian because you are a guest in their home or business (see below), don’t feel the need to elaborate on the reasons. The reasons are irrelevant in the context of accommodating your request. State your dietary preference like you would a gluten or lactose intolerance. If someone asks, you are welcome to volunteer a reason. Your answer should focus on your opinion and outlook, however. Avoid making statements that attack the other person’s eating habits. Instead of “I’m a vegetarian because killing animals for food is wrong,” try “I’m a vegetarian because I personally couldn’t kill an animal, even to eat.” Ultimately, these philosophical arguments happen, but avoid attacking the other person’s choice and they are less likely to attack yours.

Assure Your Family That It Won’t Be Complicated

How to Be a Vegetarian and Peacefully Co-Exist at Meal Time

Again, being a vegetarian is a personal decision. If other members of the household don’t buy in, that’s their right, same as yours. When I first told my family I was a vegetarian, everyone felt attacked. What about Thanksgiving? How could we ever celebrate it again? Calm them down. Assure them that this is your personal decision that you won’t impose on others. Most likely meals will have a bit more variety as you try more vegetarian dishes along with the family favorites.

If you feel uncomfortable around meat, things become a bit more complex. Up until this point, you’ve already been eating meat so you may have to adjust just like they will. Avoid eating meals at a separate time, though—having meals together is important to healthy families.

Allow the rest of the family to eat meat around you, and make tasty vegetarian side dishes that you can use as a primary meal. If you aren’t the primary cook in the household, offer to cook that vegetarian alternative. You’ll get a meal you like without giving them extra work—plus you get to spend some quality time with them in the kitchen.

My husband and I made the vegetarian experience a partnership by going to some local cooking classes. Cooking classes as a couple can be fun, and once he tried a few recipes with tofu, he actually started liking it and requesting it for dinner. The kids can join in as well (if you have them).

Learn the Easy Vegetarian Substitutes

How to Be a Vegetarian and Peacefully Co-Exist at Meal Time

One of the best ways to integrate your vegetarianism is to have a vegetarian “version” of what everyone else is having, at least from time to time . (They can even try it if they want). There are a few ingredients that are staples in “vegetarian conversions:”

Seitan for beef or chicken strips or cubes: Seitan is wheat gluten mixed with some minor flavorings. It’s thick and “meaty.” The best use case is stir fry and fajita, but feel free to drop it into chili and stew. Setian is already cooked, so it needs a short bit of time in a recipe. For example, when I’m making a stew in the crock pot, I’ll drop the seitan in at the last hour. Seitan is easy to make at home, or you can buy it prepackaged.

Tofu crumbles for ground meat: When you freeze tofu and then defrost it, the structure changes. Instead of being a thick block of gelatin-like substance, it becomes crumbly. Defrost the block and squeeze out the liquid and you’ve tofu crumbles. You can replace ground meat with crumbles in most recipes. Tacos, lasagnas and casseroles work great with tofu crumbles. In most recipes you’ll need to reduce the cooking time (the tofu is already cooked) and increase some of the spices. Tofu absorbs the flavor of most recipes, so you’ll want to up the spice a bit so the tofu doesn’t absorb too much.

Portabella Mushrooms for burgers: A portabella mushroom has the same shape of a burger: round and thick. They go great on a bun with toppings. Be warned there are mushroom haters out there. I’m married to one. Try veggie burgers instead.

Be a Respectful Patron When Eating Out

How to Be a Vegetarian and Peacefully Co-Exist at Meal Time

Since we vegetarians are a minority, you may find your options limited at many restaurants. We’ve shared some of the common options you’ll find, so definitely be on the lookout for those veggie options when they’re available. You’ll also want to watch out for hidden meat in recipes. Soups in particular are often made with chicken stock and beef stock for enhanced flavor. This doesn’t include just main courses, but drinks as well. Check out a bottle of bloody mary mix—it often has beef juice in it for that umami effect. Even a seemingly vegetarian dish such as sauteed vegetables might use bacon grease as a flavor enhancer.

Unless a restaurant specifically says the item is vegetarian, you’ll need to ask the server. Be polite (see the first section) and request the server to check on the ingredients. Some restaurants simply will not reveal ingredients. It is their right to keep this proprietary information confidential, and as much as it sucks, you aren’t going to change their policies. Other times, recipes can’t be changed even if it sounds easy to leave something out. Restaurants sometimes make ingredients in advance and these can’t be changed on a diner by diner basis. Move on.

If you are a vegan (no egg, no dairy and sometimes no honey), eating out is a greater challenge. Vegan substitutes cost more and many places can’t easily accommodate those needs.

You’ll also have to expect that while you may make a vegetarian or vegan request, ultimately you are dealing with human beings working in a mixed kitchen. Cross-contamination will occur. If the restaurant serves meat, your food will probably be cooked with utensils that have touched meat. Eventually, someone will accidentally put bacon bits on your salad even though you requested them not to. Be polite, be respectful, don’t take it as a personal affront and for heaven’s sake, don’t stiff them on the tip because of it. However, feel free to give an extra tip if they went out of their way to accommodate you.

Ideally, you’ll have the least amount of trouble going to a vegetarian restaurant, or a vegetarian-friendly omnivore restaurant (yes, they do exist!). Yelp specifically marks vegetarian friendly restaurants and most major cities have at least a few, if not many. If it’s your choice to pick the restaurant, do some research in advance. Don’t go to vegetarian only restaurant unless everyone else is on board. That’s an easy way to tick people off.

Be a Gracious Guest When Going to Someone’s Home

How to Be a Vegetarian and Peacefully Co-Exist at Meal Time

When invited for dinner, unless asked about your dietary preferences, you’ll need to accept that the food you will be served is not in your control. As a guest, you are there for the company probably not the food. Personally, when hosting guests, I always proactively ask “Are there any dietary needs I should accommodate?” But unfortunately, not every host will remember to do this.

Instead of asking a host to accommodate your needs, be polite and offer to bring something as a side dish or a main course. Make sure that’s something you’ll eat as a primary meal so bring enough for all the guests and then some. If they decline your offer, accept it and move on. If you think you’ll be hungry, have something to eat beforehand.

Unlike when you are in a restaurant, don’t ask how food is cooked and if there is any hidden animal products. This can make the host uncomfortable and they may feel bad that they didn’t ask about your dietary needs. If avoiding meat is important to you, then you have to balance your social and dietary needs.

Social events such as weddings or birthday parties should follow the same rules. If given a choice, choose the vegetarian option. Don’t call the host and ask them to accommodate your needs. You aren’t there for the food, you are there to enjoy in the festivities. The last thing newlyweds want to worry about is that “one cousin” that will say no to both chicken or fish.

When I’m unclear, I eat something beforehand. If I’m in doubt about anything being served, I simply say I’m not hungry because I ate earlier. That’s true because I did! People will understand, and if not, it’s really their problem. You didn’t push your vegetarianism on them so they shouldn’t push that bacon on you.

How to Be a Vegetarian and Peacefully Co-Exist at Meal Time

Other social events use food, and meat in particular, as a focus. For Thanksgiving, I always bring quinoa as a side dish and few people think anything of it. We’ve got a list of other side dishes as well. Believe it or not, few will notice there isn’t turkey on your plate. The focus is on conversation and community, not the individual dish on the plate.

If you are attending a summer barbeque, portabellas go great on the grill as mentioned earlier. The crowd pleaser at barbeques is watermelon thrown on the grill. Try grilled peaches as well.

At the end of the day, your vegetarianism is your choice and you have your reasons. With these tips you can be a vegetarian while living and socializing with others that aren’t.

Images by Brian Hagen, Hamed Parham, Jon Fingas, LABabble, lovesituation, Tom Mascardo, Michael Lehet and Gary Paulson.

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