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tephralynn in food_in_fiction

Vegetarian/vegan characters

I'm working on what I will write for NaNoWriMo this year and I have hit a bit of a stumbling block. When pondering one of my main characters it occurred to me that, due to her species, she'd logically have to be at least vegetarian, if not vegan. She's a fantasy character based off a qilin/kirin which is noted for, among other things, not eating flesh.

So, assuming a technological level roughly equivalent to... let's say 1700s, what would a vegetarian/vegan be eating? I need ideas for all year round since my story will cover at least one full year and a snowy winter will have to be planned for. My climate is roughly equivalent to New England, largely because I know it (Massachusetts). My characters will be living alone in a cottage in a generally wooded area with their own garden but probably not something with a large amount of grain since this area was held and tended by one adult. There will be a town within reasonable distance, and townsfolk would be accustomed to dealing with the cottager for healing and "magic" but not any more than they need to.

The adult is likely not vegetarian, their mythological basis is a phoenix, which is variably described but often includes eagles and herons in the description. I haven't decided yet if the adult character, who will find the kirin based character and take her in as a baby/young child, will know about her dietary restrictions or will have to find it out the hard way. If I do choose "the hard way" what sort of symptoms would the baby/toddler have to show they can't handle meat? I'd assume they'd just vomit it back up and/or have diarrhea, gas, and general intestinal unhappiness.

Comments

Pottage. It's basically vegetables and/or legumes and/or grains boiled/stewed over a fire for a really long time, until it kind of breaks down into a mush. People ate more meat in 18th-century America than they did previously in Europe, because it was more easily available, but I don't think anybody's going to think your character's a super weirdo for eating lots of pottage-y, gruel-y things.

Here are a bunch of medieval vegetarian recipes. There's one for turnip pottage, and some for compost, which doesn't have a thing to do with gardening, but involves cooked root vegetables or fruit in vinaigrette or wine sauce. There's also frumenty, which is basically a wheat version of polenta or cornmeal mush.

Anyway, don't worry too much about a vegetarian diet being super atypical for 1700s-level technology. The diet for common people was already almost there. You just need legumes (peas, lentils) for the protein and iron. Removing milk and eggs will get rid of an important source of high calorie foods for most people, though, which might be an issue, since life before the 20th century involved a lot more physical labor.

I also wouldn't worry too much about not being able to grow enough grain or legumes to live on -- most pea plants are pretty prolific, and don't take up that much room in a garden. Tending a garden, especially if someone is used to subsistence level farming at an 18th-century level of technology, isn't going to be time and labor that's resented, either. Either you do it or you starve to death, you know? The hard part of planting crops is breaking the land -- clearing trees, turning over the soil, removing rocks, etc. That happens once. Subsequent years, the initial process gets easier, and once you have the seeds planted, it's basically weeding and some hoeing up until harvest. Planting and harvesting really only occupies a couple weeks in the spring and a couple weeks in the fall. It's completely plausible for someone to grow enough grains to supplement their diet on their own.

You could also do nuts collected from the woods. Hickory, black walnut, butternut, chestnut, and pecan are all native to North America. People can also make flour from acorns, but involves some roasting and lots of grinding.
Dammit. I wrote you a really long comment, but because I included a link, it got screened. Here it is without the link:

Pottage. It's basically vegetables and/or legumes and/or grains boiled/stewed over a fire for a really long time, until it kind of breaks down into a mush. People ate more meat in 18th-century America than they did previously in Europe, because it was more easily available, but I don't think anybody's going to think your character's a super weirdo for eating lots of pottage-y, gruel-y things.

Here are a bunch of medieval vegetarian recipes: medievalcookery.com/recipes/category.html?veg There's one for turnip pottage, and some for compost, which doesn't have a thing to do with gardening, but involves cooked root vegetables or fruit in vinaigrette or wine sauce. There's also frumenty, which is basically a wheat version of polenta or cornmeal mush.

Anyway, don't worry too much about a vegetarian diet being super atypical for 1700s-level technology. The diet for common people was already almost there. You just need legumes (peas, lentils) for the protein and iron. Removing milk and eggs will get rid of an important source of high calorie foods for most people, though, which might be an issue, since life before the 20th century involved a lot more physical labor.

I also wouldn't worry too much about not being able to grow enough grain or legumes to live on -- most pea plants are pretty prolific, and don't take up that much room in a garden. Tending a garden, especially if someone is used to subsistence level farming at an 18th-century level of technology, isn't going to be time and labor that's resented, either. Either you do it or you starve to death, you know? The hard part of planting crops is breaking the land -- clearing trees, turning over the soil, removing rocks, etc. That happens once. Subsequent years, the initial process gets easier, and once you have the seeds planted, it's basically weeding and some hoeing up until harvest. Planting and harvesting really only occupies a couple weeks in the spring and a couple weeks in the fall. It's completely plausible for someone to grow enough grains to supplement their diet on their own without killing themselves.

You could also do nuts collected from the woods. Hickory, black walnut, butternut, chestnut, and pecan are all native to North America. People can also make flour from acorns, but involves some roasting and lots of grinding.
LJ is being "helpful" again, and also having some notification issues. :P

Ah, my New England childhood history classes definitely left me with an impression of more meat in the diet. It's good to know that she won't get the side eye for her eating habits, the poor thing will get that enough for other reasons.

I might be able to give her dairy, some of the legends for the mythological beast I'm basing her off allow for "milk and honey". Of course others say all she needs are moonbeams and dew on flowers.... :D

I should have remembered about peas being overachievers, goodness knows I shelled enough of them as a kid when we had a very, very large garden. I suspect my adult character will expand their growing area that first year, they normally maintain enough for good crop rotation so they can plant more but will need the extra space for rotating the next year. I hadn't really thought of that before, thank you. :)

And thank you very much for the recipes.
To add to the comment above, also edible fungus, assuming your adult character knows which ones are safe to eat - and those can be dried to keep over the winter if they have the facilities (basically some sort of rack over a steady low heat source).

I hadn't thought of fungus. Google has lead me to a couple nice sites for native fungus (and plants in general) for the region so her diet suddenly got a lot more interesting. Thanks!
Glad to have helped :)
If I do choose "the hard way" what sort of symptoms would the baby/toddler have to show they can't handle meat?

Okay, I'm assuming you mean the species doesn't manufacture the correct enzymes to digest meat, not just that she's unaccustomed to it. I'd say you're on the right track with what you've listed -- symptoms you might find in people who can't digest lactose or gluten. Personally, meat puts me to sleep, but that's rare and might not be enough of a sign for your adult character.

It could be an interesting plot point that the adult has to mingle more with the townsfolk in order to trade for grain and such.
Yes, she's based off an herbivore, as much as mythological beasts can be classified that way, so meat is a problem. I don't imagine a sleepy baby would be much of a clue, but a fussy, gassy one being messy at both ends probably would be. Poor thing.

The townsfolk are going to be a bit concerned about my character turning up in town without being fetched for help. :)
Lots of herbivores will eat meat given a chance. Horses and cows for example.
My family had a pony that stole hotdogs from kids that would stop to pet the ponies at the fair. So a small amount occasionally might not have an immediate effect, true.

Where I'm dealing with a kirin, which is a magical herbivore known for not eating flesh at all however....
I will try, when I get home, to give you the titles of the New England cookbooks I own. They provide a fascinating look at New England foodways in the 1700s through the earliest 1900s; there was a fair amount of meat in the diet, but a lot of it was cooked with vegetables in dishes from which it could just as well be subtracted, such as baked beans.

Also, I have had more than one vegetarian friend describe the symptoms when they have eaten meat/meat products after a long time or lifetime of abstinence from them. The results basically could be summed up as bad stomach and intestinal upsets, with gas, diarrhea, pain, nausea, etc. A baby might show this as 'colic' as in 'chicken broth makes the baby colicky'.

Edited at 2011-10-25 06:48 pm (UTC)
Old cookbooks are awesome. :)

My poor kirin baby, the hard way to find out she can't handle meat is pretty hard on her.
I can either be on a computer or at home but not both, but check this book out:

http://www.amazon.com/First-American-Cookbook-Facsimile-Cookery/dp/0486247104
Thank you, it looks like an excellent book. :)

*switches to anatomy mode for a moment...*

If she's based off a herbivorous species her stomach would also be designed to get more 'mileage' out of grains and greens (which also means she's basically got a potbelly/is plump). Her salads could easily include wild grasses and leaves-the qilin is based heavily off a horse/deer (mythology gives it a deer's body with a horses hooves or a tiger's body with horse hooves...). Let's say it's a multipurpose herbivore, able to both browse and graze, for the sake of evolutionary conversation.
While there is nutrition in grass/leaves there isn't a lot (which is why cows/horses spend so much time eating). Since she's sentient, that means she's got one of the biggest energy hogs of all, a big brain-which means she needs a high protein content-a period source would be lentils (only soy beans have more protein per pound and not by much). So having a lot of lentils in the meals would be a good idea-Lentils are also easily grown in a garden and don't require a field like oats and other 'famous' grains.
The other suggestions listed above are very good ones, although they all are based off human dietary needs/wants (which may be very well what you want^^)
A plant eater digesting meat can be comparable to someone with sever lactose intolerance drinking milk, only slightly more extreme-the stomach simply can not digest the protein source (herbivore stomaches have weaker acids and are more, erm, fermentation tanks than carnivore stomaches and... well, meat doesn't ferment well) and will reject it quickly and try to make sure you get the message to Please not DO this again... hmmm, mild food poisoning is the closest example I can think of in human body responses-feel nasty sick, throw-up, start to feel better fast.
Given the time frame, odds are that oats are very cheap and easy to buy, as would feeder corn (corn is easy to grow a few rows off in a 'backyard' space and likely could be grown, providing starches and sugars for fat conversion (which is actually a good thing, body needs fat for fuel and in your works era she'd be doing a lot more physically related work, which would burn fat off quickly.
That's all I can think off to add to the excellent suggestions that have proceeded me, though I wish you luck in your writing!!

Re: *switches to anatomy mode for a moment...*

I hadn't even considered her body shape could be different. Even if I don't go completely toward herbivore for her (she can't spend as much time eating as a horse would) it would be something to consider.

Mild food poisoning... well that time I had bad chicken will actually be a useful life experience I guess. XD

Thanks! This NaNo should hopefully be easier than the last couple since I have an idea before the 31st for a change. :D