Raven: I respect that you don't eat meat. Please respect that I don't eat fake meat.
In real life, the various forms of vegetarianism involve eating a multitude of different foods as long as they don't contain poultry, red meat, or fish (contrary to popular belief, pescetarianism is not considered vegetarianism) or are cooked alongside them. In fiction, this is watered down considerably. Characters will eat diets consisting of mostly tofu, common vegetables, and random "health foods" that their non-vegetarian friends find odd or even gross.
This is often the result of many vegetarian foods using foods that are considered Stock "Yuck!", such as tofu, various vegetables, and "vegetarian substitutes." Fictional vegetarians also don't tend to cook these foods in appealing ways, either for comedic exaggeration or due to the writer's lack of knowledge on veg-friendly recipes, and will mix foods in a way that makes them have a Bizarre Taste in Food. Seeing characters eating plain tofu is very common, despite the fact that most people don't eat tofu like that. In real life, many vegetarians don't even use tofu as a way to get protein and they don't eat veggie burgers or veggie nuggets (instead opting for foods that are naturally vegetarian-friendly).
This may be slowly becoming a Discredited Trope. The late 2010s saw a massive investment boom into meat substitutes and vegan products as consumer demand for the same rose, and it is much easier in general for the average person to maintain a varied vegetarian diet than it was even a decade or two ago. Alongside a big marketing push for plant-based food, this has meant the stigma towards vegetarian food among non-vegetarians has waned a fair bit over time.
As with many food tropes, this is culturally dependent and can invoke Values Dissonance. In countries with a large vegetarian population or in cultures where tofu and soy products are common, such revulsion to these foods is unusual.
Often overlaps with If It Tastes Bad, It Must Be Good for You and Nondescript, Nasty, Nutritious, as many vegetarian foods are relatively healthier than their non-vegetarian counterparts. Sometimes a character eating unconventional foods is one of the signs they're an Evil Vegetarian.
- There was once a Scooby-Doo comic, where Shaggy and Scooby have a meal of artichokes and hummus. The pair visibly grimace while eating the meal, and Shaggy declares that the food tastes of "old paste".
- In FoxTrot, Andy frequently makes "health food" of this style for her family. Easily the worst example is when she took this approach to fruit salad — which is vegetarian to begin with — and protested that the ingredients she used (pumpkin, peas, tomatoes, beans, and eggplant) are biologically fruits.
- One The Far Side cartoon has a pack of lions disgusted to discover that they've caught a "tofudebeest".
- In one Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin is not particularly pleased when his mom serves him a vegetarian dinner. To be fair, it looks quite similar to the unidentifiable gruel she serves him regularly.
Calvin: I'm not a vegetarian! I'm a dessertarian.
- One Zits strip has Walt offering his wheatgrass juice to Jeremy. Jeremy immediately spits it out, describing it as "licking the underside of a John Deere lawnmower." This "vivid imagery" results in Walt himself dumping the juice down the sink.
- In Bedtime Stories (2008), Skeeter's health-nut sister hosts a birthday party for her daughter Bobbi, with donkey rides and a gluten-free wheatgrass cake that nobody wants to eat. When he walks in and asks what smells so bad, some kid says, "It's the cake." He quips, "What did she make, donkey cake?"
- The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes:
- Casey goes to Thanksgiving at his father's cousin's house and ends up being served beets, brussels sprouts, lentil stew, spelt bread, and unsweetened cranberry apple pie with whole wheat crust. After the meal, his father comments that he's never going to become a vegetarian.
- Laurie, Abby's mother's friend from college, is a hardcore Straw Vegetarian who will not eat anything non-organic, subsisting almost entirely on nuts, seeds, soy products, and the like. Abby is not pleased when her mother tries to follow Laurie's example and buys her papaya peanut granola instead of her favorite Tooty Frooty cereal (which Laurie likens to "eating a bowl of chemicals every morning").
- Zenobia July: When Phil and Lucy take in Lucy's orphaned niece Zen, they aren't used to having a kid in the house, so all they have to eat is vegan health food. At first they pack Zen's lunches, but after they send her to school with a mysterious green goop that she's afraid to try, she talks them into letting her buy her own food.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Wounded", much humor is made out of contrasting the culinary tastes of newlyweds Miles and Keiko O'Brien. First Keiko makes her idea of breakfast: kelp buds, plankton loaf, and sea berries. Miles isn't very enthusiastic about it (and shows an expression of shock and disbelief that this stuff is really food), but Keiko argues that it's healthy. Miles's suggestion of muffins, oatmeal, corned beef, and eggs is met with shock by Keiko. Attempts to introduce her to scalloped potatoes, mutton shanks, oxtails, and cabbage are met with equal disinterest. It's not stated whether or not Keiko is vegetarian, but perhaps she sticks to fish.
- Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Downplayed. When Rebecca tries to turn a new, healthy leaf, this includes eating mainly vegan and vegetarian food. When she and Greg go on a date to a taco festival, she insists on only eating vegetarian tacos, and while she seems to like them, Greg insists they can't compare to a juicy meat one. And sure enough, at the end of the episode, she completely abandons her healthy pledge and devours a pork taco before sleeping with a random dude.
- Downplayed in Parks and Recreation. Health nut Chris is known for eating stereotypically healthy, frequently vegetarian food to the horror of proud carnivore Ron. In one episode instead of bringing cake (which, while vegetarian, is made with eggs and dairy), Chris brings a disgusting vegan vegetable bread to the dismay of many.
- Another episode features a taste test between a fancy, artisanal turkey burger versus Ron's simple meat-and-bun burger with optional ketchup. Everyone immediately declares Ron's burger better. (Downplaying this trope using a "healthy" meat rather than a veggie burger is so uncommon that numerous online sources make that mistake in recapping the episode)
- An episode of The Cosby Show had Denise whipping up a healthful vegetarian menu for her young stepdaughter's birthday party while Cliff cracked snarky remarks about each dish, including a scatological description of some veggie burger mix (as yet uncooked) she was preparing.
- Reboot (2022): Gordon complains about how appetizing a doughnut with bacon is (since he's Jewish and bacon isn't kosher). A PA immediately comes up to tell him that the doughnut is gluten-free and the bacon is made with beans. He immediately throws it away since it's lost the appeal.
- Breaking Bad: In the first episode, Skyler presents Walter and Walt Jr. with imitation veggie bacon strips with their breakfast (including setting up the Running Gag of Walt's birthday age being spelled out with bacon strips). Both are very hesitant to try it, and from Walt's grimace after tasting it, Skyler claim that "you won't even taste the difference" might not be as true as she claims.
Walt Jr.: I want real bacon, not this fake crap.
Skyler: Too bad. Eat it.
Walt Jr.: This smells like... Band-Aids.
- Cards Against Humanity: One of the white cards is "A joyless vegan patty."
- In A Very Long Rope to the Top of the Sky, when Deidre makes vegetarian food for Mint, she's the only one who likes it.
- In the Fable series, tofu has highly uncomplimentary Flavor Text, but improves the Karma Meter to eat.
- In The Long Dark you can find frozen vegetarian airline food, which appears to be just mashed potato with pieces of broccoli. The player character is Too Desperate to Be Picky, though, and says that "Never before has the vegetarian option looked so good". The vegetarian food is also a less valuable resource than the equivalent chicken version, as it weighs the same but contains fewer calories.
- Stardew Valley: If you talk to Haley, she may comment that her sister Emily does most of the cooking in their house, but she usually makes "weird stuff" like quinoa.
- Streets of Rogue: The playable Cannibal's backstory states that they are morally opposed to animal meat, but also think vegan food is gross, which leads them to Take a Third Option by eating human meat.
- In the Brandon Rogers video "Darlene is Spiritual," Darlene and her wife Kathleen are so vegan that they don't even eat plants. Instead, they only eat mud.
- Adventure Time: In "Her Parents", Lady Rainicorn's parents present Finn and Jake with a picnic lunch of imitation human. Rainicorns used to hunt humans, but humans haven't been present in Ooo for centuries (with the exception of Finn), they've only ever had a soy-based substitute, said to taste exactly like the real thing. The imitation human looks like piles of grey, shapeless mush that oozes some sort of dark liquid when prodded, making Finn and Jake very reluctant to try it (although Finn has another reason to not want to taste it). Then, it's subverted when it turns out to be very delicious.
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force: In "Revenge of the Trees" for the Labour Day cookout Frylock brings "T-Bone Steaks"...and as their bland, white coloring implies, the "T" stands for "Tofu".
Frylock: (Tempting Carl with a cut) Look at that cut of bean...
Carl: (Angrily drops cooler) OK! Have a crappy Weekend! Hope your house burns down!'
- In Arthur, "Sue Ellen Vegges Out" is about Sue Ellen becoming a vegetarian, with Muffy and Francine doing it too as a personal contest between them. At the mall, Muffy goes to a chicken restaurant and asks if they have vegan items; the worker puts mustard on a slice of pickle and serves it.
- Being Ian has this all over the place in the Kelly household, such as tofu waffles ("toffles") and "soy-rup". "Hurry For Hollywood" has a health food store that takes it even further with "foods" like topsoil, literal mud pie, and compost smoothies, to the point that even Vicky, the resident health nut mother, is repulsed enough by it that she shoves it back in the employees' faces and jumps out the window.
- Chef McMuesli from Camp Lazlo is known for his disgusting vegan recipes. None of the campers enjoy eating them.
- Sam from Danny Phantom has been shown literally eating grass on a slice of bread. Her friends (especially the meat-loving Tucker) find it less than appealing. In the first episode, she single-handedly gets all the meat taken off the school menu to the approval of no one, making the bullies target Danny by association.
- Played with in Scooby-Doo cartoons when Shaggy was a vegetarian. The food he eats is vegetarian and gross but only because it's a vegetarian version of his usual Bizarre Taste in Food, like eggplant burgers covered with chocolate and hot sauce.
- South Park: "Let Them Eat Goo":
- When the girls campaign against the school serving meat for environmental and health reasons, leading Cartman to counter-protest. To appease him, the girls and P.C. Principal quietly replace the meat with plant-based Artificial Meat, and he doesn't notice. When he does find out, he explains that he doesn't care since it's fundamentally the same "processed crap that comes in a box" he's used to, shaming the girls.
- Double subverted in the same episode's B-plot, where Randy gets the whole town hooked on his plant-based burgers. He openly admits that they "taste like shit", but he made them from marijuana so nobody cared about the taste and just bought them to get high.
- The Simpsons:
- "Lisa the Vegetarian": When Lisa asks if the school is required to offer a meatless meal option, Lunchlady Doris serves her an empty hot dog bun.
Doris: Yum. It's rich in bunly goodness.
- In the "Treehouse of Horror XI" episode segment, "G-G-G-Ghost D-D-D-Dad", Marge refuses to serve Homer any dessert until he eats his broccoli. Homer reluctantly eats it and dies as a result. When Dr. Hibbert observes Homer's body, he tells Marge that broccoli is actually one of the deadliest plants on Earth, trying to warn people with its horrible taste.
- "A Star is Torn" serves up a slight variation of this trope when Lisa persuades her family to try going vegetarian. The others like the taste of the food (despite Homer calling a mushroom a "rubbery, fungus-like steak"), but fall ill due to it being a sudden and dramatic shift from their usual diet.
- In a later episode, even Lisa, of all people, admits that vegetarian diet (even if disguised as meat) tastes boring and plain, but she does it anyway out of morality.
- "Lisa the Vegetarian": When Lisa asks if the school is required to offer a meatless meal option, Lunchlady Doris serves her an empty hot dog bun.
- Beast Boy from Teen Titans (2003) is vegetarian due to being a shapeshifter; he feels uncomfortable eating animals when he's been most of them. He is most frequently seen eating tofu and soy products (including uncooked blocks of tofu); however, none of his friends are interested in trying them. His meat-loving best friend Cyborg especially hates vegetarian foods.
- The vegetarian "health food" or "natural foods" cuisine embraced by the hippies of the late '60s and early '70s was found to look and taste unappealing to much of the mainstream population. This is why vegetarian food is stereotyped as being heavy, brown, and bland, even though meat-free cuisine can indeed be tasty, appetizing, and beautifully presented.
- Artificial meat substitutes in general are the biggest offender; a meat lover who otherwise happily eats their veggies still won't take kindly to them when they're gadding about pretending to be meat, poultry, or seafood. Specimens that do taste somewhat decent are usually off by a mile when it comes to texture (the fibrous consistency of muscle tissue is not an easy thing to fake), with even the most toothsome varieties still wholly unable to fool your typical meat eater, and for someone unused to them, the perceived nastiness of artificial meats goes up in proportion to the expectation that they will taste reasonably similar to real counterparts.
- "Impossible" ground beef substitute is very close to the real deal in terms of taste and texture, but as if to reinforce a related trope, it's also not that much healthier and has almost the same number of calories as real hamburger meat (whether it comes from an animal or plant-based source, fat is still what's really needed to create a good flavor). A similar problem dogs several of the attempts to emulate a fried chicken patty using things such as wheat starch; making it work requires a substantial amount of fat, sodium, and carbs to produce a convincing flavor.
- Linkettes, a vegan hot dog made by Loma Linda, don't quite match the flavor of the real deal, but have a unique texture and taste that is often considered quite palatable in its own right. Unfortunately, they too are about as unhealthy and loaded with calories as an actual frankfurter.