August 11, 2010

On Being Vegetarian

I wasn't always a vegetarian.

Up until 8 1/2 years ago, I was an omnivore. I loved meat. Chicken, bacon, steak, lobster, shrimp....I ate most things except for lamb, veal and other animals that I deemed "too icky" to eat. I never really thought about what I ate....if it was on the menu, and it looked good, I'd order it.

I did know some vegetarians, and they intrigued me. My step-mother is a life-long vegetarian, and my ex-best-friend was too, among others. I remember years ago asking these people questions about vegetarianism. I was intrigued. What did they eat? What were their reasons for not eating meat? Did they miss it? The answers I got were as varied as the people answering. Some people gave up meat for ethical reasons, some because of health issues, some because they simply did not like the taste of meat. And of course, everyone's diets varied, as expected. I remember talking to one friend about being vegetarian. I clearly remember telling her that I could do it, but that I would miss tacos too much. She replied that I simply wasn't ready yet.

On March 5, 2002, I was ready. I decided to try it for one month. I figured that anything less than one month wouldn't really be giving it a fair shot, and anything more than one month may seem daunting. I had just turned 32, and was ready for something new. That day was the first day I went vegetarian. One month later, I renewed my commitment for another month...then another...then another....and soon I wasn't renewing anymore because it was already part of who I was. I have not had any meat---beef, chicken, pork, seafood, etc--since that day.

A few months into going vegetarian, I read the book Fast Food Nation. While it is a fascinating book all the way through, what really got me was the chapter on how they kill the cows and chickens in the slaughterhouse. It really grossed me out, and made me really sad for these poor animals. That totally sealed the deal for me. No more eating animals.

My reason for being vegetarian is strictly ethical. Sure, I enjoy the health benefit--my cholesterol is very low--but that is a side benefit. In fact, when I first became vegetarian over 8 years ago I GAINED weight! I was suddenly eating a lot more cheese products and junk food and my weight climbed up 20 pounds. I lost that immediately (thanks Weight Watchers!) and quickly learned healthier ways of eating.

At first I missed meat terribly, but now I don't miss it whatsoever. There are so many vegetarian recipes that keep me satisfied. I am always on the prowl for new cookbooks and love to buy them or check them out from the library. And so many traditional meat dishes can be made using soy substitutes (like Morningstar Farms, Boca or my new favorite, gardein). I still have tacos, veggie burgers, sausage and bacon, but it's all made with these fabulous and tasty soy-substitute products.

I am not a vegan (someone who eats no animal products whatsoever, like eggs, dairy or honey). I do eat a lot of dairy, and use eggs in my cooking. I have no interest in going vegan, although I do make a concerted effort to buy milk and eggs that come from free-range animals. One thing that is my biggest pet peeve is when people ask me if I eat fish. No, I don't eat fish; fish is an animal. I know there are people out there who call themselves vegetarians and still eat fish, but that is not correct. They are pescatarian (or as I heard once, veg-aquarium!).

I am not raising my kids to be vegetarian. If J was vegetarian as well, then of course it would be a different story. But I believe that what you eat is a personal choice. I made my choice for very specific reasons, and I want D and A to come to their own conclusions. Of course, in the house all they get are vegetarian dishes; I will not cook meat, so all the meals I make for them, whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner, are meat-free. However, I will let them order a hamburger or chicken nuggets or whatever if we are out at a restaurant. If they come to me in a few years and want to be vegetarian, I will happily support their decision. If they choose to remain omnivores (and by the way they both love meat I think they will!) then that's ok with me too.

I love to cook and it is so fun and satisfying to make delicious and healthy food. Tonight I made homemade hot-and-sour soup and wontons. See? Being a vegetarian doesn't have to mean sacrifice! And I love having to think about what I eat before I put it in my mouth. Asking questions, reading labels, studying ingredients---it's important for me to know so I don't accidentally eat something with meat. Meat hides in things---many foods are cooked in chicken broth, for example--so I need to be vigilant. I'm glad I've made this choice. It's a lifestyle that I will always have. For me, there is no going back.


  1. Our Teen has been vegetarian for 2 years. We are not but her diet has influenced us to eat less meat. Her reasoning is similar to yours and she shows no signs of going vegan. She will eat fish and shrimp occasionally.

    (You did not put the url in your tweet about this post.)


  2. Ashleigh's BFF from school is vegetarian. Her whole family is for religious reasons....very interesting to talk to them about it. I don't know that I could become vegetarian. The one thing I worry about with vegetarians is that they supplement their diet with the protiens and iron, etc. you get from meat. I'm sure you do! Vegetarianism can be a very healthy and satisfying diet. If you watch Dr. Oz you'll know his wife Lisa is vegetarian. I believe she is a nutritionist and has awesome cooking ideas and recipes.

  3. Being meat free definately does not mean giving up flavorful food, if anything it opens doors-if you're willing to do the research and experiment a bit. I know I feel better when I eat less meat and have made an effort to have more meatless nights in our house. It used to be just once a week but now it's more like 3 nights a week. It's good for all of us, and it's great for my grocery budget, good quality meat is expensive!


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