One year ago today, my daughter insisted that she be a vegetarian. Now I know this is pretty common among the pre-teen girl set, but she was dead set on doing it. I’ve seen other mothers let their kids flounder with it, give up after a month, just because it makes dinner so much easier. I don’t blame them at all. In fact, I would have done the very same thing, except it seemed like it might not be such a bad idea.
I had flirted with this idea several decades earlier, but it really was just that. I bought a book, read it and then decided that I probably wouldn’t eat about 80% of the stuff in there. But I was older, wiser, so I thought it was worth a try. My excuse was that if my kid was to be a vegetarian, then, well, I’d go too, to make sure she did it right.
For the record: we are vegetarian, not vegan. I limit dairy. We also eat some fish. Not a lot. Husband has to avoid shellfish, for one. Maybe once every week or so, unless at the beach. Then it’s like once a day.
So, a year later, I present, the Top Ten Things I’ve Learned Being a Vegetarian.
- You can be a vegetarian while living with a carnivore. OK, he prefers omnivore and rightly so. My husband does eat all sorts of food and he’s much better about the sweets than me or my daughter. Still, he does like to have a slab of meat at dinner. To say he was angry one year ago today would be an understatement. He was upset that I even entertained the idea. He was concerned that going vegetarian would not give my daughter the nutrients she needed to get through puberty. To be fair, she was going through puberty, growing 6 inches in the past 3 years. But, a quick visit to the doctor (who introduced me to the China Study) assured us that if we ate smart, we’d be just fine. And, the husband found out that we started to eat a lot of vegetables he had always loved and I just never made. So, we might have roasted root vegetables, and he does too, along with a little pork chop he makes. Or not. Sometimes he’ll go meatless too.
- There’s a big bad world beyond tofu. I read a post today talking about the pitfalls of going vegan. (I haven’t gone that far yet, although I do try to limit dairy if possible.) One of the problems was all the meat substitutes and that they were really expensive. Most meat substitutes are, of course, made of soy. Soy’s a great source of protein, but really, if you go vegetarian, why would you want to eat fake meat? It’d almost be better to just eat good quality meat, wouldn’t it? In fact, we eat tofu maybe once a month. It’s processed soy, and it’s processed food that’s really the biggest problem in our food supply. (Well, ok maybe it’s corn subsidies that give us this overabundance of hybrid corn that can’t be eaten by humans in its native form, but I digress.) And, soy is in everything, so you can get too much soy. (Note: I am not saying do not eat soy, but to vary your diet. And, eat it and anything else as unprocessed as possible.) Just eat vegetables, grains and nuts, folks. That’s the basis of your diet. And guess what? Things like oatmeal, beans, turnips, carrots … they’re all pretty dang cheap. Heck, even nuts, deemed so expensive, can be purchased for about $4.99 a pound. How much does a pound of meat cost? And I mean a good pound of meat? Be smart about it, examine local sources, shop around. Remember, those processed foods are being subsidized by your government, which is why they are cheap. They’re also really not good for you, no matter if you’re vegetarian or not.
- Most restaurants don’t get it. Here’s an example: joined a group of friends down at a new local restaurant that remains unnamed because I’m hoping they improve. They get a fair amount of their supplies locally and try to go organic. Vegetarian would be a slam dunk, wouldn’t it? Wrong. Their sandwiches included: chicken, turkey, ham, burger. They had six different omelets: one was vegetarian. Their spinach salad: spinach, onions, bacon, hard boiled egg. I tried to order the oatmeal (made with milk); no longer served. If I was vegan, there really would be absolutely nothing I could eat here. And places like Chick-Fil-A live up to their name: NO vegetarian options. The good news is that most places like this you don’t want to frequent anyway. (Don’t get me started about the anti-gay policies at Chick-Fil-A.) Most places will kind of work with you. Some (like my local Mexican place) you will have to give up. I’d also add that you just need to be flexible. You might eat soup made with chicken broth. Guess what? For the first 46 years of life, I ate chicken broth. A little bit here and there isn’t going to be what kills me. Flexibility, people. Flexibility and baby steps. Still, it doesn’t hurt to develop a love of cooking. (And chopping. Lots of chopping. But I like chopping, so it’s all OK.)
- Pressure cookers ROCK. I finally got wise enough to buy a pressure cooker. I say I’d marry it if I wasn’t already. Much more here and here.
- Protein? No problem! Again, if you eat right, you’re gold! Nuts, beans and whole grains are all good sources of protein. Vegetables, even, have protein. You get in trouble when you eat like the average American and just leave the meat portion off the plate. Then you’re unbalanced. You’re going to have to eat greens, and beans and nuts. But then again, MMM! Greens, beans and nuts! (And if you get your protein from cheese, think again. All you’ve done is swap a lean protein source (most meats) for a saturated fat one. Not a good idea.)
- It won’t make you skinny. If you’re going vegetarian to lose weight, it’s for the wrong reason. You aren’t going to get as much protein (you’ll get enough), but you’re going to need to graze most of the day. I’ll hear people say “I haven’t eaten all day” and I think “Mon dieu, HOW?!?!” Here’s the short story to my path here: terrible eater –> Weight Watchers (great program) –> SparkPeople.com (I still use this from time to time, love it) –> vegetarian. By the time I got to that last step, I was already eating a lot of vegetables anyway.
- It does make the holidays weird. My husband warned my mother-in-law that we would bring a dish and that we wouldn’t eat the turkey. “Not even a slice? For Thanksgiving??” She was very sweet about it, but definitely baffled. And I was grateful that I brought this lovely casserole, because the sides wouldn’t have been enough. (And to be fair, I do the same thing with my mother as well. Not fair to expect them to adapt to a different eating style and that’s totally OK.) With a little adapting, you can keep the holidays very fun.
- Resources galore. There’s an endless supply of resources. Good grief, it never ends! Just look at what I’ve linked to in this post alone. Cookbooks, apps, blogs (great advice for runners), more blogs (where I learned about pressure cookers), even more blogs (yummy bean and nut burger here) … google what you need and you will find it. It’s really incredible.
- Cooking is easier. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s actually kind of easier. Sure, you gotta remember to soak the beans in the morning, but that takes a minute and then it’s 15 minutes with a pressure cooker and they are done. I don’t miss all that having to be careful with the meat juices or the cleaning up after the cheese stuck to everything. And when I do (because someone in the house still loves cheese), I think “ugh that is in my stomach??” You will be chopping. But, I like that. OK, not so much rutabagas, but the rest can be fun.
- There are more out us out there than you think. You’d be surprised who is following this same diet as yourself. Proof that you can be a vegetarian and not be an arrogant prick about the whole thing.
What did I miss, folks? I’m sure I missed something. It’s only been one year, after all!