Sooooo … it’s been exactly 6 months since I went vegetarian. Correction: flexitarian. Except, as it turns out, I have been less than flexible and more of a strict pescatarian. Whatever. You say tomato, I say veggies and rice with an occasional side of salmon.
Initially, I wasn’t flexible because I was afraid if I started blurring the line too early I would just eat whatever and not really give this experiment a chance. However, the longer I went without meat, the weirder (and, frankly, grosser) it seemed to me. I simply had no interest in going back. Some people seemed baffled by my preference for kale over chicken, and I was equally baffled that it is normal to eat dead flesh. Sorry. It was less of a value judgment and more of a weirded-out-I-can’t-believe-I-used-to-eat-that judgment.
The pendulum has slowly swung back and I had my first post-vegetarian meat dream a few weeks ago. (Dirty!) The entire dream consisted of me eating prime rib. I woke up hungry. Actually, I’ve been craving meat since Christmas and don’t know if it’s due to all the Christmas goodies or (more likely) because I’m iron deficient. I admit I haven’t been good about taking supplements or educating myself on complete proteins – despite the great resources out there (hello, No Meat Athlete!). I think I was a little cocky and figured I eat pretty healthfully so I don’t need to worry about it. I do. So, that’s my bad, and hopefully once I get back on track I will stop having dreams filled with juicy filets and game day hotdogs.
Now that I have 6 months under my belt, I thought I’d answer the five most common questions I’ve heard since quitting cold turkey (pun!)
This is the question I always try to avoid. My answer is pretty straight forward: part health, part distaste of factory farming, with a dash of “why the hell not?” I do believe the American diet is too meat-heavy, and all of the hormones, antibiotics, and chemicals involved in the process scare me. Especially the hormones. Of course, I could just buy organic meat, but then most is still raised and processed in a factory. This is where I start feeling awkward. Because my answer is pretty hippie, and living in Oklahoma I have a hard time not feeling pretentious when I talk about it. I know the problem is in my head, but terms like “ethically slaughtered” are just not that prevalent in the Midwest (although things are changing). So, when I respond that I don’t eat meat because I believe the standard process is inhumane and disgusting, there is a voice in the back of my head telling me that I will be judged. Of course, I just need to get over it and OWN IT because it’s my belief and my diet. I don’t judge others for eating meat, so I hope they won’t judge my choices, too.
2. Don’t you get bored?
Hmmmm … my initial reaction to this question is always a resolute NO! I am actually less bored with what I’m eating now than when I was a carnivore. I used to approach a meal in the standard way: pick a protein, then sides. I ate “chicken and _____” or “ham and _____” etc. But when you remove what used to be the basic building block of a meal, your options open up and you’re forced to be creative. Now, instead of having baked chicken and veggies again, I might have coconut and red curry rice or leak and parsnip stir fry or roasted acorn squash. Of course I don’t have to be a vegetarian to have those meals, but removing what used to be the centerpiece of a meal made me a lot more creative and excited about what I’m cooking!
Of course, it’s still easy to slip back into a rut, and when I decided to change my diet I wanted to be sure I didn’t just end up fixing salad and stir fry every night (shut it, Eric). I’ve had a lot of fun trying out new produce and cooking styles. My M.O. is just to find what’s on sale and buy it. Even if I don’t know what the heck to do with it, I can figure that out when I get home. This way I’ve tried new (to me) things like roasted beets and rutabaga and various grains. A lot of the time my problem (and I think it’s the same for most people) is that I have a kitchen full of food that doesn’t add up to any actual meal. If you’re thinking of being a vegetarian (or just wanting to try healthier foods) but don’t know what to buy to actually create whole and varied meals, I highly recommend checking out this post from Katie at Sweet Tater. It’s basically my kitchen bible!
On the other hand, I am getting pretty bored with restaurant food. In some ways being a vegetarian is easier – at least, I can look at a menu and eliminate 98% of the meals and badabingbadaboom I know what I’m ordering. Of course, living in Oklahoma this often means that I’m getting another salad or another veggie burger or another grilled cheese sandwich. Gah! I mean, I like salad and grilled cheese is damn good, but consistently having one or two options can get old.
To be fair, I might be being a little hard on my home state. Part of it is that I get lazy and go to the same four places (in my neighborhood) all the time. If I venture further into the city there are options and it’s just getting better. I’m pretty impressed with how many new vegan and local restaurants are popping up, plus we have had a slew of natural and specialty grocery stores open up this last year, so I think we are trending toward more veggie-friendly options.
Edited to add: Friday night Eric and I tried out a new Spanish restaurant, Très, and holy god it was delicious! And they had a ton of vegetarian options – even an impressive amount of gluten-free meals. I do think things are getting so much better, and so I eat my words – or my veggie polenta cakes and sticky black rice. Mmmmmmm…
3. Isn’t it expensive? Or have you saved money?
No and no, or yes and yes – depends. I am definitely saving money not purchasing meat from the store, and once in a blue moon a restaurant will actually lower the price if I request something sans chicken. However, I am more than making up for it by shopping at Whole Foods and buying things like goat cheese and organic kale. I haven’t done an actual budget comparison (although I’ve thought about it) but I am pretty sure it has equaled out.
4. Did you lose weight?
Initially, yes, but I was also running. And I’ve put it back on over the holidays. I easily fluctuate 5 pounds or so at any given time and it’s been no different since going veggie. I personally think a vegetarian diet or minimal meat diet is healthier (obviously not an RD or anything – just my opinion), but anyone can eat well or eat junk regardless. I am pretty sure that my recent diet of (veggie) pizza and (veggie) grilled cheese and cookies has been substantially less healthy than my colleague who had baked chicken and salad at lunch. So, you know, it’s not a miracle diet or anything.
5. Do you think you’ll stay vegetarian?
Hmmmmm …. now this question … I don’t know. Meat dreams aside, this has all been somewhat of a big experiment for me. At first I thought I’d be super flexible, then I wasn’t at all but LOVED being vegetarian and was totally grossed out by meat, and now I’m kind of craving it. I think I will probably start eating meat again, eventually. In fact, I will probably become what I originally set out to be – a flexitarian – and have the very occasional hamburger when I feel like it’s ethical, like on an organic/humane farm or something. For now, though, I am still a little grossed out at the idea of meat and I want to be sure I don’t just need some vitamins!
Edited to add: I wrote most of this earlier in the week (today is Sunday). The last few days I have been conscious to eat healthier and more balanced meals and I don’t have that craving anymore. We’ll see…
Are you a vegan/vegetarian/pescatarian or other? Are you a proud carnivore? Why do you eat the way you do, and have you ever thought of trying out a new way of eating?