Over the course of a given day - or even given week - I did not consume a lot of meat. While some family dinners were planned around whatever animal protein was on sale that week, my breakfasts and lunches were often plant- or carb-based. Sometimes it was a matter of money - a bag of lentils to make five lunches is far cheaper than a pound of lunch meat; and at other times it was a matter of nutritional profile, as protein-rich plant-based foods are full of better things for less calories than their animal counterparts.
And so I made a decision: If eating meat was not a big part of my life, maybe it didn't need to be a part of it all. I challenged myself to go meat-free for four weeks to see what it was like. I wanted to see if eating vegetarian made me feel better, if it affected how I ate and, more importantly, whether I'd miss meat.
A vegetarian lunch: Edamame, Chickpea and Green Bean Salad served with jasmine rice and garden cherry tomatoes
I didn't tell many people about it, much less blog about it, because I wanted it to be something I did on my terms, for my reasons and free of other people's concerns or interests. Mark, of course, had to know and I disclosed this new eating preference(?) to my Nuun family for their planning purposes but otherwise, I was mum.
While I wasn't a strict vegetarian - eating seafood twice - in the four weeks that ended today, I did my best to live the way I thought one would. (Yay for stereotypes!) In the process, I learned a few things.
1. Eating vegetarian isn't synonymous for eating healthy. Among the few people I have told about going plant-based, I have gotten a surprising response: "I should probably do that, too." I can't be 100 percent sure of their reasons for saying it but my gut says it's because they think it will make them healthier and/or help them lose weight. But yeah ... no. On the way to the Chicago 'burbs on Saturday, I heartily ate a veggie burger and sweet potato fries from Burger King. The veggie option there is great but the processed bun, mayonnaise and deep-fried side are far from most definitions of healthy.
Vegetarian dinner: Cheesy grits with Cajun Chickpeas. The omnivore version subbed chickpeas for ground chicken.
2. Cooking for an omnivore while eating like a herbivore is challenging. When I decided to take on this lifestyle, so to speak, I never considered asking Mark to do it. He would be fine to eat pasta all day, every day, but by the end of the week, he'd like a meatball or ground sausage in his sauce. I did my best to (plan) prepare meals that were simple and could easily involve the addition of meat rather than those required the inclusion of it. We ate pasta with Italian links on the side. I made burgers - meat for him and homemade, bean-based for me. Tacos were also a good choice as it was easy to make a filling and cook up some beans. I don't believe cooking this way added to our budget nor do I really think it saved us money.
3. I ate a lot more interesting foods. During Hood to Coast, for example, we stopped at a brewery after the first legs for van 2. The menu was awesome, filled with gourmet burgers and pizzas, tasty fish and salads topped with meat. However, I spied something on the menu that I would have never considered before - a Southwest Quinoa dish. It had avocado, corn, beans and roasted red pepper sauce - a combination that was mind-blowing at 11 p.m. I've also had the edamame salad, a soup with sweet potatoes and black beans and crispy tofu.
4. I felt like I wasn't a "good" vegetarian because I didn't have an ethical or moral reason for doing it. Many people who choose to eschew meat (rather than chew it - ha!) are doing so because they feel strongly about the environment, treatment of animals or the quality of food. I, however, was doing it to doing it. It felt almost silly to me when I was around other vegetarians, and I (stupidly, probably) allowed myself to feel inferior.
5. I didn't miss meat. This surprises me a lot but, day-to-day, I don't feel like I'm missing out on particular foods. Let's take last night's dinner: I made grilled bacon and cheese sandwiches with soup for the boys and merely omitted the bacon for myself. The bacon did look good but I wasn't dripping at the mouth as I cooked and, honestly, as I'm out for a week to rest my hip, I would have skipped it for caloric purposes. I didn't miss having a beef burger at Burger King nor did I grow envious when my friend ordered Garlic Chicken (vs. my vegetable rice noodle dish). Unlike a "diet," I never felt like I wasn't allowed to have it. I just chose not to.
Dinner: Vegetarian taco salad
Of course, this leaves me in quite a dilemma - what to do next. Do I want to continue being vegetarian, even if I have no particular reason to do so? Or do I want to add in meat because "I can"?
Honestly, I'm undecided. It seems easy to continue on with it - after all, it's now a habit after 21+ days - but I know there are going to be occasions, namely visiting Cincinnati with its chili, where I am going to want meat. It's easy to give it up when I wasn't used to having it but giving it up all the time is a big decision.
One that I hope will make itself.
So tell me: If you're a vegetarian, was it a big decision or did it happen on its own? Tips and tricks?