Friday, September 6, 2013

Planting seeds of change: A vegetarian experiment

It was in a relatively benign post four weeks ago when I realized something rather interesting, or at least interesting to me.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?


  1. We went vegetarian because we felt better when we didn't eat meat... but we're not crazy strict about it. If we go to someone's house for dinner and we're served unavoidable meat, we'll eat it, no big deal. I'd say just make it work for you, but you don't have to make it any bigger than you want. So it can be a preference and you rarely have meat... but then if you're making a meal and think "man, I really want the meat in this," then go for it!

    1. I like the way you think! The more people comment, the more I realize I don't need to be anything nor do I need to make a big deal. Please let me be chill like you!

  2. Clinical studies have found that casein, a protein in all dairy products, blocks the absorption of antioxidants and renders them useless to our body.

    Eggs vs. Cigarettes in Atherosclerosis - One egg a day (whether standard, free-range or backyard) equals smoking 25,000 cigarettes.

    Eggs Linked to Cancer Progression

    Get healthier (and kinder) by going vegan!
    21-Day Vegan Kickstart

  3. I would agree with girlevolving - why place some arbitrary label yourself? Just keep doing what you're doing and if you feel like eating a burger, eat a burger. If you feel like eating quinoa, eat quinoa!

  4. My husband is a vegetarian (was when I met him) and since I don't like to cook and he does, I eat vegetarian. I would say 75-95% of my meals are vegetarian. I don't ever feel like I'm missing out on anything, I've found new foods that I really enjoy and I do feel better. :) It's easier than I thought to get plenty of protein through plant based food. That's the biggest myth about being a vegetarian I think.

    1. I never felt like I had trouble with protein as people think, either! I ate eggs, will likely never give up eggs, and rotated in tofu, beans, lentils. Never a problem. I also think that of eating tons of protein is overrated and a balance of foods to feel satiated is the key.

  5. I gave up meat for Lent several years back and while I eat meat again, I loved it. I tried so many things that I never would have otherwise and we eat vegetarian for several meals a week now.

  6. i went veg for about 5 years while in college and slightly after (mostly b/c i got quite granola-y around that time..) one thing that was nice about it was that i learned about all kinds of foods that can make a healthy, satisfying meat-free meal. while i think that being vegetarian can be healthy, i also think that eating a variety of real foods makes more sense for me now. I'd say we mostly eat vegetarian at home (as per my weekly meal plans), but if i'm out and there's meat in something i want, that's fine with me. i don't really like placing labels on myself - i prefer to be free from that and just choose real, whole foods. and i really enjoy cooking with vegetables, though there are challenges with making a complete meal out of them at times. but that has worked well for me and my family too. good luck with whatever you choose!

    1. I think the key is real foods. The little challenge helped me to put greater emphasis on real foods, especially at lunch when it's easy for me to pack for convenience. I love your meal plans - always so inspiring and delicious! I borrowed your favorite cookbook from the library and need to just buy it. So many great ideas!

  7. As I've posted, I tried to be vegetarian and actually for a while vegan. I do believe that we aren't supposed to eat animal products but I also found out that I was very very anemic during the process. I don't know if it matters or not if I was/wasn't eating meat because even after putting a bit of meat back in my diet, I am still anemic and need helping getting my iron up. I'm sort of confused with it all and would love to go vegetarian again but I don't know if I will get enough iron. I tried leafy greens. At the time I found out I was anemic, i was juicing every morning with tons of kale and spinach. I eat healthy foods rich in vitamins and yet it wasn't enough. I wish I had an answer for myself :)

  8. I'm a vegetarian also and since I've started this habit, I've learned to plant different veggies in our empty backyard.

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