I’ve gotten several requests to write a kind of “vegetarian how-to” post, and explain a little more about my own food lifestyle. I try not to pass judgment on others, whether they eat meat or don’t; I don’t think a vegan is more saintly than someone who enjoys buffalo jerky, or vice versa. I do, however, think it’s important to keep an open dialogue with ourselves when it comes to health.
I’m not a health care professional; this is merely what works for me. If you have any medical concerns, speak with your doctor or someone else appropriately equipped to help.
Let me be honest: I can be a little brat* sometimes.
When I was younger- around 10 or 11, but old enough to know better- I staged a not-so-silent protest at the dinner table. My parents had invited a couple people over, and my dad made one of his specialties: rabbit stew. It took hours to prepare, and everyone was excited to eat it. So what did I do? Went into my bedroom, scooped up a handful of stuffed rabbits that were sitting on my bed, and lined them up on the table to so their beady little eyes could silently pass judgment on our dinner guests. I probably ate the stew that night, but it was one of the first times I can remember really thinking about where my food came from.
One day when I was 12, I decided I wasn’t going to eat chicken or red meat anymore. This happened to be a Monday, which was the day when my family roasted a chicken for dinner; we’d eat the leftovers in chicken salad later in the week. My dad had already bought the chicken, and asked if I’d mind waiting until the next day. As an angsty pre-teen, I most certainly did mind.*
A month later, a friend joined my family for a weekend at our country house, and I was excited to share “the best ham sandwich in the world” with her from the local deli. It was only when I was licking the crumbs from my fingers that she looked at me with a big smile, asking, “Are you still a vegetarian?” I was mortified and felt sick to my stomach. How could I have forgotten?!
I continued to eat pescatarian, but when I was 16, cut fish out when a boy I liked, who was completely vegetarian, encouraged me to give it up. The things we do for guys! A year later, while at a new boyfriend’s fancy birthday dinner, I decided, on a whim, to order salmon. For the past 8 years, though, I’ve kept pescatarian (with a 7-month period of veganism thrown in there). I eat vegetarian and vegan about 90% of the time, and really only have fish if I’m out to eat. It’s the eating-style I’m comfortable with, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out. (I do want to cook more fish at home, though, and just have up a couple of wild salmon filets in the freezer.)
When people ask me why I stopped eating meat, I have a simple stock answer: too many Disney movies! But on a more serious level, when I think about why I continue to eat the way I do, I attribute it to a mix of reasons: the ethical issues I think about when I consider eating animals, the current state of the US food industry wherein much of the “meat” we consume bears little resemblance to the animal it came from, and the growing body of research about the health effects of consuming animals and animal proteins.
It’s also, frankly, habit. I haven’t eaten chicken or red meat in 13 years, so it’s not hard for me to resist chowing down on a hamburger at a barbeque. I don’t even think about it. It does, however, make it incredibly easy to tell when something contains chicken stock, or my scrambled eggs at a diner have been made on the same skillet that cooked bacon minutes before. My palate completely changed, and I lost a taste for those things.
*To be clear, I don’t think the idea of becoming a vegetarian is in itself “bratty,” but there can be nicer ways to express yourself!
When you’re beginning to eat a different way, it can be a real challenge. There may be people around you who don’t understand why you’re suddenly giving things up, and may even think you’re passing judgment on the way they live. Close friends and family members may think you’re only looking to lose weight or make things more difficult. (If you are struggling with disordered eating, I urge you to seek help from a licensed professional.)
Be respectful. If you’re going to someone’s house for a meal, let them know you’re vegetarian as soon as you receive the invitation.
Planning ahead. If you’re going out to dinner, look at the menu beforehand to make sure there are things you can eat. If you don’t see a dedicated vegetarian item, look at some of the appetizers and side dishes and see if you can combine a few things to make a meal. If you’re still not finding anything, call the restaurant and explain you’re vegetarian. Chances are, the kitchen has experience accommodating meat-free clients. As a last resort, explain the situation to your friends, and try and pick another restaurant where everyone can find something to eat.
Meal planning. The idea of making over your kitchen can be overwhelming. What can I even eat?! You’re probably wondering. Unless each meal and snack contains a big plate o’ meat, it’s not as hard as you think. Before you go to the grocery store, read through cookbooks and food blogs and find a couple recipes you want to try that week. Pinterest can also be a great way to keep track of and trade recipes you like. Some of my favorite vegetarian recipe blogs are:
In the beginning, or just to make things easy on yourself, meal planning can be really helpful. Now that I’m back in school, I find it really saves time to write down my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the week. I don’t wander around the grocery store aimlessly, I don’t waste as much food, and I don’t stare into the fridge every night wondering what to eat.
You can use this template for grocery shopping to help you figure out what to buy. I can start posting my own lists after I shop, too, if that’s helpful.
Vegetarianism: What does that mean for me?
It took me a long, long time to realize that I’m a perfectionist. I expect that things will go 100% “right” the first time, and if they don’t, I think I’ve failed and I give up. When you’re changing your diet, it’s easy to get frustrated and feel defeated. Say, for example, it’s 2 AM and you’re out with your friends and all of a sudden you’re eating the most delicious hot dog of your life. It’s not the end of the world! You have to be the one to define what vegetarianism means for you. You may not even choose to define yourself as “vegetarian” or “pescatarian” or “carnivore.” I don’t really like labels, anyway. I just try to eat healthfully about 80% of the time, but still indulge 20% of the time. It’s not an exact science, and I don’t like rigidity, so sometimes that could be 20:80. The important thing is not to beat yourself up. You’re doing this for YOU.
How did you come to eat the way you do? Do you have any tips for someone looking to change their food lifestyle?
We have a new favorite dish at home, and triple bonus! It’s freaking delicious, easy to make, and healthy. It tastes really comforting and decadent, like your favorite creamy mashed potatoes. But unlike those potatoes that are loaded with butter and half-and-half, this cauliflower won’t leave you on the couch with your pants undone, waiting for that heavy post-Thanksgiving feeling to pass.
CHEEZY MASHED CAULIFLOWER
makes 3-4 cups
- 1 head cauliflower, roughly chopped
- 1/2 c water
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1/2 small yellow onion, chopped
- 1 T olive oil
- 1/2 c milk of choice
- 2 T nutritional yeast
- 1/2 t. salt
- freshly ground black pepper (I usually use 20 cranks)
- 1/4 t chili flakes, optional
- 1/4 t dried sage, optional
In a medium-sized pot, bring water and cauliflower to a boil. Cook until cauliflower is tender and easily pierced with a fork, 5-10 minutes. Drain water.
Meanwhile, heat oil and sauté garlic and onion until onion is soft and translucent, 5-10 minutes.
Transfer half of steamed cauliflower to a food processor and process until nearly smooth. You may need to scrape down the sides from time to time. Add milk, rest of cauliflower, onion + garlic, and process until nearly smooth. If you have any large chunks of cauliflower, you may need to use a knife to cut them smaller. Pulse in nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, chili and sage.
Serve warm, and enjoy!
The uses for this mashed cauliflower are countless, and I’m hoping to get some new recipes to you soon!
Here are some ideas to get you started:
-try it topped with your favorite pasta sauce, some spinach, and a little cheese.
-serve it with baked tofu (I’ve been using this recipe for over four years!) and steamed greens
-topped with black beans, guacamole, Greek yogurt, avocado and hot sauce
-spoon over this mushroom gravy and serve along side steamed or sautéed veggies (see photo above recipe)
Thanks to everyone who entered The Good Bean giveaway! The winner is:
Congrats, Rachel! Please send me your mailing address so we can get your goodies on their way!