The Accidental Vegetarian

Vegetarian.

I first heard that term when my grandmother had to throw a dinner party for some Indian doctors my grandfather was entertaining and talked about the challenge of being suddenly confronted with having to come up with a vegetarian menu when her husband was a devoted hunter and carnivore. In similar fashion I was a girl who grew up on a farm that raised and butchered most of its own meat, so vegetarianism was a completely foreign idea to me. There were people who didn’t eat meat? Really? The only thing stranger to me was those poor souls who did not eat pork; the thought of not eating bacon was just unimaginable. What religious dictum could possibly be against that salty, smoky goodness?

Vegetarians continued to be a weird, far away sub-culture relegated to hippies and certain religious groups until I was in my late forties and started really paying attention to what I was putting in my mouth. A nutrition class in college, the Food Network bringing mindful eating to the forefront and my own daughter who is an adventurous and healthy cook all inspired me to clean up my nutritional act. But it wasn’t until I dated a vegetarian who worked out and played rugby that I realized my vague discomfort with eating animals could coexist with an active lifestyle and I did not really need to consume meat. It was also around that time I realized a vegan colleague was a yoga instructor and a runner, and I realized that if her relatively extreme dietary habits sustained her exercise routine then I should be able to do it as well; one thing I wasn’t interested in was being constantly hungry especially on spin days when I’m already more ravenous hungrier than usual.

I decided to try being a vegetarian three days a week; it seemed doable enough and as I adopted the trappings of a vegetarian lifestyle I was surprised by how many people have been doing it for years completely unbeknownst to me. It has been fun to query them about their favorite things to eat, how they deal with fast food restaurants and generally coping with being a vegetarian in a world of carnivores. Three days a week morphed into four days a week  then five as I experimented with tofu and bean burgers and the loss of bacon in my life. Websites like Food 52 and Thug Kitchen became culinary romps which opened my eyes to how fantastic plant based eating can be and my fear of being constantly hungry proved completely unfounded. One day I looked at my shopping cart and had an epiphany; I had not purchased meat in two whole months! Somewhere along the way my body quietly decided it wasn’t interested in being a carnivore any more and it manifested itself in my shopping habits. I realized that it was probably time to come out as a vegetarian.

The rest of the world was sometimes surprisingly obstructionist about my newfound interest in not eating meat and since I come from a large “foodie” family who happens to enjoy hunting for their own food in similar fashion to my grandfather I was worried they would think I needed intervention; you can’t get much more carnivorous than someone who does that sort of thing. I chose last Christmas to inform my family of my vegetarian status and softened the blow by bringing an amazing roasted vegetable lasagna to the holiday dinner which was a hit. They were skeptical and I weathered the inevitable “does that mean you don’t eat chicken” question, but once I assured everyone that I didn’t care what they ate it was business as usual. The family has been far more tolerant than the random friend or co-worker who gets defensive about my meatless lifestyle and tries to shame me about it which has happened a couple of times.  You can’t argue with the numbers, though. My doctor who at first asked me if I had lost a bet when I told him I was a vegetarian called me after my routine yearly blood work astonished by how great my counts had become; apparently a 35 point reduction in my LDL was a very big deal.

It has been just about a year since my shopping cart revelation and I am finally hitting my stride with this dietary choice; the eating part has come fairly naturally and with the exception of the occasional longing for bacon I don’t find myself missing animal products in the least. My cooking repertoire has expanded to include some amazing vegetarian dishes, many of which can be done reasonably quickly. Strangely the most difficult part has been breaking the news to people and it took several months before I could make the announcement without using the same hushed tones one would use for admitting a felony conviction or voting for Donald Trump. At some point I realized I was in it for the long haul and began to own the lifestyle, and while it wasn’t a primary motivator it really does feel good not to be contributing to the suffering of the animals we share the planet with. Winner, winner, vegetarian dinner.

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