The vegetarian question

This might be the most personal and serious post I’ll ever write, but it’s something that’s been on my mind for months. This is the story of how I went from eating cheap, factory farmed meat to having what I’d say is a 90% vegan, whole foods diet.

Yesterday in the kitchen at work I was reheating my coconut black bean orzo when a guy I don’t even know asked if I was a vegetarian.

As I’ve slowly cut out animal products from my cooking I’ve been getting more and more questions.

A question like this from someone I don’t know threw me back a bit because it made me realize that to most people it’s weird to see a meal with no meat, but to me it’s not weird anymore. It’s completely normal. Having meat in something I’ve cooked is not even a consideration anymore – it simply doesn’t enter my mind. A few months ago I’d have to think hard about what kinds of meatless meals were realistic options, and it was difficult.

Thanks in huge part to food blogs, I’ve started cooking with so many different types of food and I’ve learned enough to make endless amounts of meals for myself. Sure, I still use recipes every now and then, but I don’t need to.

Questioning where my food comes from is another thing that happened from reading food blogs. I was introduced to Michael Pollan‘s book, In Defense of Food, and it changed my life.

I couldn’t believe I’d never even thought about what happened to my food before it arrived at the grocery store. How had I never bothered to look at the disturbingly long list of unpronounceable ingredients and question if they were actually healthful?

I’ve always loved food, and so does my family. We’ll travel literally hours to eat at a restaurant we’ve heard about, and there’s always a food show playing on TV. It never occurred to me to question where that food came from either. All I knew was that it was good.

Although In Defense of Food isn’t about animal welfare, it got me interested in factory farming as well. I started reading a lot of articles online and other books relating to farming and animal welfare.

When you first start learning about the horrors of factory farming, it’s so terrible that you automatically assume it’s some made-up story by a hippie tree-hugging liberal. But once you keep researching it, and actually think about the logistics of producing meat for literally hundreds of millions of people’s multiple meals a day, you start to understand that it isn’t possible to provide these animals with the humane treatment no one would argue they deserve.

This is in addition to the quality and health of the meat. These animals are kept in such horrid conditions that they’re often routinely fed antibiotics to keep them from getting sick and dying. They are pumped full of growth hormones and who knows what else so that they will grow at a sickening and unnatural pace. What goes into these animals ultimately goes into you.

(photo by Karen)

After a while I just couldn’t justify eating meat. I stopped buying it completely, and started opting for vegetarian meals where possible when eating out. In the back of my mind I felt it was wrong to continue to eat dairy and eggs as well, but it was difficult to switch completely. Eventually I couldn’t escape the fact that as far as I can tell, animals raised for dairy production have deeply unhealthy, tortured lives as well, only they aren’t slaughtered to be eaten.

I know there’s the argument that animals are killed during the farming of vegetables, so what’s the point? My point is that I want to do as much as I can to reduce animal suffering. No one is perfect, but I think if more people made an effort to have a reduced meat or meatless lifestyle, things would be a whole lot better. I think we’d be a healthier, fitter nation, and I think it would go a long way in reducing needless animal suffering.

(photo by Karen)

A lot of people also have an odd obsession with protein. How will you get enough protein?? I eat  tons of beans, nuts and foods like quinoa, which is a complete protein.

I honestly have never felt better since I started eating this way. I used to have horrible stomach cramps every day, and I finally figured out it was because of all the processed, greasy foods and dairy I was eating. Once I switched to oat milk, stopped eating cheese and fried foods, I felt great.

I feel like I’m still not where I want to be in terms of diet, but I’m getting there and doing what I can for now. I’m not perfect, and I don’t expect anyone else to be either. This is why I don’t like labels and as of right now will not call myself anything. I don’t like telling people yes, I’m vegetarian. Or yes, I’m vegan. I have exceptions, and I have gray areas. Maybe in the future I won’t, but I do for now.

As of right now my diet stands at this:

– Vegan cooking at home with whole foods. I buy very few processed foods and I don’t eat things like white sugar (refined sugar is white because often animal bone char is used in its production). I make all my dinners, and almost always pack my breakfast and lunch for work the next day.

– While eating out, I take the vegan option first. If there isn’t one, the vegetarian option will do. If there’s no vegetarian option then I’ll make a decision about eating meat.

– If a friend or family is cooking a meal for me and there’s meat, I’ll eat it. This is the most difficult one for me because as strongly as I feel about health and welfare issues, I also think so highly about the importance of eating meals with people. All of our major holidays are based on coming together as a family or friends and eating together. If a friend goes out of her/his way to prepare a meal for me, I’m going to eat it. The following paragraph, taken from the food blog, Eat the Love, sums up this feeling:

A macrobiotic vegan friend of mine (the man doesn’t even drink tap water) once told me that despite the fact that he doesn’t eat meat, doesn’t eat processed wheat, doesn’t eat refined sugar, he would go home to his grandma’s home in Tennessee once a year for the holidays and she would make meatloaf and fried chicken and collard greens with bacon and buttermilk biscuits from lard and sweet potato pie and pecan pie and red velvet cake. And throughout the entire trip, he would eat everything placed in front of him. I asked him why he would do that, why he didn’t tell his grandma that he would prefer a tofu scramble over chicken and waffles. And he responded back to me “because when you eat the food that someone makes for you, you are eating their love. You are eating the love.” Not everyone has the luxury to eat whatever is placed in front of them (due to allergies, health reasons, religious or moral reason) but that doesn’t mean they should be left out of the love.

I don’t feel at all like my diet is restricted or that I won’t still be able to appreciate food as much as I did before. In fact, I think I appreciate it more than ever and I can’t wait to keep discovering new things to eat and new places to try.


22 thoughts on “The vegetarian question

  1. Good on you for making the switch! Once you get through the first few weeks meat doesn’t even enter your mind anymore. The reason I stopped eating meat came down to how the animals are treated – it simply is disgusting. The question should be “how can you eat meat?”

  2. Great post =) I have been “officially” vegetarian for six months now, although it was a pretty natural and gradual progression for me. Like you, I cook nearly vegan and settle for vegetarian when I eat out. I don’t eat meat at other people’s houses, although this was something I struggled with and the main reason it took me so long to commit to vegetarianism.

    Have you read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer? He addresses the question of vegetarianism and whether it prohibits people from eating together and sharing old family histories about food, and takes on Pollan’s arguments about this. I think he does a good job and it’s a great read =)

    Thanks for posting.

    • Thanks! I have read Eating Animals, and I thought it was an absolutely fantastic read. He’s such a talented author, and I thought the book was entertaining but at the same time highly informative.

  3. What a great post on being veggie! I really need to read In Defense of Food. And once you get in the habit of cooking/eating vegetarian–it really is so easy! People get stuck on the idea that a meal has to have meat…yet now, I have no idea what to do with cheese even, much less meat.

    • Thank you 🙂
      I can’t believe you haven’t read In Defense of Food! Although, it seems you’re already well on the right track so probably no need! Still an interesting read though.

      • It’s definitely on a “read some day” list, but yeah–I find that a lot of the veggie books I read don’t tell me a whole lot new/that I didn’t already agree with. Which is still interesting, but isn’t as compelling as being presented with a different point of view.

  4. I love that quote! I have come to really similar conclusions about my own eating habits, and it allows for freedom and life when others graciously host you. Thanks for such a thoughtful post 🙂

    • Thank you! I actually read that quote a long time ago before I even started this whole thing but it always stuck with me. I’m glad to hear other people feel the same!

  5. Inspiring!

    Remind me of all the reasons I strive to eat less and less meat; and use fewer and fewer animal products. Also reinforces my practice of eating love – love that phrase to describe the concept. No labels!

    Beautiful post!!!

  6. I LOVE that you’re marching to your own drum and not letting other people influence your choices. I have been want to eat more whole foods more often but I always fall victim to Splenda and processed flours and sugars. It’s quite difficult to change my line of thinking (food=comfort) so I’m pretty impressed that you’ve done so well at it.

  7. I love that you read that paragraph buried in my “about this blog” page and it stuck with you all this time. Thanks for quoting me!

    Though I’m not vegetarian or vegan by any means, I whole heartedly advocate eating more whole foods, less processed foods and humanely raised livestock if you choose to eat meat. I’ve slowly been cutting down my meat intake, though I haven’t made the jump to vegetarian yet. Perhaps one of these days. In Defense of Food was a great book, but the one that changes the way I looked at food was Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle, a year of food life.

    Which reminds me, I am way overdue in making a vegan dessert. I haven’t posted one in ages. I must get working on that immediately…

    • I loved it – I found it months and months ago I think. With so many food blogs out there it’s nice when you read something that sticks with you.

      I agree about humanely raised livestock. I wouldn’t have a problem eating meat from a farm I was familiar with, which my parents are able to do in Ohio but is a bit hard for me in London.

      I’ll definitely check out Animal Vegetable Miracle – thanks for recommending it!

      And I look forward to your vegan dessert 🙂

  8. Pingback: Remember when I went to Copenhagen? | realfunfood

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