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Why I’m a Vegetarian

I wasn’t always a vegetarian.  In fact, I used to be one of those people that wanted to try exotic things like crocodile and quail.  But I was never completely comfortable with meat that resembled the animal from which it came.  I much preferred a chicken breast to a chicken wing because you could pretend that the chicken breast was a staple like any other piece of food and not something that belonged to a living creature.

veggie burger with avocado salad

But I moved in with Jon who is a vegetarian and I didn’t want to worry about things like having separate pans for the meat and the vegetables.  So I gave up meat and chicken, but still ate fish because life is not worth living without fish.  I didn’t eat eggs when you could see the eggs (like scrambled eggs or eggs benedict) but I didn’t scrupulously ensure that it wasn’t in cake or other desserts.

beans and corn stir fry and tabbouleh with bulgar

It wasn’t very hard at first.  There are many fake meat products that you can use made by Morningstar Farms, Quorn and Gardein.  Morningstar Farms isn’t very healthy – it’s junk food for vegetarians because all their food is American cuisine like burgers, chicken fingers, sausage, bacon, etc.  It’s too processed and not very healthy.  I will admit that I’m still eating their veggie burgers but I’m trying to exhaust my supply so I can switch to something like the nutburgers that Cali’s Natural Foods sells.  Quorn is awesome because it’s a fungus (like mushrooms) and tastes delicious!  Gardein is my latest favorite because their “chicken” is very tasty and a great way to get extra protein that isn’t 100% soy.

South African curry

I finally gave up eggs and fish altogether after reading Eating Animals.  I won’t go into the details because I’m sure anyone reading this has already made up their mind either way and me lecturing on the atrocities committed by factory farms isn’t going to change your mind.  If you’re curious, you should read that book.  I heard that The Omnivore’s Dilemma is also good, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.  I still get cravings for meat (especially steak and chicken wings) and I’m horrified by how much I love the smell of a barbecue restaurant that we bike past every week.  But it wouldn’t be a sacrifice if it was easy, right?

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There are many benefits to being a vegetarian.  It’s better for the environment, I have more energy, it’s a moral choice, etc.  But it’s also made me a better cook.  It’s very easy to make food where meat is the centerpiece and the vegetables are for garnish.  I rarely use a meat substitute so vegetables are the real focus of the dishes.  This makes it a challenge to have enough variety.  I usually pick up recipes from the Internet but after reading so many people talk about their love of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, I finally caved and bought it last week.  So far so good; now I’ll have an even greater repertoire of recipes.

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Readers, I’d love to read about your experiences with choosing to eat meat or when you decided to be a vegetarian.  So please leave comments!

14 Responses to “Why I’m a Vegetarian”

  1. Shannon says:

    Well, I had the opposite history. When I was 16, I became a vegetarian and stayed one for the subsequent 30 years following. However, after experiencing breast cancer and thyroid problems, it became necessary for health reasons to reintroduce chicken, turkey, and the occasional fish. Since having had health problems, I have tried several times going back to being a vegetarian – for all the reasons you mention. But my body needs more now and can’t always handle the substitutes. Still, I try to make better choices about meat sources by shopping for organically/humanely raised meats at my local co-op. It is the best I can do. It is sometimes a real dilemma!

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Wow, that would be really hard Shannon. Humanely raised meats make such a difference. I don’t think I could go back to eating meat but if I did, I wouldn’t feel as bad if it was non-factory farmed. Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Brittney says:

    Omnivore’s Delemia is a great book. I’m almost done with it and find it better than In Defense of Food.

    Before I got sick I was vegetarian, and you could still call me vegetarian now but the medical nutritional products I have to use are all whey based. I can’t tolerate meat and eggs are okay sometimes and sometimes not so I don’t usually eat them. If I had my choice, I’d be vegan. I think it is healthier and better for the environment if you have the right outlook on things and make the right choices. I decided to be vegetarian because I didn’t like meat and being vegetarian seemed healtheir anyway.

    All the food you have pictured look great. The South African Curry looks especially good!

  4. Tiffany says:

    Interesting!
    And her South African Curry, is delicious!!!

    I stopped eating birds when I was 8 years old, after my family started a small farm. In addition to fantastic vegies, of the things was free range chicken and turkey. We only did turkeys once (6 of them), but they were so friendly, it was traumatizing to everyone. I stopped all meat by the time I was 18, in between those ages I didn’t eat much. I was familiar with vegetarian food as my maternal side of the family were historically largely vegetarian for religious/cultural reasons.

    I do buy eggs and milk, not much and always organic, free range. The milk is family farmed and certified by the humane society. Eggs are from pasture chickens. We eat vegan several times a week. I love cooking, especially Indian, Mexican and my comfort Russian food.

    You do what you can, making a conscious choice. I’m pretty “anal” about food and think I’m pretty lucky just to have all the options I have.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for answering guys! Brittney, the South African curry is amazing. Let me know if you want the recipe. It’s from the Moosewood cookbook.

    I couldn’t eat a bird after it was part of the family either. If we have a farm someday, I hope I can still use dairy after having cows and goats. I love cheese so much and vegan cheese is a poor substitute.

  6. dguzman says:

    Fascinating post, Elizabeth. I had always thought about going veg because I love all farm animals, but I always just fell back on the “I won’t feel full without meat!” idea. But my ex was vegetarian so I went veggie (but not vegan) for seven years. Reading Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” also turned me completely against all corporate meat/food producers.

    I truly felt vegetarianism was the best way to live–especially as a bird watcher–though I too still had cravings for meat sometimes. Still, about a year after we broke up, I tried a little tuna now and again; then I ate some turkey last thanksgiving. Now I eat meat occasionally, just whenever I feel like it–but only chicken (organic and local farm-raised) and some tuna. (I’m not really a fish fan.) I will never eat beef or pork again, nor will I eat any mass-produced poultry or fish. It’s just too disgusting to think of how meat is produced by most of the big corporations.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    I always wonder if I could go back to eating meat. I bet it would upset my stomach terribly. A few years ago I had some tartar sauce, not thinking about all the egg that was in it and I was so sick. I bet that eating steak would be like aversion therapy for me.

  8. Cindy from Sinclair says:

    It’s important for people to think about their food – what they eat, why they eat it, and how they prepare it. Fast food especially is something that is pretty appalling – the calorie load, the fats, the “who knows what” is in it factor… Food should be a pleasure in life. I think when you savor food, you’re a happier person. At least I am.

    I’m not vegetarian, don’t believe it’s a healthy choice for me. I experimented with seriously reducing meat and all saturated fats in my diet and got sick – bad hair, nails, caught every virus that came by. Moderation is the key. Now we eat more vegetables simply prepared. We limit red meat to a couple times per week, we eat more poultry and fish/shellfish. We eat a lot of dairy now that I’m no longer lactose intolerant… I cook mostly from scratch and if it comes in a can – it’s unsalted, low processed or from my own “canning”. My goal is to eventually get to the point of only eating meats from local farms where the critters are humanely raised. But this is so expensive and nearly impossible in rural GA where our local grocery carries things I can’t even look at much less consider eating…

    I think the best book I’ve read about food, farming, and choices is “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”. It’s about becoming a locavore and eating responsibly. Were more of us to consider where our food comes from and the carbon footprint our food choices make – I think the debate about food would be radically changed. Consider the cost on the planet of getting that tomato or orange to Minnesota or even here in Georgia in January…

    Let’s hope I still feel as motivated come January… :-)

    Thanks for the interesting discussion. :-)

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Can you raise chickens? That might help.

    I’m all about locally grown stuff, but it really is expensive. Yesterday we bought sandwiches from a store that only sells local foods. They were delicious vegan sandwiches filled with eggplant, artichokes, tomatoes, etc., but it was tough to pay $7 for each 3/4 size sandwich.

  10. Beloved Parrot says:

    My father was a meat packer, so being a vegetarian was about as foreign to us as eating ostrich.

    When I fell in love with parrots ten or so years ago, I stopped eating chicken. I crave it sometimes but I just can’t do it.

    I am sickened by factory farms so now I only eat local, humanely raised and processed meat as much as humanly possible. In the interest of my overall diet I am also cutting down on the amount of meat I eat, and I’m sold on organic dairy products. I think I may eventually become vegetarian, though it will have to be a slow process.

  11. Elizabeth says:

    I still remember eating quail and realizing that the little wings were about the size of my Audrey. That was the last time I ate quail.

  12. […] I’ve made it pretty clear that I don’t eat meat.  But I’m not opposed to hunting.  First, any meat eaten from […]

  13. Tod Aleo says:

    Thank you. I’m supposed to cook for my new vegan girlfriend this weekend and have absolutely no idea what to make! I found a ton of recipes at this vegetarian recipes site but with soo many to choose from I just got confused. Do you have any favorites youself, like .. the tastiest vegetarian recipe, ever, or something?! Thanks in advance! I hope it goes well

  14. Elizabeth says:

    Hi Tod. For a vegan, this is one of my favorite recipes: http://www.food.com/recipe/Channa-Masala-17471. I don’t like very spicy food, though, so I omit the chili pepper and use only 1 tsp ginger.