Goodbye tri-tip, hello turnips
CN&R sustainability editor gets in touch with her inner veggiehead
As soon as the polite server at Broadway Heights started talking about the restaurant’s daily special, I instinctively interrupted her.
“Let me save you the trouble,” I told her during a recent visit. “We’re vegetarians.”
That’s when I knew I’d passed the threshold—the one where something goes from trial to lifestyle. For now, anyway. I haven’t eaten meat in 30 days—and counting.
My new diet is an experiment of sorts. Last year, I went a couple of weeks as a pescatarian (meaning fish remained in my diet), but I’ve never completely eliminated meat for any significant amount of time until now.
One day while working, I was writing up a list of the benefits of being a vegetarian for GreenWays (I’m editor of the section) and felt compelled to walk the talk by giving it a go. I stopped eating meat the first week of October, near the start of Vegetarian Awareness Month. I’ve been calling this test the 30-day challenge.
Of course, I’ve known for years about the suffering of animals in factory farms and the havoc the meat industry wreaks on the environment (let the hate mail begin).
One might assume that the editor of the sustainability section would already be a plant-eating, meat-hating activist. Truth is, I’ve happily been an omnivore for as long as I can remember. If you asked me a month or so ago to name my favorite foods, my answer probably would have been: filet mignon (medium), carnitas and sushi. Oh, and bacon.
These days, eggplant parmesan, vegetable stir-fry, and tofu Pad Thai are just a few of my top picks for a delicious vegetarian meal. And I don’t feel deprived.
In hindsight, switching to a meat-free diet wasn’t all that difficult. Sure, there were temptations along the way, but my fiancé, Matt, made things a whole lot easier for me by becoming my lab partner during the experiment.
One of the points of going vegetarian, at least for us, was to eat more healthfully. That may seem like an obvious reason, but believe it or not, I’ve known several vegetarians who live on fatty foods. Not us. We’ve concentrated on eating a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits, plus beans, nuts and tofu. In other words, cheese puffs are not part of the equation. (Just don’t take away my chocolate!)
Planning out many of our meals well in advance proved a smart move. Friends have offered up some good recipes, which help when we’ve exhausted our own. My sister-in-law went out of her way to make delicious fake-chicken enchiladas recently during a big family dinner. It was a really sweet gesture, especially considering she made the real thing for everyone else.
A funny thing I’ve learned is that vegetarianism brings out passionate responses—both positive and negative. For instance, my friend’s boyfriend literally told me “I hate vegetarians.”
I guess he won’t be invited over for dinner anytime soon, but then again we’re still perfecting our meals. Sometimes we turn to the Internet, with mixed results. The other night, for example, a Thai eggplant dish came off the stove with an odd odor and taste.
“I can’t eat this,” Matt said, making a face.
It was pretty late already, so we ended up eating white rice and steamed broccoli and I went to bed feeling unsatisfied. That certainly was the exception, though, and not the rule. Meals we labor to make are generally well worth the effort. Other times, especially when we are short on time, something like a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup hits the spot.
Another failed meal happened one Saturday when we wanted a quickie lunch while out running errands. We headed to a fast-food joint and munched on some fried zucchini and greasy fries, which I paid dearly for later with a terrible belly ache.
Going meatless has got to be a lot easier than back in the ‘70s, especially considering the variety of pre-packaged vegetarian items available today not only at specialty and health-food stores, but also at chain grocers. We were already fans of garden burgers and a specific variety of faux sausage patties for Saturday morning breakfasts. We’ve since discovered other tasty prepared foods, such as veggie corn dogs.
For the most part, however, our finds in the frozen and refrigerated section of the market make up a small percentage of our meals. That’s because it’s so easy to pick up fresh locally grown food. Seriously. For anyone thinking about eliminating meat from their diet, I would say there’s probably no better place to live than the North Valley.
Tomatoes, basil, sage and eggplant from my own organic garden has helped supplement trips to Chico’s Saturday Farmers Market, where I’ve been stocking up on a week’s worth of fruit and veggies from the region’s many farmers, including my favorite supplier, Dennis Biro, who grows some amazing late-season bell peppers and tomatoes in Hamilton City.
I’ve been going to the market for years, but these days my shopping bag—or two—is fuller than ever.
I’m not sure why folks from the North American Vegetarian Society chose October as the month to promote—and celebrate—vegetarianism. Late summer would seem to me to be the best time of year to educate the public about the benefits of a meat-free diet. I guess that’s simply because my favorite vegetables are summer varieties.
Now that our Indian summer has faded and we’re officially into fall, I’m fairly invested in maintaining my new eating habits. Even though I’ve met my challenge, I’m inspired to keep going, so much so, in fact, that I planted my very first winter garden (several varieties of lettuce, broccoli, bok choy, onions, etc …).
I’m not sure if I’ll continue as a strict vegetarian indefinitely. If I eat meat, it probably will be very occasionally. I’m OK with that, too. I know all about Tofurky, but as I write this I haven’t decided what I’m going to do on Thanksgiving. So am I a true vegetarian? Hmmmm … It’s probably best for me to answer that question after the holidays.
INSPIRED TO TRY?