Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Why I had Turkey Soup Today, or Tales From a Non-Vegetarian

Before I started dating Nate, vegetarians were not people I regularly came in contact with. In fact, I don't think I knew any in college (from the South) or really encountered them outside of my summer job at CTY. My sole personal experiences were musing idly/ideally as a child whether it was ok to eat an egg b/c what about the baby chicken inside (no one explained to me either about unfertilized eggs or that this question extended beyond just that food item) and giving up meat at times for Lent. (Which wasn't in force on St. Patrick's Day b/c we always eat corned beef and cabbage for the holiday or on Sundays because if you count the 40 days don't include feast days, which Sundays are.) My last experience giving up meat for Lent was in college, hard because everyone else was eating yummy food and the college options for non-vegetarians were next to nothing. In fact, I felt so run down that semester that I vowed never to give up meat for Lent again. So I met Nate and thought, "crazy person who doesn't get enough nutrients."

But I also started really thinking about the path of food from the animal to the plate...three times a day. My concern wasn't so much that I ate meat, but that I did not consider a meal complete if it did not have meat in it. (again, from the South) For me a mouth-watering meal is: side of meat (salmon loaf, salisbury steak, etc) with two vegetable sides and possibly a salad or chili or spaghetti (with meat) and so forth. Breakfast ought to be bacon and eggs and so forth, though that is optimistic. Lunch is leftovers from the day before. So watching Nate not eating any meat or dairy products at all made me realize mostly that meals (yummy meals in fact) can be made (easily) without relying on meat and still be entirely balanced -- and not run me down into the ground. And realizing the strain this constantly eating meat places on our bodies, our environment and our budget only reinforced my observation that meat is a dominant part of our food ritual and one that ought to be more thoughtfully considered.

So instead of becoming a vegetarian or vegan, neither of which really seemed to be necessary to me, I have turned to evaluating the nature of the food I eat. I prefer to eat organic meat, but since I don't buy meat anymore (and started this before Nate & I moved in together) this rarely happens; unfortunately, most restaurants have yet to find that the benefits of organic outweigh the significant cost increases. Instead, I've tried to be more conscious of the non-vegetarian options on a menu and sometimes even order them! I've discovered that in the end when I eat less meat I feel better: more alert, less sluggish (unless I'm low on protein that day) and calmer. On the other hand, I do enjoy eating some meat (corned beef on St. Patrick's Day, fish and so forth) and at times just want to order something on the menu without mulling the ethical and otherwise values of it. So I do. But I'm glad that I've started noticing the impact of my eating habits and am acting on it, even if I'm not willing to take the full step into non-omnivore status.

And this is what I think the vegetarian/vegan community can offer all of us: the awareness that we can supplement and enrich our diet with plant-only meals; the comprehension that it's not just that we eat meat, but that we eat a lot of meat that causes many problems and, finally, the encouragement to demand that animals be treated ethically even if we choose to eat them at the end of the day. 

If you're interested, I'd highly recommend going a week without meat, just to become aware of the significant hold it has on our psychological concepts of a meal and being full. You probably won't become a vegetarian, but might begin adding more vegetarian options to your diet and that matters, too!

Great resources for Vegetarian/Vegan cooking

  • Vegetarian Times We have found so many yummy meals from here since subscribing about 5 months ago that I think it's the best resource out there! Our current favorites include mushrooms over white beans, poppy seed strawberry shortcake and so forth.

  • The New Moosewood Cookbook There are a million permutations of Moosewood, all of them wonderful, but this one happens to have Samosas in them. If you leave out the coriander, I can even partake!

  • The Soy Alternative While not actually a vegetarian cookbook, it includes many vegetarian recipes. My favorite is the tempeh lasagna, which uses tempeh instead of pasta giving the meal a slightly nutty flavor and adding tons of nutrients over regular pasta. Oh, and it's out-of-print so usually runs about $2 used (click on the Amazon link above for more info).

  • The Best - Ever Vegetarian Cookbook Ok, so that's hyping things a bit, but it has a number of quick, easy meals that taste yummy. I like the chickpea and spinach soup and in fact make many of their soups regularly. I don't tend to like exactly how the recipe develops so adapt a bit and make even better.

  • The Complete Vegan Cookbook The cover alone is inspirational (glistening, fresh vegetables of all varieties in a stone bowl), but the recipes are also yummy. I appreciate the variety and inclusion of both morning meals (that don't revolve around eggs or meat-substitute products) and are fast and easy: great pancake recipes and a no bake oatmeal that's out of this world (cooks overnight with hot water)! Also includes a number of sandwich ideas which are the hardest thing to replace in a vegetarian or vegan diet.
So why did I have turkey soup today? Because I've been dreaming about it lately -- probably because it just turned chilly here (down to 38 tonight) and I don't mind eating meat occasionally. Though, I will note I've cut down significantly on my red meat consumption as chickens (despite my childhood concern for them) seem less harmful overall.


Nate said...

Nice post, though of course I believe that vegetarianism is an ethical necessity. To me, it seems penny-wise and pound-foolish to worry about the treatment of farm animals and then kill them anyway. On the other hand, I certainly would like animals to be treated well no matter their ultimate fate.

teanatl said...

When I was a teenager I was a vegetarian for a short while but only because I was reading Henry David Thoreau and he was a vegetarian and since Thoreau was one of my heroes I wanted to do everything Henry David Thoreau did. I even grew a patch of potatoes one summer...much to the chagrin of Granny Matt... so I could have the experience of growing my own food and being closer to Nature. But being a teenager isn't condusive to the discipline it takes to be a vegetarian in our culture...especially when a good portion of it consisted of driving back and forth between Shoney's and McDonalds cruising for chicks!
Yeah, we were pretty starved for entertainment. Let me tell you, being a teenager in a small backwards Southern town was no picnic in the park. And much like you were, when I was a teenager I was awkward and shy. Perhaps that's why I liked to read so much...it was so much more interesting than my real life!

I became a confirmed vegetarian for life after I went on a video shoot in North Carolina and spent 3 days shooting on pig farms! I'd already been intellectually aware of the environmental costs of our over consumption of meat and once I observed the process of factory farming that feeds this obsession I was just so turned off by it...the way the animals are treated...just the whole unnatural process...that I decided that I just didn't want to be a part of that process anymore...that it'd be better for me, better for the environment, and better for the animals if I just didn't eat meat anymore. So my main motivations were environmental and ethical. The health benefits have been a pleasant plus. I've been able to lose weight...about 20 or 30 lbs...without really trying. I'll bet you can stuff yourself on salad until you can't eat anymore and not put on half the calories of your average fast food burger!
So by doing the right thing environmentally and ethically I've become a healthier person. I think the same think applies to the macro picture...if we as a society do the right things to protect our environment and do the right things ethically, this world would be a much more peaceful and prosperous place.