A vegetarian experiment

My last story was about the challenges and benefits of introducing a vegetarian or vegan diet into your life.  You can find that story HERE.  Instead of leaving that story as it was, I decided that it was a good opportunity for me to try having a close to vegetarian diet for a short period of time, just to see what it was like.

Sarah Larsen, Emily West, and Jeff Johnson all had advice for those who would like to try being Vegetarian or Vegan:

  • Don’t Try To Be Morally Superior.  Even if you’re being very conscientious about what you’re eating, “It’s impossible to have totally clean hands,” said Johnson.  Even if you’re keeping a vegan diet, the food that you’re eating was probably harvested via machinery which took resources from the earth and that releases exhaust when used.  There is no way that the way we eat can be 100% conflict free and environmentally friendly.  What really matters is that you’re making a positive difference in the world and in your own life.
  • Don’t Do It Alone.  It’s easier to have a friend to go through this with you.  They’re good for encouragement and if you choose to, you can cook together and try new recipes that work with your new eating lifestyle.

I was fortunate enough that during my experiment, my fiance was willing to eat the same food that I was eating and trying out.  This made things a lot easier because we didn’t have to make two different versions of the same meal or two different meals entirely.

Easter dinner with my non-vegetarian family.  I was worried that I wouldn't find very much that I could eat, but it was a lot easier to accomplish than I thought!  I didn't even have to mention anything to my family unless I wanted to or to make other food for myself.

Easter dinner with my non-vegetarian family. I was worried that I wouldn’t find very much that I could eat, but it was a lot easier to accomplish than I thought! I didn’t even have to mention anything to my family unless I wanted to or to make other food for myself.

  • Do What Works For You.  You Don’t Have To Do It All At Once.  Don’t feel like you have to give up all meat or all dairy right away.  You’re not more or less of a vegetarian/vegan if you give up certain foods slowly or if you stop eating certain categories of food altogether.  Even cutting down on certain foods makes a positive impact.

During my experiment, the only meat that I ate, and ate sparingly at that, was fish.  I decided not to eat poultry or beef or other land-based animal protein.  Maybe someday I will eventually stop eating fish, but that time is not now and that’s okay.

A quick snack of wantons (baked in the oven).  Vegetarian, but not vegan.  The wrappers are vegan and if you made a vegan filling, this snack could easily be adapted to a vegan diet.

A quick snack of wantons (baked in the oven). Vegetarian, but not vegan. The wrappers are vegan and if you made a vegan filling, this snack could easily be adapted to a vegan diet.

  • Don’t Think Of It As Denying Yourself, But Rather As A Celebration Of Other Food.  The process of transitioning your diet can be difficult if you think of it as losing a food that you really like. West says that’s it’s helpful to go to the grocery store and pick everything that is vegetarian/vegan that you think you might like.  Think of it as trying all of these other foods and expanding your tastes.

This was a really important piece of advice for me.  With so many vegetarian alternatives to meat dishes, it’s easy to compare the two and think that the vegetarian option is just not the same.  With this advice, I was able to walk into the grocery store and look at the vegetarian alternatives and decide which ones I wanted to try because they looked delicious, not because I was trying to replace my favorite foods.

Granola I made and ate for breakfast with yogurt.  It included different tree nuts and dried fruit and was baked with vanilla and cinnamon and was delicious in and out of yogurt!  If this were eaten on its own or with dairy-free yogurt, this would be a good vegan breakfast.

Granola I made and ate for breakfast with yogurt. It included different tree nuts and dried fruit and was baked with vanilla and cinnamon; it was delicious in and out of yogurt! If this were eaten on its own or with dairy-free yogurt, this would be a good vegan breakfast.

  • Replace Protein With Protein.  One common mistake for people trying to be vegetarian/vegan is that they think if you give up meat, you need to replace that meat with more vegetables.  What you actually need to do is find another protein that you like, whether that’s beans, lentils, or other protein-rich, plant-based foods.  Everyone needs the same amount of each of the basic food groups no matter what your diet is.

This remains a challenge for me.  I knew what to look for, but during this experiment, I found that I felt poorly and sometimes even sick.  While I didn’t consult a doctor on this matter, I’m fairly certain this was due to not finding the right combination of protein-rich, plant-based foods or not having the proper amount.  This will be my challenge as I continue to adjust to a more vegetarian-inclined diet.

One important thing that I have learned during this experience occurred to me during a trip to the grocery store as I was looking for vegetarian alternatives that looked delicious:  I realized that I had never spent a lot of time thinking about what I was choosing to eat.  Looking for the foods that had no meat and for an added challenge, looking for the dairy-free products (it was a challenge in Cub Foods), I was paying attention to what I wanted to eat more than I have during any other grocery shopping trip.  Even if I emerge from this experience and never have a vegetarian or pescatarian diet again, I hope that this experience of paying attention to what I’m eating follows me.

Vegetarian convenience food-a successful discovery of vegan food

Vegetarian convenience food–a successful discovery of vegan food.

Resources

If you would like to try being vegan or vegetarian, here are some resources that can help you decide what veggie/vegan-friendly brands to look for; they also provide recipes if you’re not sure what kind of food is open to you or even if you’d like to try something new.

www.ChooseVeg.com is good for those who are just starting out being vegetarian/vegan.  There are recipes to cook as well as tips on how to stay healthy and eat right on a vegetarian/vegan diet.

Post Punk Kitchen has lots of delicious vegan recipes!

The Vegetarian Starter Guide is a booklet that helps you get on your way with your vegetarian/vegan lifestyle.  You can find these near Johnson’s office at Whitby 111 or you can click HERE to see an online version. This was very helpful for me when I was figuring out what to look for before grocery shopping.
Guide to Cruelty-Free Eating is a quick guide to what foods you can buy in stores that are vegan and include information on nutrition as well as some recipes.  Find a copy near Whitby 111 or click HERE for an online version of this booklet.

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