Becoming Vegetarian


The other day I baked up a chicken for my family.  I served my 4-year-old a chicken leg.  He asks, “is this real chicken or pretend chicken?”  I braced myself, knowing that he is becoming more conscientious and is starting to care about the animals and what is done with them.  I answered, “it’s real chicken.”  “Oh no, no, no.  This isn’t good.  You shouldn’t have done that to this chicken.”  When I ask what he would like to do about it, he said that he wanted to go back to being vegematarian (his word).  We go back and forth with our diet. We try vegetarian for months, vegan even (that only last a few weeks) and then back to chicken.  It’s a process.

I was raised on Midwestern style cooking.  Everything had meat in it.  There was always a big pot of something yummy simmering on the stove and it was usually chicken and dumplings, pot roast, corned beef and cabbage, spaghetti sauce with ground beef and pork sausage!  I have to admit that I love meat and I love the smell of a good bar b q.  What I don’t like is factory farming and the horrific cruelty that goes along with mass producing meat to feed the masses.  I also don’t like the environmental effects of enormous cattle ranches.  Then there is our basic health.

I’ve done years of researching the benefits of being vegetarian and the health benefits are well worth putting that chicken leg down.  My aunt and uncle have been vegetarian for years and they are in their eighties and still jog the mountain roads every morning, have all their teeth, are very slim and very healthy.  They even have their original hips and knees!  I attribute all this to their vegetable based diet.

My own exploration of this lifestyle took a serious turn when I started working at Living Light Culinary School in Fort Bragg.  It was a raw food culinary school and most students and teachers there were hardcore vegan, rarely if ever eating cooked food.  They were all extremely healthy and vibrant.  I found that quite a few of the students had discovered the raw food way of eating when they became ill with everything from cancer to skin disorders.  A raw diet provides tons of enzymes and that helps the body rebuild anew.  Some diseases can be cured with a raw or vegan diet.  There’s more to it, but that will have to be another blog.

The other day I read an article that announced that 80% of people that go vegetarian, go back to meat eventually.  That’s a bummer, but I can understand why.  Many people try to do the “all or nothing” approach.  It just doesn’t always work.  Becoming a vegetarian is a process and if you love meat, then take your time.  It can also a be a downer for the palette if you haven’t learned to cook without meat.  You have to really use your imagination and creativity here.  You also need to slowly ease yourself and your family into this new way of living.  Just like starting any new habit, it takes repetition and time to really take hold.

Go back and forth and you will find that every time you get back into the vegetarian mode, it will be for longer and longer periods.  Here are some ideas for making it stick.  Try just having a few days a week be vegetarian and one day be totally vegan.  Learn delicious recipes and get advice from your fellow vegetarians.  Get motivated by reading about all the health benefits and slimming effects.  There are so many delicious meat and dairy substitutes out there now, because veganism is becoming so popular.  There are even vegan restaurants and grocery stores popping up.  If you have one of these close by, go check it out and try all kinds of dishes to see what you like.  Go to the store and load up on all sorts of vegan and vegetarian alternatives.  Some will be bland and yucky and some will be delicious!

Have fun with this, explore, create, try new things.  This can be a whole new adventure that the whole family can get involved in.  And when you hit the wall and wake up one day dreaming of buffalo wings…you have two choices: find an alternative (they do have vegan buffalo wings) or go to the local pub and have yourself a plate.  Meat happens.  Do your carnivore gig for awhile and then when you get bored with that, go back to your other lifestyle and have some more fun.  The web has great resources for recipes and advice from other vegetarians.  You can find reviews on new products and what vegans and vegetarians suggest as great tasting alternatives for meats and cheeses.  Our wonderful Pinterest is loaded with help.

There are alternatives to everything from ice cream to pork riblets.  I have found delicious stuff out there and the more I find, the more recipes I try, the more I really enjoy our vegetarian times.  I just get lazy and go back to meat, because that’s what I know.  It’s all a matter of wrapping your brain around a new idea and a new way of shopping and cooking.  I have also had a lot of fun switching over.  I read the Veggie Times and read vegan websites, I love some of the meat substitutes.  I found a “pretend” crab cake that is made of some vegetable root and sea weed.  It is so fantastic that I prefer it to a real crab cake by far.  Almond Dream has chocolate covered ice cream bites I would choose over real ice cream any day and Quorn makes a “turkey” from mushrooms that my kids love.  Veganaise is a healthy alternative to mayonnaise and it’s so good, you won’t know the difference.

My final suggestion is to do some research on becoming a healthy vegetarian, especially if you go vegan.  Don’t just turn to potato chips and soda and feel satisfied that you got rid of the McDonald’s Big Mac.  You will feel tired and sick in no time.  You want to live off a “plant-based” diet.  Even the alternatives can get rather junky, but some are made out of roots, vegetables, and mushrooms and are healthy.

Vegetarian and veganism is a way to become sustainable and healthy.  The benefits for this planet and your family could fill a book alone (and have filled many books).  I feel best when we are on this track and as of yesterday, we are back on the Vegetarian path.  We may have a meat slip in the future, but overall, we love this way of eating and living.  I know that we are supporting our stance against factory farming and that veganism is supporting our Earth and the large population.  All 7 billion of us can live abundantly here, but we will have to make some positive changes as individuals and one of those changes is cutting way back on the meat and dairy.

Enjoy and have fun!



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