Monthly Archives: January 2012

Learning

I received the worst reaction to the, “oh hey, I’m vegetarian now” from a different friend last week as I ate a veggie burger with my roommate.  His entire attitude shifted once I uttered that phrase, and suddenly he barraged me with comments about never wanting to eat a veggie burger, asking why would I ever choose that over a real burger, and ew, it looks gross.  I don’t enjoy being attacked while I eat (or really, at any time), so I tried to change the subject.  The comments still came though, and I felt his opinion of me change right then.  I smiled and enjoyed my burger.

After watching Forks Over Knives, I spent hours reading online about veganism and the transition to veganism.  I remember one person describing how they lost friends, and I thought that was ridiculous.  Suddenly, I get it.  Why are some people so uncomfortable if their friend eats differently than they do?  Conversely, why do so many people (meateaters, vegetarians and vegans included) feel the need to push their beliefs onto others?  Why does what we eat have such a religious zeal attached to it?  I’m not looking to answer these questions, but rather I am just surprised by these observations.

On a different note, I have grown more confident in my vegetarianism.  It’s been just about 25 days of a meat-free lifestyle.  I’ve been reading more books about food, food policy, veganism, etc.  Perhaps it’s just that I am excited about using my snazzy new Kindle, or perhaps it’s my spiked interest in learning everything I can about food, but I’ve wolfing books down recently.  (I’m currently on The Omnivore’s Dilemma.)

***

My college is known for its vegan and vegetarian options.  While this was a fact I proudly promoted as I gave tours, it’s pretty cool to finally understand what it means.  In the dining hall, I am aware of food options that I would have never considered previously.  The best part is that my suitemate is also exploring these new options.  It’s amazing how my plate has transformed from formally being full of meats and breads, often with few vegetables.  My plate looks a lot healthier now.

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One for the Road

“Meat, dairy products, and eggs are completely devoid of fiber and complex carbohydrates, the nutrients that we’re supposed to be consuming more of, and are laden with saturated fat and cholesterol, which make us fat and lethargic in the short term and lead to logged arteries and heart attacks in the long term. ”

-p. 129 of PETA’s Vegan College Cookbook

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Roommates’ Reactions

Returning to my college dorm room meant telling my three suitemates that, in the past four weeks that we were not living together, I magically transformed into a vegetarian.  The reactions have been varied, but I know their responses are only going to improve with time.

Suitemate 1:  Oh, that’s cool.
Me:  Yeah, I’m going to make some tofu tacos later.  Do you want to try some?
Suitemate 1: Yes!

My roommate seemed a bit shocked when I casually mentioned it to her.

“I leave you for five weeks, and suddenly you’re a vegetarian!” she dramatically cried.  “This ruins all plans I had for us.”

And later:
“I was going to offer you a bite of this sandwich, but OH WAIT IT HAS TURKEY IN IT.”

She calmed down, though, and promised that she would support me.  She even accompanied me to Whole Foods and ensured that I was getting the best deal on my tofu.

All of my suitemates ended up trying my tofu tacos from PETA’s Vegan College Cookbook and enjoyed them.  Luckily, my school is known for being vegetarian- and vegan-friendly, so eating at the dining hall has been fine so far, although I am planning on making more of my own food.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed as far as reactions go is that my friends make snarky comments about being vegetarian.  Whether comparing the look of the tofu tacos to dog food, asking in amazement, “But, what will you eat?” or giving me weird looks when I ask if they want to try tapioca cheese on their tacos (vegan, yes, I know, but it tastes good – none of them wanted to try it, by the way), there is some sort of stigma around vegetarianism.  I’m aware of it – I used to think some vegetarians were just too sensitive about animal rights (I’ve since changed my mind, although this is not the main reason why I’m vegetarian now) – it’s still surprising to see that my friends, all of whom I consider to be open-minded, reacted somewhat strongly.  However, I do believe that their support will continue to grow, and maybe one day in the far future they’ll even watch Forks Over Knives with me.

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This Vegetarian Still Loves Meat

Sitting in the backseat of my friend’s car, my heart sank as my friend described the sandwich place she was taking us to for dinner and the amazing deli meats they had.  I suddenly realized that, whenever I went to a sandwich shop, I always ordered a ham and cheese sandwich or a meatball sub.  Both of which are no longer options thanks to my newfound vegetarian lifestyle.

I’m not big on salads (something I’m working on), but I figured that, if nothing else, I could probably get them to throw one together.

We arrived at sandwich place, and to my surprise, they had a vegan section on the menu!  So I ventured to try something new – some sort of wrap with soyrizo.

The biggest challenge so far about being vegetarian is that I previously ate some form of meat at almost every lunch and dinner.  Suddenly I am forced to rethink how I structure my meals.  What I formerly considered side dishes (rice, vegetables, beans) have now become main dishes.

I am most worried about continuing to eat properly as a new vegetarian.  Especially at places where I am used to eating meat as the main part of my meal, I need to learn (and really, just to accept) foods that can, and should, be the main dish.

On another note, I realized today that being vegetarian affects the food I eat from my Cuban heritage.  My favorite medianoche sandwiches are stuffed with ham and turkey, and many of the little pastries I love are full of chicken or ham.  Yes, Cuban food does offer vegetarian options, but I wonder if I would eat meat occasionally in the future to feel more connected to this side of me.  It’s something I’ll worry about only if the time comes.

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Tofu is for Vegetarians

“Grandma was just showing off some of her vegetarian food,” I smiled to my cousin.
“Wait, Grandma, you’re a vegetarian now?” my cousin called out to my grandma in the other room.
“No,” Grandma’s voice sailed in from the kitchen.

A quick moment of silence passed before my cousin turned to me.

“Are you a vegetarian?”
“Uh, yeah,” I responded.
“When did this happen?  Last time I saw you, you were still eating meat.”
“I’m a two-week-old vegetarian.  I just watched one too many food documentaries, I guess,” I played it off.
“Ah, that would do it.”  I figured that she must be thinking about movies of factory farms’ treatment of animals, but I didn’t care to explain that it was actually the science in Forks Over Knives that changed my mind.

***

A similar conversation happened at dinner with my grandma, cousin, and aunt.  I ordered tofu, and the logical conclusion by my aunt: “Are you a vegetarian?”  It’s funny that I can’t eat tofu without someone asking if I’m a vegetarian.  Don’t meat-eaters also eat tofu?  Perhaps my family is just used to me always ordering meat.

“I never ate that great when I ate meat, so if being a vegetarian pushes me to eat better and try new things, then why not?” was my response to my aunt.  She seemed satisfied.

I don’t mind answering questions from my family about being vegetarian; I’m not embarrassed, really – although I do sometimes feel judging or puzzled eyes looking me over – I simply don’t feel the need to make a big deal about it.

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Keeping the Course

These past few days have been tough.  I started another television production job, so any healthy eating habits I had been carefully cultivating instantly melted at the sight of the craft services table, the area where the crew can eat snacks and food.  I don’t quite have the willpower yet to avoid the seduction of sugary snacks, so having them readily available is a problem.

I have been staying vegetarian though, and I’ve discovered these amazing Dr. Praeger’s Veggie Burgers.  They take less than 20 minutes to cook in the oven, and more importantly, I can actually cook them without screwing up.  The patties are made of vegetables and soy, and I was initially surprised by how flavorful and crispy they were.  After twelve hours at work, I enjoyed coming home and feeling like I was eating something healthy.

To prepare myself for the upcoming semester, I bought PETA’s Vegan College Cookbook, which promises 275 recipes that only require a microwave.  Perfect for my communal kitchen situation back in the dorms.

Last night I attempted to make one of the recipes, the F-U Tacos.

It basically consists of tofu, taco seasoning, and refried beans.  Normally I prefer tacos in a soft shell, but since the tofu is already very soft, I chose hard shells, which was definitely the right choice.  The recipe took less than 10 minutes to make, and I have plenty left over.  I’m planning on making a batch when I return to school, so I can’t wait to hear what my roommates think of it.

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One for the Road

“The thought that I can never have a certain food again is depressing, so I compromise and say I’m just not going to have that food today.  I can’t do forever, but I can do a day. ”

– p. 152 of Kathy Freston’s Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World

 

As a week-old vegetarian, I particularly appreciate this quote.  That chicken teriyaki looked good today at lunch; instead, I went for the tofu.

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