A few years ago, after eating a few too many turkey sandwiches and watching several tummy turning documentaries about the food industry, I became a vegetarian. While I don’t seek to convert meat eaters, I think we can all stand to have a little more “veg” in our lives. Meatless Mondays are a good start, as is a better understanding of vegetarianism in general.
Living in New York City, sticking to a vegetarian lifestyle has been quite easy. In fact, vegetarianism is so common that no one thinks anything of it. Almost every restaurant has several items on their menu specifically for the vegetarian eater.
When I travel in the Midwest, things get a bit more challenging. I hear a lot of, “I could never give up bacon” (or beef or pork or whatever it is, though it’s usually bacon). Due to the prevalence of meat-based menus, I typically end up eating a combination of sides as an alternative.
In other parts of the world, when I visited Ukraine for instance, the concept of vegetarianism is simply not understood. I remember when I was organizing a tour through a local travel company there; all our meals were going to be included so I was telling the agent that we’d need some vegetarian alternatives. She asked what that meant, so I said no meat or fish, which just seemed to confuse her more. I actually had to write out a list of foods that are vegetarian. In the end, we wound up eating a lot of potatoes, but they were delicious all the same.
One of the most frustrating things about being a vegetarian is that non-vegetarians have a very limited understanding and repertoire of meat free dishes. When I go to a restaurant (outside of NYC) and ask for something vegetarian, I often get one of two offers- a salad (I’m sorry, but it takes more than a salad to keep me full) or a pizza (if I ate pizza all day every day, I’d have a serious health issue).
Even in some big city restaurants I’ll be limited to one token veg dish like a veggie burger or a pasta. It makes me sad, not only as a vegetarian, but also as a person who loves good food. With so many wonderful bean and grain dishes and endless ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables into lunch and dinner, it’s frustrating that the options are so limiting (Mediterranean, Asian, and Indian cuisine are notable exceptions). I always get excited when I find a creative lentil recipe or even a veg-friendly potpie or quiche. A departure from another pasta with red sauce is always welcome.
The one good thing about limited vegetarian restaurant options is that it forces me to eat in more often. I’m constantly expanding my repertoire of healthy dishes and saving money by cooking them myself.
So many people are under the illusion that they need meat to survive. I’ve been meat free for three years and am healthier than ever. Less animal fat and cholesterol and more fiber and antioxidant rich produce has my doctor praising my blood work.
I think it’s also important to note that it doesn’t take steak to fuel a high endurance lifestyle. As a professional actress, constant movement and dance is part of my daily life. In fact, I ran my first marathon this year. I get plenty of fuel from some of my favorite protein sources- peanut butter, beans, and quinoa.
Beans, nuts, and other veg friendly proteins are a lot cheaper than meat and many of them have a significantly longer shelf life. Meat accounts for 10 percent of Americans’ food spending, so making the switch to vegetarianism fit in quite well with my financial goals.
The truth is, I don’t miss meat. I made the switch to vegetarianism three years ago and haven’t looked back since.
What are the challenges and ideas you associate with vegetarianism? Do you try to incorporate meatless meals into your lifestyle?