Two months now into writing this blog I realized that I have written more food and recipe posts than anything else. My love for cooking comes a close second to my love for photography. I am thankful for all that I learned in the kitchen at hands of the women in my life, both family and friends. What I learned along the way proved to be helpful in cooking for my family as we made the change to a vegetarian diet a few years ago. It is not something I chose to do without a lot of discussion and study. It usually isn’t something I wear on my shirtsleeve, telling everyone I know. In fact, I debated for a long time on sharing it here. Call it what you will, there are some people that still think “crazy tree hugger” and recipes full of tofu when they hear the word vegetarian. Be that as it may, for this blog to truly be a reflection of my life, then I need to include this part of it.
There is a pretty standard set of questions you get when you tell someone you are a vegetarian. Here I thought I’d take the time to answer a few…
Why did you decide to give up meat and cut back on dairy?
Let me just start by saying I haven’t always been a vegetarian. I wasn’t raised as one. In fact my grandfather owned a meat packing plant. Growing up I loved nothing more than eating one of his steaks.
I lost my taste for meat in college only eating small amounts to get my protein. Back then I didn’t know what other sources of protein were available. Each year I got further and further away from eating it, discovering flavors I loved in fruits, vegetables and grains.
In 2008 I watched both my grandparents lives end after suffering from years of serious, chronic illnesses. That same year my dad was diagnosed with cancer and my mom with osteoporosis, both in their 50s. It was very difficult to watch all the people I loved suffering. I made the decision then to start taking better care of myself. I dove into reading all I could about health, diet and nutrition. After reading books like The China Study, The E2 Diet, and numerous articles by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Neal Barnard I came to the decision to give up meat. There are several reasons people choose to become vegetarians (environmental, animal rights, health). My decision was made with the goal of improving my health.
Did your husband give up meat too?
When I made the decision to give up meat I made it for myself. How we chose to nourish our bodies is a very personal decision and I didn’t want to push it on anyone. In telling Bret my plan not only was he supportive, he immediately jumped on board. He was 12 years old when he lost his dad to a heart attack at the age of 49. Knowing the cardiovascular benefits of a vegetarian diet was enough for him.
What about the boys?
As with Bret, I’ve been very clear with them that this is my decision, they do not have to follow it. I learned a long time ago from my pediatrician not to make food an issue. I told them I was making the change to be a healthier mama for them and laid out my plan for meals. If they wanted to have a chicken breast for supper they would just need to tell me. And in the beginning they did. As time has gone on they don’t request meat anymore, we all eat the same thing. When we go out they order a burger or chicken strips. They know there is no judgement coming from me. I’m currently reading ‘The Butcher and the Vegetarian’ and learning a lot about raising vegetarian kids into adults. I don’t want them to ever feel guilty about the choices they make regarding food.
How did your family react?
The response from my mom pretty much sums it up….”I’m not surprised. I think you’ve been headed in this direction for a long time.”
Where do you get your protein?
This is the big one, the most often asked question and what scared me the most about giving up meat. In the beginning I looked up the daily requirements of protein that each of us needed to be sure we weren’t falling short. I tracked it for awhile to get a feel for what these amounts looked like in serving sizes and sources. After a few years of doing this I feel like I’ve got it down. For the most part we eat a lot of beans, grains, nuts, nut butters, all kinds of fruits and veggies. I have never eaten Tofu and have no interest in it. So, don’t worry, no tofu recipes here. <grin> Cheese is still a part of our diet making that a source of protein as well.
Why haven’t we given up cheese?
Because the boys love it. I’ve never been a huge cheese fan so I can take it or leave it.
Did you give up eggs?
I use Ener-G egg substitute, flaxseed or baking powder/baking soda/vinegar combinations for baking.
Do you buy organic?
Most of the time I do, but not always. Our little, local grocery store doesn’t carry it so in a pinch I go with what’s available.
Was it hard? How did you find things to cook?
We started in late spring/early summer so there was great produce available to us at both the farmer’s market and in our own garden. The work came in finding recipes that all of us would love that were filling enough for a grown man and 3 always hungry little boys. It was a lot of trial and error. Making meal plans has helped. Now the boys participate and we look for recipes together online, in cookbooks and magazines. We talk a lot about what foods are in season and how to prepare them. I love that my 9 year old loves arugula and what time of year it tastes best. We have slowly moved away from more processed foods and I try to make as much of what we eat as I can.
Do you miss meat?
I don’t, but I’ve ask Bret a few times if he does. He always says no, that we eat so well he doesn’t even think about it. (yea, he’s sweet like that.)
So that’s pretty much it. A little glimpse into our lives and what we eat. My blog will be a place to share recipes, not to push a vegetarian agenda (oh how I hate that stigma) ,showing that it really isn’t hard to make a meat-free meal. That eating this way doesn’t require a list of weird, hard to find ingredients. That fresh, whole foods (and don’t forget the baked goods!) are delicious and good for you, even without meat as a main dish.
If nothing else, I’d love to be your frequent stop to find great Meat Free Monday recipes.
Before I go I thought I’d tack on the recipe for a salad I’ve been enjoying for lunch the past couple of days. It would also make a great side dish.
I found it on the site 101 Cookbooks. It is one of my new favorite places to visit. The pictures are gorgeous and so it the writing.
Honey-Balsamic Bean Salad
1 8oz can each of Chickpeas, Black Beans and Pinto Beans
1 small head of Romaine lettuce shredded
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted (don’t skip the toasting step, it makes them so flavorful!)
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 Tablespoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4+ teaspoon sea or kosher salt
10 sprigs of fresh thyme
Combine beans, lettuce and most of the almonds in a salad bowl. Set aside. Make the dressing by whisking olive oil, honey, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and salt. Test for flavor and adjust as needed. Run your fingers up each thyme sprig, removing the leaves. Add to the salad bowl along with the dressing. Toss well. Finish by sprinkling with the remaining almonds.