Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Moving Further Away From Meat

Soybeans are amazingly versatile little things. They are helping me move further and further away from meat. I do not live and work among vegetarians or vegans, but among meat-eaters. I have one close friend who is a vegan, and one close friend who doesn't eat red meat. Everyone else thinks exactly the way I used to: if there's no meat, it isn't a meal. So it's no surprise that almost everyone around me things I am nuts for trying to go vegetarian, and eventually give up all animal products and go vegan, at least 85% of the time, if I can't get to 100%. (There is a fresh pasta summer dish with fresh tomatoes, bacon bits, and Parmesan that will probably keep me from going vegan 100% of the time, and I freely admit this. But if I allow myself to eat meat and cheese in only that dish, I will be quite pleased with myself).

People can't seem to imagine what is involved in making such a lifestyle change, which I understand, as a few months ago I felt much the same. So I thought I would spend a post on the mechanics of change, the nitty gritty as opposed to the philosophical, and share a few thoughts I've had over two months of trying to make this radical lifestyle change.

1. I approached it by first trying to locate vegetarian recipes online and in cookbooks and try things that looked appealing but had little or no meat in them - tons of soups, some pasta dishes, and bean burritos all worked well. After a few weeks of eating little to no meat it begins to seem possible to get along without it.

2. I then began to "veganize" the vegetarian recipes by substituting olive oil for butter, vegetable broth for chicken broth, soy milk and soy yogurt for their dairy alternatives, and finding egg substitutes (like commercial egg replacer, ground flax seed, etc. - you can find several options searching online for substitutes). I also began to try a few vegan recipes I found online.

3. Each week I made several new recipes we hadn't tried before, and began learning how to use new ingredients, like new kinds of beans, different vegetables, etc. I also began trying vegan recipes off the web, to see if they were edible (they were). We are now at the stage of trying meat substitutes, like textured vegetable protein, boca burgers, & vegan cheese alternatives.

4. After awhile of eating hardly any meat, I was shocked to find that I could no longer stand the smell of cooking meat - even though I still loved the taste. I had planned to phase out meat by using up what we had in the freezer over a period of months, and by buying only organic, humanely raised and humanely slaughtered meat from verifiable sources. Instead, I ended up giving away most of the meat in the freezer, and/or cooking it for the dogs. We have very, very little left to use and I am not planning to replace it when it's gone.

5. I was tempted to cheat a few times, but only did twice, in that twice I did cave and eat meat when I was craving it. I found, however, that I only cheated when I did not have a meal plan made ahead of time and I was very stressed and very hungry. There have been several other times when I found myself without a plan and I went vegetarian, but not vegan. It's still very hard to think of what you can eat when in a hurry at a restaurant or when you have 10 minutes to throw together something in your kitchen before being late to work. Pre-planning meals is definitely a key as you know exactly what you are having and you don't get tempted to cheat.

6. Dairy is not any less appealing to me yet - I still love butter and vegan margarine isn't a satisfying substitute. I love bleu cheese and there is no "vegan version" going to come close. But, I am trying the vegan alternatives and finding they are okay - not as good, but perfectly okay - and then it comes down to thinking about the big picture. Yes, I COULD have butter instead of soybean margarine, but what about the baby dairy cows that get tossed aside, and the poor cow whose life is miserable? Literally thinking about it makes the butter sacrifice seem insignificant. (Cheese is harder - so far I am not buying it as if I don't have it around, I can't cheat and eat it).

I have come to look at food differently. Instead of what do I want to eat (a steak, mashed potatoes with butter & sour cream, and cake with buttercream frosting for dessert) I think in terms of what do I want the money I spend on groceries this week to support? Instead of focusing on my habits and desires and cravings I try to focus on making a tiny difference with each choice and look at the big picture. Sure, I WANT steak on some level, but on another level I want to learn tofu recipes I like and enjoy eating so nothing dies for my selfish pleasure. And the potatoes with margarine and vegan sour cream substitute are going to be almost as good and actually healthier for me. Vegan cake is do-able - frosting I am still working on.

Everyone makes changes differently, and what works for me may not work for anyone else. But I am tired of hearing the excuses about why change is too hard and comments like "I could never do that." The simple truth is we can all make changes, and telling yourself you can't is just making an excuse for why you won't. If you don't want to change, that is certainly your choice - but I do. I like being more aware of daily choices and their impacts. The biggest surprise has been that it is not as hard as I feared it would be.

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