Friday, February 9, 2007

A Vegetarian, or Vegan, Who Hates Vegetables?

As I mentioned in my first post, in 2007 I decided to try and pay more attention - A LOT more attention - to my food choices. I had some specific goals (detailed later herein). Overall I feel like it's going well, but it has been a major shift, and many people have commented "How could you try to be vegetarian or vegan when you hate vegetables?" Yep, it's hard...but not as hard as I expected , all things considered. So I wanted to review what brought me to this decision and bring you up to speed on how it's going.

In all honesty, I've never been one to pay that much attention to what I eat. I like food, and I like to cook and bake, but nothing all that fancy. I was raised in a house where salt was the ONLY acceptable spice (not even pepper was allowed), and where tacos and spaghetti were considered "foreign food." My mother never met a vegetable she didn't overcook. (And It wasn't until I was 32 that I learned you weren't supposed to eat the middles of squash...she forced me to for years and I thought everyone ate them.) I spent most of my childhood trying to hide dinner in a plant, a napkin, or slip it to the dog. My most hated meal was ground beefheart sandwiches on wheat bread and dandelion salad. Eeeewww. Once a week my mom took everything leftover in the fridge and either ran it through the blender or made it into "soup." As a result I hate soup, and I hate my food to touch - I like ONE flavor at a time - the combination of things NEVER meant to go together was just soooo revolting (imagine puree of chicken, O.J., eggplant, mashed potatoes and meatloaf). I ended up sort of an anti-vegetarian - I despised vegetables, loved meat, and as soon as I left home I ate what was, in retrospect, a terribly unhealthy diet.

About five years ago I started eating veggies - starting with the classic iceberg lettuce salad. Gradually I tried new things until I developed a small list (ever expanding) of veggies I can tolerate. I don't really LOVE any of them, but some have grown on me to the point I can honestly say I actually like them. I was aiming for better balance and starting to pay attention to what I ate, but still it wasn't a big deal. I did start to try to do a few days a week of vegetarian meals to wean off meat dependency, but I admit, it was hard. I couldn’t envision a meatless entrĂ©e unless it was pasta (and even then, meat sauce was best). It bothers me that I know if I had to kill an animal, I couldn't do it - I would be a vegetarian. Yet because I can go to the grocery store and buy pre-killed, pre-packaged meat and not think about the whole killing process, I can still eat meat and live in denial. Yet even knowing this to be true, I feel incapable of going vegetarian, let alone the ultimate ideal of vegan (ultimate in that it is kindest to animals, and great for your health).

Enter the book, "The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter," by Peter Singer and Jim Mason. As a philosophy major I loved the discussion - the authors are intelligent and the book is quite informative. After learning the details behind the pre-packaged food though, I can't ethically, in good conscience, eat them any more. (The details of factory farming will knock your socks off). I don't feel up to going vegan, or even total vegetarian yet, but I will commit to the following:

1. I won't eat meat or dairy products unless I can verify the animal lived a good life, cruelty-free, with access to the outdoors, space to roam around, decent food and water, and appropriate socialization with other animals. Further, there has to be humane slaughter only.

2. I'll eat only organic produce and aim for locally grown when reasonably possible.

3. I will pay attention to fair trade and labor issues when selecting products like coffee, chocolate, etc.

4. I'll eat only sustainable seafood approved by Seafood Watch.

5. I'll follow these guidelines eating in or out, locally or on the road, with only rare exceptions (gotta allow a few free days a year to satisfy any irresistible cravings).

So after five weeks of living by these rules, I have gotten used to not much meat (I still use a little ham or bacon in some soups, and although I gave away most of the meat stores in our freezer, I still have some grass fed beef and humane-raised pork and lamb to use up). To my surprise, the smell of meat is now disgusting to me. I don't understand this as I have a life-long love of the stuff. I actually thawed a top round steak and found it so gross I gave it to the dogs.

I have experimented with a lot of recipes and I've found that making soup 2-3 times a week works well; with some biscuits. It makes easy lunches the next day too, and I am getting used to soup, though I have always really hated it. We've experimented with some vegan biscuits, and they work well - though the thick irony is that we sometimes put butter on them. (Hey, can't transition overnight!) I have made my peace with the bean (another life-long hatred) and I am taming it into some dishes I can tolerate. I discovered a little squash called Little Dumpling that is actually sweet enough to not need butter, and isn't too squashy to gag down. I have been able to make myself eat oatmeal as long as it's laced with raisins. I have resisted temptation many times - caving only once so far. I have basically convinced myself that this can be done, that eventually I can get to the vegan world - but it will require a layover in vegetarian world, for sure. And if a vegetable hater can do it, surely anyone can.

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