Today a co-worker pointed out that although I do eat a bit of seafood, he considers me to be a true vegetarian. I knew exactly what he meant, but I asked him why he felt that way. He felt that my preference truly is plant-based foods, and moreover not often do I consume pseudo meats. This is one thing that confuses many non-vegetarians. Why would you want to consume something that tastes like, feels like and smells like meat if you do not want to eat meat. It cannot be that good for you, was his real point. I completely agree. He asked me why I did not eat those. I informed him that once my son informed me that he liked tofu being tofu, but not tofu pretending to be meat. That was a profound statement from a 10-year-old, who frankly hated being a vegetarian.
Over the years I tried to change my eating patterns based on information that I constantly read up on. In 2006, I believe, I hired a personal trainer for myself and my children at the gym we all belonged to. I am not sure how many parents put their kids on a gym membership at ages 14 and 12, but I wanted to engage my children in things beyond tv and video games. During my sessions, since my goal was not only weight loss, but healthier habits for my family, I was given a food tracking guide. Upon tracking my meals one day, I realized that those supposedly healthy fake meats and cheeses were actually considered worse than say a skin less piece of chicken breast. I may as well have eaten ground beef with 20% fat content. This was my initial thrust into the world of sustainable foods. Moreover, this was my segway into my Master’s program.
For years I had been using fake meats to replace real meat in standard meals, like stroganoff, lasagna, hamburger helper even, not once thinking that I am still in that same paradigm. The paradigm was hard to break free from. My issue was that my mother never really cooked many things, my ex-husband’s family was a Betty Crocker sort of family and I learned to cook from two sources that were less than gourmet. My cooking experiences were limited to American and Americanized foods. Things like stir fry and burritos. Not exactly how the un-American cultures cooked things. I had a boyfriend who was vegetarian, I was already working my diet in that direction when I met him. He introduced me to Indian and Ethiopian foods. Discovering that cultures outside our own knew how to sustain themselves without fake meats was astonishing to me.
I began to buy cookbooks from around the World. I became fascinated with recreating things I had tasted in Restaurants. I also discovered Mediterranean foods. I figured out that pizza is not always about cheese and tomato sauce, but fresh creative ingredients. Salad was not just iceberg lettuce but a compound of many textures and tastes. I also obtained my own P-patch, and began to garden on my own. I was so excited to not have to buy fresh produce most of the summer. I also found that many vegetables I had not liked before were some of my favorites. It is about how you prepare them, if you do not like spinach cooked, try it raw. Mix dark greens with fruits and some mild cheese and you have a great contrast in not only color and texture but in flavor as well.
Becoming a vegetarian gave me a passion for food and cooking. I love to experiment with new ingredients. I also love to share things with others, a new passion for me. The idea of community tables stemmed from my journey into being a food snob. I am now the person people call to ask what to do with new vegetables. Several years ago, I signed up for a CSA, well not a true CSA, but fresh local veggies and fruit delivered either weekly or bi-weekly to my door. This made me stretch in my food categories. Things like Kale, Chard and beets are not on the top of my list, in fact I had hardly heard of them. But, damn it I am going to try to find ways to eat them. I also began the idea of minimal shopping. If I could plan around what was delivered and what was already in my cabinets, I could actually save money.
Many of us have this buying in bulk thing stuck in our minds. The problem with bulk is that sometimes it is not as fresh as we would hope months down the road. Spices and herbs do not last for centuries. You must use them and replace them. I had to retrain myself to not only buy what I could carry, but only what my family could eat in a few days. My daughter also learned to shop, in instances where I was going to be late from work. My family has come a long way, unfortunately after my accident, my son discovered the food bank. I had not bought much processed food for so long that I am certain his body went into shock the first few days I was in the hospital. I came home to more trash than I have ever made in my whole life. Bizarre packaging and strange foods with ingredients that as a chemist I had to look up. I hope that one day both my kids remember their childhood, and how healthy their bodies were. They walked everywhere, they ate clean, whole, real foods and they were served meals with love.
Ultimately what my co-worker noticed is exactly what I want anyone who knows me to notice. I am a vegetarian, not a non-meat eater. There is a difference, and my focal point was not about animal cruelty, but about my own health and the health of my family.