A Vegetarian in Beef Country

Back in the old days (about ten years ago) a vegetarian was a rare sight in Texas. Waiters looked confused when I didn’t want chicken, beef or shrimp in my pasta. Drive-thrus left cheese, onions, tomatoes, and condiments (everything except lettuce) off my burger bun – because obviously, if I didn’t want meat, then I didn’t actually want food. People squinted at me and asked questions apparently related to vegetarianism in their minds, but which I still haven’t figured out. “Vegetarian? Huh. Well, do you eat veal? What about chocolate? Are you allergic to peanuts?”

Fortunately, those days are behind us. For evenings out, plenty of restaurants have meatless options. Waiters will even tell you which sauces use vegetable broth, unprompted. It’s a whole new age.

But if you’re just starting out, perhaps restaurants aren’t the problem. You’re wondering what you’ll do at home. Or if you can do this at all. Have no fear. The first step is figuring out whether you’re a gradual-taper-off type or the all-or-nothing type. For the “gradualists”, it’s too drastic to say, “Well, starting tomorrow morning, I’m a vegetarian.” You’ll want to eat less meat in stages – perhaps meat-free lunches this week, meat-free breakfasts and lunches next week, tapering off to completely meat-free.

Or perhaps you do nothing in moderation, in which case a gradual-taper plan means failure, pretty much. What you need is a decision and a date. That’s me. I was reading Lit From Within by Victoria Moran. On page 179, she said, “And if you’ve ever thought you would like to stop eating meat ‘someday’…”

Since my mid-teens, I’d been thinking exactly that. I decided, “Today’s as good as any,” piled all the meat-based products I owned into a box, and took them over to my sister’s place. I lost twelve pounds figuring out I didn’t have to live on bread and salad. You don’t have to do that. Just remember a few things:

There are about twelve kinds of meat people won’t be horrified to hear that you eat…and about two thousand kinds of fruits and vegetables. You won’t starve. I promise. This is a great time to try food from other parts of the world. India and Greece have a history of vegetarianism going back millennia. Many countries with long warm-weather seasons use meat more as a garnish than as a meal. Consider restaurants and recipes from Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean countries. The cookbook section of a bookstore will yield tons of simple cookbooks. Five minute meals. Four-ingredient dishes. Microwave cookbooks. There’s so much more you can do with vegetables you already eat. Also pick some unfamiliar ones. You’ll finally learn what all those odd fruits and vegetables are that you normally walk past while grocery shopping. And the internet is a treasure trove of recipes and nutritional information. Enlist a friend. Not the ones who will beat up on you for deciding not to eat meat (you’ll find out who those are soon enough). The ones interested in trying something new will eagerly go shopping with you, and they might be familiar with vegetables you aren’t. Visit a farmer’s market together. You can taste fruit before you buy, and the farmers will show you how to tell when a kiwi or a guava is ripe. Eat a variety of beans, potatoes, spinach (and other leafy greens), nuts, cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, watercress, bok choy, and lots more), brown rice, oatmeal and whole wheat bread to cover your protein and iron requirements.

With a little planning at the start, you’ll find being a vegetarian is very easy.

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