Friday, April 8, 2011

My Journey into (and out of) vegetarianism

What's for dinner?: The adventures of becoming a vegetarian

As promised, I said that I would post a blog on my decision to become a pesco-vegetarian some 10 odd years ago when I was 12 years old and in the 6th grade. It is hard to have a completely objective view of myself at that age since it just seems so young, but I think I was a fairly mature 12-year old. I was a huge bookworm (still am I suppose!) and loved reading anything put in front of me. So when I began reading "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser, I initially saw it as just another book which might give me an insight into fast food. Up to that point I had never really even been a huge fan of fast food. My ideal fast food (if I had to have some) would be Subway, Penn Station, or maybe Boston Market.

I quickly found the book to be fascinating...and appalling! The conditions in which the workers were subjected to in the meat industry, the obscene slaughtering practices, the low regard paid to the processed meat, it all gave me the creeps. I was most concerned with the ways this industry failed to provide livable conditions for the workers within their factories. I remember one story of a large 10-15 foot blood draining unit for beef production. One man fell in while trying to repair it. In a desparate attempt to help his friend, another man jumped in too.

I had enough at that point, I was converted. I told my mom that I wanted to be a vegetarian. She took it very well surprisingly! She was more than willing to help me acclimate myself to this diet, as long as I was willing to do some cooking and as long as I talked to my doctor about it. I did both of these things, went vegetarian cold-turkey (pun intended) and eventually decided that I wanted to continue to eat seafood. Seafood had always been one of my favorite sources of protein anyways.

I packed a lot of my own lunches, enjoyed shopping at specialty groceries such as Trader Joe's and the natural section of my usual grocers. I faced several difficulties with limited options when I would help with a retreat/program or camp and meals were not veggie-friendly. I have been finding more recntly, however, that restaurants and programs are becoming more aware of the large number of people who have taken up a complete vegetarian, vegan, modified vegetarian diet. I feel so blessed to have been able to make that choice, and in fact, we are blessed with so many options of what we can eat.

So I went on this way for a long time...9 years long time! I ate a lot of veggies (salads), hummus, PBJ, fruit, yogurt, beans/lentils/soups, rice, seafood and meat substitutes such as Morningstar, Boca, and Gardenburger. I loved finding new ethnic restaurants to try and found that overwhelmingly, Indian restaurants boasted the widest selection for vegetarians. My city (back home) has a huge Indian population, and I even found an all-vegetarian cafe which had a terrific lunch buffet. Each year for our birthdays, the birthday girl or boy gets to pick the restaurant. I even got my family to go along with me to an Afghani restaurant (yum!). Being a vegetarian gave me an excuse to try all sorts of new recipes and new products. My parents came to love trying all sorts of new foods and to this day they are huge fans of veggie burgers. My brother Mike, on the other hand, has not, to this day, touched any "veggie" food of mine willingly. Ha!

As I matured, I learned a lot of additionally reasons for being a vegetarian. For instance, did you know that vegetarians decrease their risk of heart attack by nearly half? Or that vegetarians add an average of 6-7 years on to their lives. Wow! Eating no (or even less) meat is extremely beneficial, as long as you eat a variety of good foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes.

So, this all sounds great, right? What happened, you might be asking...?

Well, in the summer of 2010, I took an incrdible, transformative, volunteer mission to Chuquibamba, Peru for a month. During my first day there with the Servidoras del Señor y de la Virgen de Mátara, we celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. As is customary, we were all served a meal following the mass. The meal consisted of carne con aji colorado (spiced beef), potatoes, and corn. I was famished, I was grateful, and I realized that I needed to accept this meal so to be able to fully show gratitude toward the cooks. I couldn't believe I was actually eating meat...what was this!?!

During my time in Peru, I read St. Francis de Sales' book "Introduction to the Devout Life". This is a terrific spiritual read that was the first book on spirituality written for the lay faithful. I don't remember the actual quotation, but I remember reading in the sections on virtues, that accepting all food one is offered is a virtuous and worthy endeavor. By accepting the food that I was given, I was able to show my gratitude more fervently and I allowed all of my material needs to be satisfied by the Lord. As I tried different types of meat, I started realizing that I really did enjoy meat. One day at the orphanage, we received a cow that had strangled itself and could not be sold. Thus, we ate beef (and even cow stomach!) all week long. In giving up my vegetarian diet, I was able to receive more fully and genuinely.

When I arrived back in the United States, I was torn whether I should return to my vegetarian diet or continue on in my adventure with meat begun in Peru. I decided to do both. I still cook a lot of vegetarian food...a lot! This skill especially comes in handy during Lent on Fridays when everyone is looking for a good fish or veggie meal. Today for lunch I made a skillet using red potatoes, tempeh, tomatoes, cumin, avocado, and black beans. However, I decided that I would eat meat, and I have even been finding myself excited to try new kinds and experiment with it in the kitchen. It all still feels kind of new and exciting to's like I'm a kid in a candy shop!

In closing, one's diet certainly is an important thing. A well-balanced diet is essential to good health. Some people feel compelled to take on a vegetarian lifestyle, whiel others find healthy options that inlude both plant-based and animal-based products.

Are there any current or former vegetarians out there? What are your thoughts on vegetarianism?

No comments: