Friday, August 13, 2010

A Few of My [New] Favorite Things

(Or, a venture into veggiedom.)

I have been eating mostly vegetarian ever since the end of June, when, at my creative writing residency, I decided to see how long I could go just choosing and eating foods sans meat. My older brother is a vegetarian and I have more than a few good friends who are dedicated vegetarians, so I know a little bit about the importance of getting complete nutrition from a meatless diet. I have had one fish dish while we were in Boston, and I think I probably had some other kind of meat when we were visiting someone. But probably 99% of my meals since the end of June have been meatless. My hubby and I didn't eat meat all that often before, because quite honestly, I am a little squeamish when it comes to fixing the stuff myself. But before this, if someone else fixed the meat I'd eat it.

Now, however, I am decidedly choosing veggies over meat for philosophical reasons. I have always loved animals and believe a lot of them are smarter and more soulful than we give them credit for. I could never bring myself to eat veal, or duck, and while I love me a gyro, I had to push out of my mind the image of the lamb that had to be butchered to make my Mediterranean delight. And did you know pigs may be about as smart as dolphins? So aside from the doe-eyed bleeding heart type objections to eating animals, there is an even stronger reason. Most animals we eat are industrially raised and slaughtered to satisfy the American myth that if there's no meat on the plate, it's just the appetizer. The conditions they are farmed in are usually unsanitary and unhealthy both for the animals and for the people living in the surrounding areas. I don't think I need to explain this; there are movies and books readily available that go into more detail. Food, Inc., The Omnivore's Dilemma, etc.

Just down the road from me, however, is Country Gardens Farm and Nursery. They sell eggs from cage-free hens, pastured poultry, grass-fed beef, and even raw milk. If I'm gonna eat a hamburger, I would buy the meat here. Same with chicken. I want to know where my meat comes from and that it's harvested in sustainable, healthy ways. That said, the "good" kinds of meat are more expensive, which makes them more of a luxury item in my book. So I still will eat probably 99% vegetarian.

So, what do I eat when I eat at home?

One of my new favorite dishes to make is tofu stir fry. Our grocery store sells bags of fresh stir fry vegetables, so it's super easy to throw them in a skillet after I've browned the tofu. Then I toss them all together with some Teriyaki sauce.

Also: Bean Burritos! Despite what my brother says about beans being the musical fruit, black beans are really good for you. They have lots of iron and protein and, of course, fiber, so they're a good red meat substitute plus. I like to make my burritos on a whole wheat tortilla and spread vegetarian refried beans in the middle, then top with black beans, cheese, cilantro, avocado, pico de gallo, whatever! Always tasty.

Then, for a snack, I love (and have always loved) hummus. One of my recent favorites is wedges of whole wheat pita bread dipped in hummus. I have all the ingredients to make my own hummus but I'm just too lazy so far, so I use a hummus I buy in my grocery deli. It's so creamy and fresh.

Recently, my hubby's parents were in town and wanted to go out to eat for Sunday lunch. They chose Chilis. I figured it might be hard to find a veggie option at a place like Chilis, so I began looking at the salads, soups, and appetizers. Even then, most of those had some kind of meat in them. Then I looked at the burger page of the menu and lo and behold! A black bean burger can be swapped for beef--for free! I ordered a mushroom and swiss burger on a whole wheat bun, plus slices of avocado (+$0.75), and it was delicious. I was half expecting the kind of dry, bland veggie burger I've had at some other places. But this was moist and flavorful. I could even see whole black beans and herbs and spices in the burger. I was almost giddy. It looked kind of like this, without the corn salsa (which would have also been mighty tasty):

So there you have my life as a veg so far. It takes a little effort, but most things that are good for you take a little effort. My hubby's been very supportive, making me veg meals and everything. And as a self-proclaimed "meat and potatoes" guy when we first met, even he's eating 90% vegetarian. I feel better physically, and my Jiminy Cricket doesn't chirp in my ear about the poor farming practices that probably went into getting the slab of muscle tissue onto my plate.

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