Monday, January 4, 2010

Things I Learned...about being vegetarian

It has been just over a year since my husband and I decided to become vegetarian. In that time, I have learned a lot about food, habits, menus, and ingredients. I have changed the way I look at food completely and I am enjoying every moment of it. I feel like I am a stronger cook, one that explores more options. Here are some of the moments and revelations that I have discovered this past year.

1) I didn't really know Jello's ingredients until about a year or two ago. Once I found out, well, that really made my eyebrows rise. How did I not know? The worse thing about it is my mother used to make a dessert for me that she called "Natasha's Jello". She used sweetened condensed milk with red jello to make different shades of red and pink, which worked perfectly with my day after Valentine's birthday. How sad.

2) Not only is Jello off limits, but I never realized how many things had gelatin in it! Chip dip, sour cream from Taco Bell... Why, oh, why? The only good news, though, is Skittles are now gelatin free! Oh, and marshmallows. (Marshmallow puff on the other hand...)

3) How friendly people are about being vegetarian and give helpful tips, especially in restuarants (chicken stock in the rice at the local Mexican place, for example). Friends that offer recipes. Family or co-workers that cooks a special dish for a potluck or event. Still, we need to make our own food most of the time or eat beforehand. No complaints since I do like to cook.

4) Then there are the people that are on the defensive and have to describe how much they love meat, with descriptions of eating them. What they will eat. How they cook it. It just shows their lack of understanding, which I have suffered from when I was sixteen. Meat is the center of the plates and it is hard to wrap a mind around the idea of no meat or maybe even the lack of a meat substitute. Still, respect isn't a hard or long word.

5) I feel better about what I eat. I don't worry as much about food poisoning, or blood or veins in my food. I have less stomach aches.

6) I use more spices (like cumin and tumeric-- which can even make lima beans taste good!).

7) I try more ethnic recipes that I never would have done before, like curry.

8) I discovered some great meat alternatives (TVP, lentils, tempeh, Morningstar).

9) Eating out is hard. Pasta, mexican dishes, pizza, and appetizers are probably the easiest or only things on menus. I try to investigate menus before I go anywhere to check ingredients since I can find things out like there is gelatin in the sour cream at Taco Bell.

10) I am more aware about what I put in my body. Yes, I am eating lemonade coated wild cherry Nerds as I write this. I am guilty of loving sweets and still able to buy the healthiest of things that I shouldn't sometimes. Looking at my past habits really has shown how far I have come and how far I can go with what I am eating. There is also time and money, but I am using them both more wisely by not eating out as much and buying fresher ingredients.

Changing eating habits isn't something that I believe people cannot just jump into. Sometimes you have to take some time. I live in a small community so I am learning where I can buy ingredients and am exploring different recipes all the time. There will be trial and errors of many types, but I am determined to keep moving forward. That is what life is all about, right?

Picture: Taken at La Roche, a wonderful little cafe at 39 St Martin's Lane in London.

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