Saturday, February 13, 2010

Meat is Murder. Tasty, tasty murder.

So, I'm thinking about starting to eat only vegetarian foods. I figure it's probably pretty inevitable and I have just been waiting for the right moment.

This seems to be it.

I have been having trouble maintaining my weight without being hungry all the time even though I exercise at least three to four times a week. Plus, I'm finding that I'll have a second helping of dinner (which is more and more frequently meat-based) because I'm not satisfied and I don't feel good after. I've gotten into the habit of eating slowly and waiting before second helpings and of drinking a lot of water and all that stuff you're supposed to do to make sure that you aren't eating out of habit or emotionally. But the fact is, I'm still hungry. And when I'm hungry, I'm cranky and can't focus on my work.

A few months ago, I picked up a copy of Skinny Bitch at the thrift store for $.99. Although their "trademark straight-talk and bawdy humor" gets pretty annoying pretty fast, the book is a quick read and seems to make a lot of sense based on what I already know about how our bodies work. It cuts through the urban legends of dieting that try to circumvent natural functioning and talks about what our bodies weren't meant to eat to sustain us. It pointed out that digesting rotting corpses is pretty inefficient and I figure it's worth a shot to try being vegetarian for a little while. If I'm eating a lot, at least it's easy for my body to digest.

I say that vegetarianism was probably inevitable because I've known for awhile now about how awful the animals that we eat get treated. I've mostly shifted to organic foods because of that but still, I know that none of the flesh that enters my mouth was tenderly cared for by a farmer in overalls. It also has a huge environmental impact to eat meat. I know that I can't actually make a measurable difference but that has never stopped me from altering my consumer choices before. I want to be able to live with myself and my choices and that means that I choose the less oppressive choice as much as I can, even if it means paying more or sacrificing a little. It's just the kind of person I want to be. So, I shop at thrift stores for all my clothes, I buy only fair trade chocolate, and now I am a vegetarian.

I want to be a little loose because a) we still have stuff in the freezer and kosher meat is expensive and b) I never want to reject someone else's hospitality.

Still, I am actually a little scared. I held Jacob's hand in bed the other night and cried a little as we talked about it. I find so much joy in my life from eating good and satisfying food. I learned from my mother than eating unsatisfying food (like supermarket birthday cake) is a "waste of calories" and that has stuck with me. I spend a lot of brain waves about my meals and I fear that I will not be able to create enough variety or attain satisfaction with vegetarian meals without spending 3 hours cooking every day. It seems like easy vegetarian meals are just recombinations of the same ingredients. Like in the Simpsons:
Marge: This is delicious! What's in it?
Manjula: Chick peas, lentils, and rice.
Marge: And what's in this?
Manjula: Chick peas and lentils.
Apu: Try it with rice.
I don't know enough about spices to make things interesting and you can't eat navy bean soup every day.

It seems like the alternative of vegetarian dishes that sound interesting require more than 10 ingredients each and you need to make three of them to have a balanced meal. I tend to keep a few staples in the house and work with what I have. Jacob tried to soothe me and said, "Pasta with sauce and steamed broccoli on the side is a good vegetarian meal."

This did not help. This is, in fact, my nightmare of vegetarian casual cooking.

But I'm going to try anyway. Jacob can't figure out what the big deal is. He really doesn't care about whether or not the food tastes good or is balanced so that one feels like one has had a full meal. Plus, he has had to be functionally vegetarian whenever he eats other places since kosher meat is generally unavailable or is unwittingly paired with butter or cheese.

The lovely A. has recommended the rebar cookbook for its unexpected flavor combinations and although it looks daunting, I'm willing to trust her and give a few a try. I like working with beans (especially because I can buy them bulk and avoid all the excess packaging that gets thrown out) so I'm trying to spice them differently. I've had a craving for pintos and cheese for days so I thought ahead to be able to make them for lunch today. I guess I'll leave you with my recipe for that since I typed it out for a friend on Facebook.

Soak two cups of pintos overnight with a big handful of salt. Drain and rinse in the morning. Put in crock pot with four cups of water, a diced onions and 4-5 diced garlic cloves. Cook on high stirring occasionally until pintos are mushy (5 hours? 6?) Add a bunch of Trader Joe's quattro formaggio. Stir. Eat. Sometimes I add zucchini or ... canned tomatoes in the last hour or two to get in some sneaky vegetables. If the pintos are smushy but too wet, leave the lid off for the last hour. Yum.


ABG said...

Two super helpful vegetarian resources. One, vegetarian times. Most big libraries subscribe and they have a feature "30 Minute Meal" section each month as well as "1 Food Five Ways." Both are practical and "everyday" enough to be enticing.

Then, the mother of all books, Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. She's fabulous, anyhow, and so concerned about many of the same issues you raised. The book is full color and the recipes are without fail absolutely delicious and generally seasonal. We checked it out of our library every other month for a year and a half before someone had mercy and gave it as a Christmas gift! :)

Love to you.

Jessica Young said...

Please, please, PLEASE talk with me about this. I totally understand what it is to grieve food because you have to/choose to stop eating it.
Second ABG's resources, and would add How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. It's huge, and so if you don't strategize and pace yourself, it can be overwhelming. But it without exaggeration the most useful tool in my kitchen, excluding the appliances. Bloody amazing. Come over and page through it when you can.

Ti Christophe said...

Right on, Rebecca! I was vegetarian for about 5 yrs (partially thanks to a former girlfriend who was an animal rights activist). It's not as overwhelming as it appears )IMHO at least) and can be very very tasty. Many Indian dishes are vegetarian, for example. Good luck! and good choice!

Anonymous said...

I'll make you my chickpea and hominy dinner! Easy and yummy...Lorinda

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this is soemthing I still struggle with, since, as Jonathan Safran Foer has written, the only reason for eating meat that really stands up to any scrutiny is "I like it." Is there anyone out there that doesn't realize how monumentally terrible the entire meat industry is for the planet? And your health? And I write this as someone who eats meat only rarely but haven't given it up completely because, well, I really like the way it tastes.

Appropriately enough, the wonderfully tasty cheeseburger I had today doen't seem to be agreeing with me at all.

More food (ha) for thought? Read David Foster Wallace's "Consider the Lobster" (you can find the entire text online). It's a great piece of nonfiction writing and approaches the issue of causing suffering in the name of desire in typical Wallace fashion, that is to say very intelligently and perceptively.


PrincessMax said...

Thanks for all your support, folks! And the cookbooks! I'm very excited.

Mark, I read Consider the Lobster when it was first published in Gourmet Magazine and it rocked my world in more ways then one. I can still remember exactly which toilet I was sitting on and what I could see out the window.

Rachel said...

Girrrrrl? This will become normal and awesome and easy for you. Time.

Oh! And do not forget the original Moosewood cookbook. That's sort of gospel-y.

I'll make a point to post some recipes of my standard things on le blog, in case they're useful to you.

hearts and farts,

KC said...

Rebecca, I did exactly this just over two years ago. I've pretty much adjusted, I think, but I have had a lot of nostalgic moments: "oh, I used to like to have bratwurst with my dad..." If you want help or dinner suggestions or just to talk, email me or something.

It's hard to redefine what "home food" is, because it is so tied up with how we experience our homes and families. I think my becoming vegetarian and having to re-learn how to eat has actually been good for my relationship with F., because we're taking my own food history (which has changed a lot over time but ultimately grew out of the foods my mom taught me to eat) and his food history (a lot of the older generation in his family don't like anything if it's not Indian food) and creating our own rotation of favorite meals. It means cooking is something we usually do as a team, and I view it as part of constructing a new family for ourselves. I think if I hadn't gone veggie, we might just eat separate meals, which would not allow us to have this whole experience.

Michelle Zoppo said...

I think you should research 'flexitarian' cookbooks, Flexitarian translates to 'flexible vegetarian'. I find it helps to make the transition, and its easy to appreciate hospitality and have something at someone else's home.

Miss Anne said...

Be brave. Use salt - good quality, kosher sea salt. Use olive oil. Raw, added after the meal is cooked. Use fresh herbs, chopped, added through just before serving. Buy lots of vegetables that smell delicious. Add fruit to your cooking (tagine? pear and rocquette salad?). Start to add chilli (dried or fresh - if you don't like spicy food, add a tiny amount!) - brilliant with Italian and Spanish flavours and not just Asian / Indian.
Eat colourful food.
Dried pulses are for braising and mashing. Vegetables are for salad and stir-fries and roasting and every which way.
Ideas? Mushroom risotto. Chickpea tagine with quinces or pears. Red lentil and sweet potato soup with coconut cream and cilantro and chilli. French braised puy lentils with thyme and polenta. Fatoush. Ratalouille. A plate of figs and hard cheese and olives and hommus and flat bread.
So many ideas!
PS - you've inspired me so much -happy to help anytime you need inspiration in the kitchen!

Bunny said...

I found your blog through a comment on APW, and I've been reading all of your archives :)

I can definitely understand you mourning for food that you won't be able to have if you go veg - I am not veg, but pretty much only because I can't imagine the thought of life without butter or cheese or meat or fish, and ideologically, I would go vegan IF I made the eating change. That being said, we do end up eating veg a lot - a great resource I've found is We ate the red lentil soup for literally 3 weeks straight before I got tired of it.

PrincessMax said...

Thank you all so much for your encouragement. I have to say that three months into this vegetarian identity, I feel very very good about it. The other day I had a super-stressful appointment that I was dreading and I comforted myself by promising myself a cheeseburger as a reward when I got out. However, when faced with choosing a restaurant, I realized I wanted to go home and make an Amy's frozen pizza.

I'm glad that I'm easing into this. Fish is still on the menu and neither dairy-free nor vegan are anywhere on the horizon but I know I'll get there eventually. Or, I'll go back and forth if I need to.

I'm starting to FEEL like a vegetarian so that even if I make exceptions, it won't negate my core identity.

And that's kind of cool.