Friday, June 23, 2017

Experiments in Vegetarianism

Funny story -
I was chatting with a partner about changes and challenges and I issued an experimental edict: he'd go vegetarian for one week, a work week, 5 days. Just 5 days. Easy.
A billion text messages later, a late night munchies shopping spree, and 2 weeks of massive transition and I'm a vegetarian while my partner is pretty much a carnivore.

My experimental edict where I got to dictate the diet of someone else became deciding the diet of myself!

Being a person who doesn't like to ask others to do things she herself won't do - When I asked my partner to adopt a vegetarian diet I also adopted the same diet so I could relate 1:1 in what he was going through. During this time I was also engaged in a giant project/conference with my job, transitioning to another job, had just finished hosting company, and had been doing some major driving time.

The first day or two was fairly confusing - trying to be supportive of another person while also trying to navigate my fridge, evaluate regular go-to food choices, and reflect on my overall health was pretty disorienting.

How much meat had I actually been eating? Where were meat and animal products sneaking in to my diet? I had always considered myself a fairly "light" meat eater...until I took a look at my diet over the whole day. Turns out I had actually been consuming a LOT of meat - chicken breast and banana for breakfast, egg and avocado toast for lunch, BLTs for dinner - I certainly wasn't shy of fruits and veg, but for some reason meat was a feature in almost every meal.

By day three I had spent more time in conversation about diet than I had during college nutrition class. It was obviously not going well for my partner, but, in an odd twist, I was feeling better, less groggy, and generally upbeat about the whole thing. I liked the way I was feeling. The biggest difference between us - It had been prescribed to him, I ascribed it to myself.

Even for me, there were some tough moments - Late night munchies where I called my husband and had a talk about what 'good' bad decisions might be, chicken parm at a company dinner, and a day where I didn't eat breakfast that almost put me in a meat-only greasy spoon - but these challenges were overcome. Late night munchies were fixed by the sushi aisle of the QFC featuring vegetarian avocado rolls and some peppered tofurky. I survived the chicken parm situation by actually looking at the chicken...really looking at it and seeing the flesh on the plate. It reminded me of the Butcher in Diablo III...eww. And the greasy spoon moment was resolved by enough will-power to go home and make myself a lunch and the resolution to make sure I prep breakfast the night before from now on.

Easy moments abound - swapping chicken for tofu in my pad see ew, grabbing an apple from the counter, making delicious faux chicken patties loaded with guac, tomato, and lettuce. I am blessed with the privilege of prior experience and experimentation when it comes to vegetarianism. I'm also gifted with a local fruit and vegetable stall where I can buy "seconds" - perfectly good fruits and vegetables at really cheap prices. These things have supported me during the transition to a plant-based diet and I'd suggest to other folks interesting in attempting this change to learn from my experience to find the things that can support them.

Tips from someone who has been there:

Stop trying to "replace" the meat. 
This sounds really simple - but ohmygosh felt like the most liberating idea. Once I gave myself permission to stop trying to replace the meat in a dish I became free to make a variety of vegetables the focus. I didn't need to buy a faux roast to make the main dish with a side of veggies...I could make the veggies the main feature!

I remember the first time I tried being a vegetarian and buying a bunch of frozen Boca burgers...After a while they got really boring. Instead of spending my time comparing my faux-meat product to a real juicy burger I should have been rocking roasted peppers, tossing brussel sprouts in orange glaze, and finding ways to make veggies, not meat substitutes, the stars of the show.

Reframe limitations as strengths. 
Saying you "can't eat meat" carries a different connotation than saying you "prefer eating veggies." The overall result may be the same but the feeling is very different. One is a restriction - telling yourself you can't do something even if you want to, the other is choosing to elevate the aspects of yourself you like the best. Similar to the difference between saying you'll never run a mile or saying you are working towards running a whole mile. One shuts you down, the other builds you up.

Folks who shut themselves or others down tend to be on the negative side of things and that negativity can turn toxic if we let it. We don't need to do that to others, we don't need to do that to ourselves. When you come at something thinking of it as a limitation it can lead to feelings of anxiety or dread...and you shouldn't dread your diet. So, try giving positivity a larger role -
I can't do this  | I can't do this yet
I don't eat X | I prefer to eat A, B, C...

Support yourself and get support from others.
You should always advocate for yourself. Not to be selfish or to put your needs above others, but to make sure that the decisions you make aren't being made for you by others whose interests may not be in line with yours. There's a reason candy is put in the check-out lanes of stores...and it isn't because candy is a necessary food item they don't want you to forget. Candy companies want their items in the check-out lane - right in your face - as you wait in line and get agitated they stand a greater chance of getting you to purchase yourself a "treat."

Support yourself as much as possible - in whatever way is most rewarding to you. Get community support either online or in person for accountability, education, and affirmation. You might have to seek this type of support out - It may not be easy to find right away - but if you can read this blog on the internet - chances are you have a pretty good support network right at your fingertips. There are documentaries on Netflix about vegetarianism and veganism. There are videos of all sorts on Youtube. Post Punk Kitchen is a favorite resource of mine for recipe mining.

Experiment and cut yourself some slack. 
Maybe veganism is right for you. Maybe ovo-lacto-vegetarianism is more your style. Maybe you really freakin' like bacon and you can go vegan on all other things but bacon...do whatever you need to do - as long as you are moving in a positive direction. Cut yourself some slack - if replacing a fast food burger with one Morningstar burger is a massive change for you - that's friggin' awesome :-) Maybe being more educated means switching from the supermarket meat aisle to the family farm a few blocks down where the chickens roam free in the backyard. That's really cool.

In the end, a diet is whatever you eat. Taking control of your diet means making decisions for yourself - thoughtful decisions - about what you put in your body. If you have the privilege to make decisions about what you eat, why not make decisions that are well thought out? Experiment and cut yourself some slack if the experiment doesn't work out the way you thought it would. Alter your perimeters, try again, challenge yourself, and make fully informed decisions.

-Resources-

For Recipes:
Post Punk Kitchen
The Veganomicon

Research:
PETA
Meat Industry
Agriculture and Consumer Protection Dept (UN) Slaughter Guidelines
American Meat Science Association
Factory Farming - New York Times
Industrial Livestock Production - Grace Communications
10 Advantages and Disadvantages of Factory Farming
Temple Grandin - TED Talk
Holistic Livestock Management
Why Eating Meat is Ethical - Editorial
Is Hunting More Ethical Than Factory Farming? - Vegan Blog
Environmental Racism

Diet:
Balanced Nutrition
Vegetarian Diet: How to get the Best Nutrition - Mayo Clinic
Omnivore - Wiki

Community:
Vegan / Vegetarian Support Group
Seattle Vegan Meetup Group
The Vegetarian Society




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