Friday, October 11, 2013

a few thoughts on eating mostly plants

I have been eating a "mostly vegetarian and sometimes vegan" diet for 10 months now.

A sampling of reasons why I made this change:

1. I genuinely like eating "healthy" foods; I like vegetables.
2. I'm a wanna-be hipster, this seems like a hipster move.
3. Something in my gut (pun intended) told me this was a good change.
4. At the very least, the current meat industry (factory farming) treats animals in cruel and horrible ways and has various negative impacts on the environment and the economy.
5. I get to worry less about cross-contamination while cooking. This makes my anxiety-prone brain happy.
6. On a "full time student" budget - simple vegetarianism is generally much cheaper in my area.
7. The aesthetics of a full produce basket in my kitchen make me happy.
8. I enjoy experimenting with new recipes and discovering new foods/cooking methods. Nothing like having to toss 99% of your standard go-to meals to get started on "new."
9. From a faith perspective, there is something to the fact that the creation story does not include the killing of animals until after the fall.

There is one thing that was not my motivation though, and that has surprised me with it's quiet, steady, presence in my life these past ten months.


For lent I did strict vegetarian only diet. But even then, I wasn't focused on the fasting. I was focused on the "adding."  As in, I could afford a few extra of the "expensive" fruit and veggies and grains since I wasn't buying meat.  I was getting new and exciting recipes. Learning new things. Feeling new connections to the world around me.  All good things.

But, as the honeymoon phase ended I'd have really intense desires for various meat-based foods. It was never even a hunger-craving, but rather a desire for the other impacts that food had on me. Food and taste and smell is powerful. There is a reason things like "comfort foods" exist. They are satisfying and warm and familiar. They fill some emotional need and serve beautiful purposes for our mental health. For me those things are a chicken-broccoli casserole, roast beef and meatloaf the way mom made it, and hot dogs with sandwich relish (the way I ate them with my Grandaddy).  After living away from my home-state (in fact, away from that entire region of the country) for four years, there are restaurants  and foods associated with "home" that ease feelings of homesickness because they offer some connection.

One thing I've found myself asking as I encountered these desires for these various animal-based foods is, "What kind of vegetarian dish can I make that will mimic that?"  And, of course, barring some molecular gastronomy techniques and some highly processed meat-alternatives that still don't quite get it perfectly right, the answer is: "There isn't one. I can't recreate that taste another way."  I can come close, get an approximation, something that might quench the hunger craving, but not the soul-desire.

I am completely in favor of supporting the basic biological fact that sometimes food that nourishes our body also nourishes our soul and our emotions. I am not one to outright dismiss "emotional eating" because food is more than contents for your stomach. But as I identified these desires for feelings and realized that in this way that I've chosen to live that those desires could not be met in the familiar ways, I understood "fasting" as a spiritual discipline in ways I never really had before.

So my moments of desire turned into. "hmm. Roast beef sounds really good. I remember Mom making that at home. I remember learning to make it. Dad often requested it on his birthday. It was the first meal I made for the kids at work in Chicago. Those are good memories with family and friends" and I thought about the memories, maybe called my mom, thanked God for those times, and thought about why I wouldn't buy the roast just to recreate the taste and smell (see list above).  It's not the same as the powerful memory of smell and taste - I don't get the same result. But I also have good memories around board games, jokes, special days, and fruit salad.  There are other ways to satisfy those desires for connection to my past. And the fasting from ways that involve animals allows me to ask what I'm really wanting when I "crave" Chicken Divan and I find myself better off for knowing the answer. And, my mom probably appreciates the phone calls I make (though she doesn't normally know she's the answer to my chicken craving when I call).

I have literally been trying to decide what to do about Thanksgiving since January. There is a local farm where I can reserve a "life well lived" turkey if I decide to do that, but I guess the question is, do I need to do that to enjoy the day?  Everyone knows thanksgiving side dishes almost outshines the bird - so a side dish feast seems a brilliant way to celebrate as well.

At the end of the day I try to  offer myself grace in this process.  Last night I listened to my friend Sarah give a presentation on loving Jesus and loving animals and how that all fits together.  I'm sure she'd be ecstatic if the whole world instantly became vegan, but she offered us much grace in the process - "choose one meal to be vegan,"   "be a vegetarian who occasionally eats bacon." It's better to make informed and knowledgeable choices about our food, she said, than uninformed ones.

For me, I've discovered this year that the "informed" and "knowledgeable" is about how animals are treated and if I'm ok with that, but it is also being informed and knowledgeable about myself -  recognizing emotions and desires and connections to people and the world around me.


  1. Very interesting thoughts.. I like a lot of what you say.

    Well, up until this part..

    "Everyone knows thanksgiving side dishes almost outshines the bird - so a side dish feast seems a brilliant way to celebrate as well."

    WHAT?! That is the craziest thing I've ever heard! lol It's ALL about the bird first, by far, and then the stuffing (cooked IN the bird only), mashed potatoes (gravy MADE FROM the bird juice) and cranberry sauce (in the can, the shape of the can, only). In that order. I've heard rumors that some people have things like green bean casserole but "everyone knows" that if that junk shows up, it doesn't get eaten. hehe

    Seriously though, my experience has only (and consistenly) been these food items plus pumpkin pie, maybe plate of random olives/pickles and deviled eggs. I've seen you and all the hipstery/crafty bloggers talk about myriads of side dishes and I always find it fascinating. I would try something new (but in addition!! but I'm certain no one else in my family would. I once made spaghetti with turkey meat instead of ground beef (because of my gallbladder problems) and you couldn't even tell the difference, and I was called a crazy hippie. I'm also the only one in the family who doesn't coat everything I cook in butter (yuck). And I bought couscous once and my sister flipped out saying that I always have such weird crap at my house, can't I just have normal food?

    1. Haha. I'm a "stuffing goes IN the bird" girl too. And that's my fave. So I can't recreate that sans turkey. I hate green bean casserole, but thanksgivings usually involve something squashy, sweet potatoes, roasted veg of some sort, fruit salad, etc. I think my family is used to my odd food choices by now. I can't stand the stick of butter in everything either. Ick. Crazy hippie is a compliment! Lol

    2. Sweet potatoes/yams/whatever occasionally pop up, depending on where I am. I don't usually have any, maybe a bite or two, I always try everything. I don't think I've seen a roasted vegetable or fruit salad yet. I'd be good with fruit salad though.. yum. Oh, a can of corn will usually be opened (and slathered with butter meh) and I forgot about the rolls!

      Honestly, I'm pretty open to new foods, I'd say that I eat more new than I do old at this point, I've always been open to trying new things, and I really do eat almost everything lol. (Well, not since the gallbladder stuff started.. meh.) But, at the same time, I have a core group of things that I don't want to change either, mainly Thanksgiving food, chicken paprikash, chicken corn soup (man, I'm such a bird person haha). They're special occasion things though and whereas they're somewhat about the memories or experiences for me, they're also about the food! I think my memories are there but a little less vivid than yours are. Most of my memories just pop up occasionally, in passing, and don't usually remind me of specific things, just general feelings.

    3. Yeah! I totally get it - which is why I've been contemplating on the Thanksgiving turkey since January . . .

      I think it's completely intellectually honest and a testament that you know yourself to say "i'll switch to a more plant based diet but not on Thanksgiving and I'm still going to occasionally make __________ dish." When possible to get that meat in more humane ways, that's always good too. I think I fall into the "eating meat isn't inherently wrong, but the way in which we often do it today is" camp of thinking right now.

    4. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

      (Sorry for kinda taking this off-topic, but I don't have anything to say to the rest because it's good "food for thought" [har] and I'm not sure there is anything I disagree with straight out either.)