Tomorrow will mark a year since I started this blog, and my re-introduction into the world of vegetarianism. I’ve learned a lot about myself in this year, and have a laundry list of goals for myself for Year Two of this venture.
Before I start on my goals and celebrating what I’ve done, I need to make a confession:
This has been really, really hard for me. Like REALLY hard.
It has also been really, really frustrating. Like REALLY frustrating.
I feel as though there isn’t enough of an open and honest conversation in the world of vegetarians about how hard it is to live in a culture dominated by the carnivorous diet.
Maybe it’s because we’re all afraid that we’ll perpetuate some of the stereotypes that the carnivores in our world have about us: That as soon as we smell bacon, steak, or spot a burger, our veggie burgers pale to us in comparison … that in the dark of night, we sneak tastes of some of the food we are imagined to miss, then in the daytime, put on our “vegetarian faces” back on. Perhaps we’re also worried about being judged harshly not only by the carnivores, but by fellow vegetarians and vegans. Our North American culture is fraught with a very defensive attitude toward anyone who challenges the status quo “American Diet” of meat and potatoes.
All of this makes us be hyper-vigilant and defensive in return, and I think makes us shy away from talking about what I know has to be a very real problem for most of us … but that I *never* hear any vegetarians mention, bring up, or admit to. Not only do we not admit that we miss meat, but we also never, NEVER admit that some of us have popped a stray pepproni in our mouths, or out of curiosity snuck a taste of our kids’ burgers.
I’m going to start the honest dialogue here: I CRAVE MEAT, and I have snuck tastes. This is recently, but still, it’s been done. I know I can’t be the only one — I’ve seen on MyFitnessPal.com of all places, vegetarians in one of the community groups I belong to there discuss meat cravings and how to handle them. Without fail, most people say “Oh, well I haven’t had this happen to me BUT …” A rare few admit to having cravings, and NONE admit to ever having tried any meat (at least, not at the time I followed the thread). But you know, YOU KNOW they have. I call shenanigans on all of them!
And PLEASE, to all of you holier-than-thou, please don’t comment about how you’ve never done this and then berate me for talking about it. I mean, I believe some people don’t give in to meat cravings, and maybe a few truly just don’t like meat so never have experienced that gnawing desire to have some. I’m willing to bet, though, that more often than not, a lot of us have. And do. And then are wracked with guilt and self-hatred over it. So much so that we never, never, never talk about it. I’ve read many vegetarian/vegan blogs … I have yet to see one in which any of this is spoken about. All vegetarian blogs I’ve ever seen are about recipes, being healthful, and tend to have a cheery face that belies anything other than beaming pride in their pristine vegetarian-ness.
And I think it’s too bad. Really it is. We should be talking about this issue, because there’s a lot to be learned from our slip-ups, and a lot to be gained, too.
I want to start Year Two of my venture understanding what brought me to craving meat so badly, and what made me do it, and what’s going to keep me from doing this … because honestly, it tasted pretty gross to me. Hopefully, this will help others understand that this happens, and when it does, it’s NOT the end of the world, and it’s not the end of your vegetarianism either. Nor of your intent to cause less harm in the world, nor does it make us raging hypocrites as some would have us believe.
It DOES make us very human. Period. We pick up, learn, and move on.
So here we go:
That was the thing that really got me. Anyone who’s been reading this blog at all knows that A) I just like meat (or used to, I’ll come back around to this), B) I’ve been finding it difficult to find a good, regular schedule to cook — like all families do, and C) I find it super time-consuming to cook vegetarian meals.
So, that means that there were days and weeks at a time when my quick-fix meals consisted of cheese pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, the occasional stir-fry with tofu in it … but mostly, it was whatever I could stuff into the oven or microwave that required little to no prep on my end.
The cravings started around the time when things were getting really hectic, and I was feeling particularly overwhelmed — this time of year (end of school year) is stressful for all involved, but as a public school teacher, I’ve always gotten completely frazzled in May-June. Like I am now.
Not eating properly = craving meat = me trying out taco meat for the first time in for ever. I was picturing me loving the stuff like I always used to — greasy ground beef fried up in reconstituted spice … what’s not to love, right? After about two scoops of it (the first scoop didn’t even touch my tongue, I don’t think), I spit the third scoop out. Let’s forget where it comes from, because that wasn’t even on my mind at this point … it tasted … like blood. Like gross, disgusting, just … blood. I couldn’t drink enough water or brush my teeth and tongue enough to get rid of that flavor.
You’d think that would be enough to keep me from trying again, right?
Not so fast, smarty pants. I went and tried it AGAIN! The last time had to be a fluke, right? Like, I LOVE meat, that’s what makes me the Reluctant Vegetarian, right?
This time, it wasn’t taco meat, but hamburger that my husband made for my kids. My husband makes GREAT burgers, like REALLY good. People beg him to make them at cookouts. I dutifully nommed away at my home made veggie burger (which, for the record guys, I do actually really like), but while clearing the table and alone at the kitchen sink, I snuck a bite of what looked and smelled like the heavenly, juicy greasy stuff that I used to love. One, two bites later … yep, blood again. That taste. I grimaced, rinsed, brushed …
So, from there, I just wondered (and the cravings also compelled me): does it ALL taste nasty now that I haven’t eaten meat in months? Here are my taste-testing results (yes, I’m trying to make myself feel better by making it sound like an experiment):
Chicken: Gamy and gross. How did I ever like this stuff? It tastes like … farm.
Pepperoni (which I LOVE[d]): Also tastes bloody. Like blood. Through all the garlic and spices, you can taste it. Nasty.
Ham is about the only thing that tasted good … but it’s not because you can actually taste anything beyond the nitrates and sugar they soak the meat in. And, when my son called it ‘pig butt,’ which is what ham basically is I suppose, it kind of sealed the deal for me.
I haven’t tried with fish (which I love — salmon, tuna, sushi, shrimp …) because I’m afraid of how THAT will taste to me after a year without it.
So, I’ve been pecking at meat here and there … thanks to cravings and curiosity. The result is, I don’t like it any more.
Which makes me wonder: Does this mean that we train ourselves to like meat? Or is it one of those things that eventually grows on us?
Either way, I’m really just not interested in having it any more. So, the next step is …
CONQUERING THE CRAVINGS
So the cravings are clearly strongest when I haven’t been eating properly. When my diet has consisted mostly of cheese and starch, my desire to eat the meat that the rest of my family is consuming has been at its strongest. So, the solution, clearly, should be that I cook more home-made meals based in plants high in protein and iron. Common sense, right?
Sure. That, however, doesn’t mean that it’s easy for me to have things ready for myself to eat that will taste good to me, are quick to prepare, and AREN’T necessarily soups or stews of some kind.
It looks as though I need to give up that fight, though. When my weeks consist of working, going to meetings, running kids, myself, and the dog all over the landscape, and then also do laundry, dishes and pick up around the house … it leaves little time (or energy) for me to sit down and make a PILE of vegetable won tons or veggie burgers. The last thing on my mind on a Sunday afternoon is standing in the kitchen cooking for two hours when I haven’t had any down time all week.
So … the solution?
My first year of re-vegetarianism has been about me being determined to accept vegetarianism as it is. My philosophy of the “Say No to Meat-replacement” didn’t extend as far as to accept the fact that … well … cooked vegetables are soft and smooshy. So, nothing I make in the spectrum of vegetarian foods is really ever going to resemble steak, roast chicken or burgers in texture. I accepted the taste part of things, but the texture part … not so much.
Textures will be softer, and a lot of what I eat WILL be stewed, soups, or loafs or looser-than-ground-beef vegetable patties.
I wasn’t really fully embracing the difference between the two diets. Yeah, I know I don’t want to eat “facon” or “tofurkey” or fake cheese (I will be talking about my fake cheese ventures soon), but I need to acknowledge that my diet is most likely going to be exactly about filling up on black bean soups, stewed vegetables, and the occasional soft veggie burger. If I want a little bit of crunch, texture or “chew,” I’ll need to accept that it’s going to come from popcorn, fresh fruits and veggies, or bread.
To some more experienced vegetarians/vegans out there, all of this probably sounds like a lot of “duh” moments, but for myself, these thoughts are the culmination of a year of wrestling with my internal carnivore. The one who roared loudly on many occasions, and who could sometimes be silenced with a couple of slices of cheese pizza, but not always.
I’m slowly forgiving myself my slip-ups, and taking them as the learning opportunities that they are meant to be: I don’t like meat. It doesn’t ACTUALLY taste good to me any more.
Not only do I now know that I hate where meat comes from, I now also know that the taste isn’t appealing to me any more. Tasting that ground beef now makes me horrified about what my former-favorite rare steak must surely actually taste like.
Am I still, then, the Reluctant Vegetarian?
You bet. There are still parts of this vegetarian venture that I am more than willing to whine about 🙂
So now that I’ve accepted my fate as a “smooshy food eater,” this opens up more possibilities for me, and opportunities to set some new goals and expectations for Year Two of being a Reluctant Vegetarian.
Here are the goals as they stand now:
- Eat more beans and lentils, even if it means they are in soups and stews. They’re really good, and a lot of them are fast and easy to make. They often come together in the same amount of time as it takes to cook a frozen cheese pizza. It takes about the same amount of effort, too: open a few packages, stick them in the pot, stir, add spices, let them heat up over the stove. Done. Advantage: Keeping the inner carnivore at bay.
- Try, TRY, to eliminate dairy. This is my last “thing” I want to take care of. Dairy isn’t friendly to my stomach. It’s also not friendly to my bovine friends. Yet, I love, LOVE cheese. And butter. And sour cream.
- Try, TRY, to hate fake dairy less. I have accepted and actually like the existence of almond milk at this point and have it most mornings, either in my coffee or on my granola. However, if I’m going to give up cheese and sour cream, I need to come up with something non-dairy that doesn’t make me gag. And the Daiya stuff … does not cut it. That stuff actually, ACTUALLY makes me angry. Again, I’ll write more about that another time.
So, my thanks goes out to those who have followed along with me so far. For my Year Two, I hope to be able to share with you some more original recipes, recipe reviews and just general ramblings (read “whining”) about this stuff.
Maybe in the end, I’ll have to change the name of this blog. 🙂