Monday, December 13, 2010

Veg-ing Out

I’ve lately made the decision to eat mostly vegetarian. I am not becoming a vegetarian. This is an important distinction because there are many types of vegetarians, and I am none of them. For example, there are some people who simply do not like the taste of meat. Yes, I’ve met them, and they’re mostly men, interestingly enough. I do enjoy the taste of meat. (Though I should point out that I was raised largely without red meat, so giving it up isn’t a stretch for me. I think there are one or two recipes calling for beef in my recipe collection and I’ve never made them; most I have modified for chicken or turkey.)

The most common variety of vegetarian is what I personally term the ethical vegetarian. They’re the people you are probably most familiar with who roll out the statistics on turkey slaughter every Thanksgiving and remind you that every bite of meat you put in your mouth was once alive. Okay, not all of them are that pesky, but you get where I’m going with this. These vegetarians object to the inhumane treatment of animals raised to be our dinner.

The extreme version of this would be vegans, which I can never be because I like fruit. I am told that True Vegans do not eat honey, but they must eat fruit, and even organic fruit is brought about through the use of enslaved honey bees that travel with their keepers to orchards etc all over the country. So if the point of veganism is to live off of only plant products and not animal products, how can a True Vegan justify eating fruit? No, seriously. I want comments!

And I’ve got news for all of these people: plants are also alive. They are born, mature, bear young, and scream and bleed when you harvest them for your salad. My father, who was once a master gardener and raised flowers and vegetables for as long as I can remember, taught me that plants respond to affection. They like hearing the sound of a calming human voice. Which scared the dickens out of me once when I awoke alone in the house to hear men’s voices coming up from the basement. We were growing tomato plants from seeds and Pa had turned on NPR to keep the babies company while he was at work. But I grew up with plants as fellow living companions, just like our cats, dogs, rodents, and goldfish.

You know that apple that is so perfect, you will fight the tree to pick it? Do you hear the cry of agony from the mother once it’s finally yours? No? Well, I don’t hear the moans of the farm animals while they’re being “harvested” either. This isn’t to say I support the unethical treatment of animals that is our meat industry. But I do support local farms that raise their animals organically and free-range. (Incidentally, free-range chickens are never vegetarian. They peck at the ground and eat grubs. Just a heads-up.)

So why am I starting to move away from meat and towards vegetables? Because I only have two pairs of jeans that my fat ass will squeeze into, and I can’t afford to buy a new wardrobe. (Nor do I enjoy being a size 16 when a year ago I was a 12.)

When I based my diet around meat, I would have a chicken breast for dinner, sometimes with a side of noodles, and call it good. Or just the noodles! Lunch or breakfast might have been three slices of turkey bacon with mayo between two slices of white bread. (I’ve since switched to whole grain.) Or a bowl of cereal and a PB&J. Where are the vegetables in all this? The fruit? I’ll tell you: in the grocery store. I may have had a few frozen bags of peas or a can of corn in the cupboard, but mostly for peace of mind, not for consumption.

I spent a summer in Japan while I was in college, and my diet there was built on grains and vegetables with the occasional fish and sometimes beef thrown in. Granted my main mode of transportation was my bicycle, but I’m sure the diet was key to helping me lose those thirty pounds while I was there.

Similar situation when I first moved to California. I got around via my own two feet because I had sold my car to help fund the move, and the Bay Area has fantastic public transportation. I also vowed to eat healthier, and I succeeded for the first year and a half. The rest of the time was largely stress eating. No kidding, one week I ate nothing but milk chocolate macadamia laceys dipped in cookies and cream ice cream. It was divine, and went straight to my hips.

Now that I’ve put back on the weight, my knees hurt, and I find myself unable to run up three flights of stairs period, let alone without panting like I used to. So, in an effort to get healthier and thinner (I will fit into those skinny jeans again, damn it!), I am centering my diet on beans, whole grains, fresh vegetables, and fruit.

The internet has been a great resource so far, and some of my friends have volunteered their favorite recipes and cookbooks. (I still need to make a trip to the library. I love libraries, and I will never give them up in favor of my also beloved computer.)

I realize the following recipe has salmon in it, and I do take issue with our fishing industry that is destroying the world’s oceans, but baby steps. Also, having made it, I think I can totally leave the salmon out next time – there’s enough going on.

Salmon Chickpea Salad
(also obtained from Cloverleaf and also modified)

1 can boneless skinless salmon
1 can chickpeas (fyi aka garbanzo beans) drained
1 cup cherry tomatoes halved (I used grape because I didn’t see cherry)
1 sweet yellow pepper (remember that orange pepper from last time?)
¼ cup low fat Italian dressing (and that Tuscan Italian dressing?)

I also chopped up some cucumber since I still had some from the Salmon Cucumber Couscous. See, with all those veggies and the chickpeas, we don’t really need the salmon. Now I know. And knowing is half the battle. You could throw all kinds of vegetables at this thing and it would still be delicious! It’s great room temperature or chilled, and it is both filling and satisfying.

And for the record, since starting this new diet adventure a couple weeks ago, I’ve already lost seven pounds. Skinny jeans, here I come!

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