Once you go veggie, you never go back…

I have to say that I don’t miss meat at all. But then again, I’ve never really been a big meat eater. I’ve always said, “I could be a vegetarian” but I had no reason to go meatless. Once I started reading about how exactly the industrial farmers treat their animals and how our view of farm animals was very mislead (by the corporate factories) from our green pastures, white picket fence, red barn, way of thinking about it, I now had the reason.

How to cook vegetarian… My #1 question before I fully went vegetarian was, “How?” I honestly didn’t know how to cook a meal without meat (besides some boring pasta dish). I was recommended two cookbooks that helped out tremendously:

My go-to lunch/dinner lately has been edamame mixed in brown rice with a side of fresh green beans, sliced tomato, and goat cheese. Yum.

How to eat-out vegetarian style… One downfall of Birmingham is we don’t have any vegetarian restaurants. Many offer vegetarian options, but conversely, many do not. So what do you order if everything on the menu has a meat?

  • Get a salad without the meat
  • Get a pasta without the meat
  • Order side dishes (soups, salads, grilled veggies, etc.)
My next problem was how to keep with my no-processed foods and my newly found vegetarian lifestyle. Eating out on a no-processed foods diet is hard in itself. Side dishes were my answer. Grilled veggies. Soup of the day. Water with lemon. Thank you.

Bottom line… It’s definitely easier to eat at home (just like it’s easier to eat healthy at home), but it can be done.

Will I get enough protein?… When I told my boyfriend I wanted to “go vegetarian” the first thing he said was, “Just make sure you get enough protein.” So naturally, I googled… and this is what I found:

  • Whole grains are a great source of protein. The mega grain is quinoa. Unlike many sources of vegetarian protein, quinoa contains all of the essential amino acids, making it a “complete protein.” Just one cup of cooked quinoa contains 18 grams of protein, as well as nine grams of fiber. Other grains, such as whole grain bread, brown rice, and barley are also great sources of protein.
  • Beans, lentils, and legumes. Beans are one of the most common protein-rich foods for vegetarians. Black beans, kidney beans, split pea soup, chickpea hummus…
  • Tofu and other soy products. A half-cup tofu contains 10 grams, and soy milk contains 7 grams of protein per cup.
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters. Nuts, including peanuts, cashews, almonds and walnuts all contain protein, as do seeds such as sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Because most nuts and seeds are high in fat, you don’t want to make them your primary source of protein. But they’re great as a post-workout or occasional snack. Try soy nut butter or cashew nut butter for a little variety if you’re bored of peanut butter. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contains about 8 grams of protein.
  • Seitan, veggie burgers, and meat substitutes. Read the label of your store-bought meat substitute products and veggie burgers and you’ll find they are quite high in protein! Most commercial meat substitutes are made from either soy protein, wheat protein (wheat gluten) or a combination of the two. Homemade seitan is quite high in protein as well. One veggie patty contains about 10 grams of protein, and 100 grams of seitan provides 21 grams of protein.
  • Protein supplements. When purchasing protein powders and shakes read the label and watch out for cheap fillers in whey and soy protein powders. My local organic grocer sells Raw Protein and I’m pretty excited to try it!
  • Click here for high-protein vegetarian recipes!

The soy issue… Yes, there is lots of controversy around soy. This article along with Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food book helped me see through the fog. Basically, reductionist scientists can isolate one compound in any food that is “bad” for you. You have to look at all of the studies, not just pick and choose the ones that support your view.

I found this section of the article particularly informative:

“The anti-soy crusaders, on the other hand, point to certain substances found in soy, and tell us that almost any amount of soy is too much. The reality, though, is all foods contain substances that, if eaten in high enough concentrations, would cause problems. Even the most healthful foods contain components that produce unwanted effects when they are tested in isolation in a laboratory. For example, broccoli, lentils, and grapefruit contain naturally occurring pesticides that can cause mutations if eaten in high enough quantities.

Peanuts and peanut butter often have traces of aflatoxin, a substance found in a mold that grows on the nuts that causes cancer in high enough amounts. Celery harbors toxins that at high enough levels damage the human immune system and causes photosensitivity. (Highest levels occur in celery that has brownish patches.) Spinach and chard contain oxalic acid, a substance which binds with calcium and diminish its absorption. Common mushrooms contain several substances that in sufficient concentrations are carcinogens.

This doesn’t mean, though, that you should avoid eating broccoli, lentils, grapefruit, peanut butter, celery, spinach, chard and mushrooms. In fact, if you made it your policy to eat no food that contained substances which can in large enough concentrations cause damage, there would be literally nothing left for you to eat.

It’s true that soybeans contain substances that in excess can be harmful. But to imply, as some do, that as a result eating soyfoods poses a risk to human health is taking things much further than the evidence warrants. There would be dangers in eating a diet based entirely on soybeans. But, then, the same could be said for broccoli or any other healthy food. This is one of the reasons why varied diets are so important. Diversity protects.”

To organic, or not to organic?…

“You can’t start talking about vegetarianism, or even about a healthy diet, without being assaulted with questions about whether you buy ‘organic.’… I don’t routinely buy organic food, and I rarely go out of my way to buy organic food. It’s not that I’m against it; when I had a large garden, which I did for about ten years, it was nearly organic: we composted, didn’t rely much on chemical fertilizers, and avoided pesticides religiously. But that’s small time, and in a way that’s my point: I would rather buy local vegetables from a conscientious gardener or farmer than so-called organic vegetables from a multinational corporation. I think buying local is more important and has more impact that supporting organic.” ~Mark Bittman

The term “Organic” is so overused these days and that’s what drew me to this quote from Mark Bittman. Conscientious gardening. Just because the farmer has not gone through all the hoops to be certified organic does not mean that it is any less nutritious. However, I do believe that “organic” or “conscientious” vegetables are better for us than the genetically modified modern vegetables of today.

Vegetarian Restaurant, please… It would be very nice if Birmingham had a vegetarian restaurant scene… but that would be too easy, wouldn’t it? This is a video by The Traveling Vegetarian at The Laughing Seed in Asheville, NC. I visited this restaurant while in Asheville and you can’t even imagine how mouth-watering this stuff is… (I would LOVE it if they published their recipes. Hint, hint)

Will I ever eat meat again?… Sure. As long as it comes from a local humane farmer where I can ensure that my personal standards are met. Call me a flexitarian if you wish.

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