Don’t let the title scare you, I won’t be preaching… I might do some lamenting though. That’sFit pointed out that today is World Vegetarian Day, the kick off to Vegetarian Awareness Month (Wikipedia tells me it’s also Filipino American History Month, but that one doesn’t apply to me as much). I moved to Las Vegas a year ago last week (should probably post about that) and became a vegetarian soon after. It wasn’t a moral decision, I just wanted to eat ‘better’. Before moving, my semi regular lunch had been a polish dog with some spicy mustard rolled up in a tortilla or a lunchmeat sandwich. I’m sure many a New Year’s resolution about ‘eating better’ has been broken so I decided I’d give myself a set of rules: I wouldn’t eat meat.
I believe my last meat based meal was wiener schnitzel at the Hofbrauhaus… because if you’re going to quit eating meat you should go big… baby cow big. That way PETA fans will think you had some sort of epiphany at the dinner table. I don’t think he was brutally slaughtered though, he probably “died of loneliness“. There have only been a few instances since then when I’ve ended up eating meat. Early on I ordered plain quesadillas, but they were delivered with chicken. I’m not a fussy person, so I ate them. I wouldn’t dare do that now, it’s been so long that I’m scared what it would do to my system. Even something like a ham sandwich looks painful to me. At Thanksgiving, I was absent mindedly munching on some bacon cheddar cheese completely forgetting what made it so delicious. Just recently, while in Germany, I voluntarily sampled the chopped pig brain my host a had ordered… because I knew I’d be blogging it eventually (never pass up a life experience). It wasn’t that interesting. The only time I blatantly break my no meat rule is when it comes to collagen extracted from animal connective tissue because that stuff is delicious.
People ask me if it’s hard being a vegetarian. It’s definitely not hard at home. I live by myself so there isn’t any meat in the house. It’s not like I’m going to bounce downstairs pop open the freezer and suddenly be tempted to eat chicken taquitos. I don’t go out much and I am cooking ~3 times a week, mostly pasta and bean based dishes. Many of these travails have been posted on Flickr in my Vegetarian Food set. I’ve got 3 vegetarian cookbooks:
- Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home is what I’ve used most of the time. It has a good selection of simple, delicious recipes.
- Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is a far more comprehensive how to cook absolutely everything book that is good for figuring out how to use a random ingredient that you found at the store.
- The New Laurel’s Kitchen was first published in 1976 and recommended to me because it is considered the bible of vegetarian cooking. It’s heavy on the nutritional science… and I really haven’t touched it.
So, that’s all well and good when I am cooking, but what am I actually eating day to day? I’m still eating cold cereal for breakfast. When it comes to quick meals (less than three minutes in the microwave), I’ve got frozen bean and cheese burritos (is it too much to ask for another option, El Monterey?). Prepared polenta with pasta sauce is also good. Every week I buy a bag of spinach for salads. Iceberg lettuce is pretty much garbage compared to it. Other items I eat more now that I’m a vegetarian: avocados, usually for my favorite recipe, a lot of black beans, and artichoke hearts because I’m often subbing them for chicken. I don’t buy tofu since it’s expensive at my regular grocery store and I’m just not a big fan. I’m also not buying organic: it’s expensive and I’d hate to deprive my body of all the preservatives and chemicals it grew up with and has become accustom to. I don’t buy faux foods either. I know what is in a boneless hot wing, chicken, but a vegetarian hot wing I only know what’s not in it, chicken. Besides, instead of imitating meat, vegetarian foodineers should be spending their time developing some super vegetarian food that carnivores would like more than steak.
Going out is a completely different story. I’ve confessed before that I secretly enjoy the limited menu items because of the fewer choices needing to be made, but it can still be frustrating (how did they manage to get meat into every appetizer?). For national chains, Chili’s scores fairly well because they’ll let you substitute black bean patties for their burgers. Despite my faux food aversion I do enjoy the burger form factor. I’ve been to P.F. Chang’s once and they have a decent vegetarian selection (it has it’s own menu section even). Other than the Quizno’s veggie, you won’t find me eating at fast food chains (luckily they’re building one down the street, hopefully we’ll get a grocery store too). Bars are also a no-go: the nachos are a crap shoot, they’ll never be praised for their house salad, and everything else that’s vegetable based has been batter dipped and fried.
Besides not particularly liking tofu there are a few other food related disappointments. I don’t really like cream based condensed soups, but almost everything else uses beef stock… except for the vegetarian vegetable which you can’t help but feel kiddie tabled by because it includes alphabet pasta. Before I became vegetarian, I never ordered cheese ravioli, now some times I have to order it. I’m not a huge fan of mozzarella, I mean besides the ‘freshness’, it doesn’t really have much going for it, so giving me giant slices of it is nothing without a little flavor assistance.
There are only a few things I miss. When I was back in Nebraska in April I called a friend to see what they were doing. They were at the N-Zone for the Friday happy hour of free wings with every pitcher (like we needed an incentive to order more beer). Damn I miss that: eating piles and piles of wings with good friends or when Frosty and I would place a huge order to consume during Sunday night cartoons. The chicken wing is just a carrier for the sauce so I’m sure this could be replicated in some vegetarian form (see veggie foodineers, that’s your super food). I miss bacon, which is funny because at dorm breakfast they always had bacon and veggie bacon and I ate both. I loved the veggie bacon because it was essentially baconated crackers. Apparently someone has developed a vegan miracle cure for this rampant desire. I also have fond memories of sushi. If I moved to either coast, I’d probably add fish back into my diet as long as I was cooking it at home as well.
That being said, I truly enjoy being a vegetarian and I can’t imagine going back any time soon.