Wednesday, January 30, 2013

On Becoming a Vegetarian

I've been cooking and eating vegetarian for a little while, and I promised I'd unpack the reasons in a later post, so let me keep that promise now.

1. Health Reasons
It began simply enough, with a lot of research on what I should eat for better health— as I've said before, most of my research on food and eating has been from a nutrition standpoint. The first stage was a mostly-veggie or "flexitarian" diet. I had previously been consuming a lot more meat than necessary to get my daily protein and fat, and not enough whole fruits and vegetables, so it seemed like a great idea to start replacing some of the common meat-centric dishes I ate with veg-centric ones. Slowly but surely, I was only eating meat (more likely poultry or fish) a couple times a week, usually in the form of a whole cooked chicken or soup stock.

2. Ethical Reasons
Part two of my descent into eating less meat happened when I crossed the boundaries of nutrition and started researching where food comes from.

This research eventually raised my consciousness about Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), and the myriad negative health impacts those types of facilities have on the animals and the land. I'd never focused on rights issues regarding animals in factory farms, but once you make the effort to look into it, it doesn't take much digging to understand what's going on every day on industrial animal farms that we're pleasantly shielded from in suburban life. To name just a few of the major problems, when you keep thousands of the same animal together in tight confinement, the living space becomes a serious breeding ground for disease (hence the increased need for antibiotics in non-organic farming), and because of increasing demand for cheap meat, living spaces have become tighter and tighter over the last few decades. Manure lagoons form and, instead of getting recycled as fertilizer, they become toxic waste sites that can contaminate rivers and ground water. CAFOs and other factory farm facilities can also become havens for animal physical abuse and neglect, to say nothing of overlooked cruelty during the slaughtering process later. And understanding that it's our demand for more, bigger, and cheaper cuts of meat that's promoting these practices finally made me say enough. I don't want my dollar going toward institutionalized animal cruelty.

After that decision, it was surprisingly easy not to buy meat from the supermarket. Kind of like how easy it was years ago to stop eating fast food (except for the occasional roadside slip-up) after learning about what it's made of and how devoid it is of nutrition.

I Still Have So Many Questions
I start to think that I could switch to eating meat from humanely-raised animals, but that prompts more questions: Why eat meat at all if I don't have to? I'm getting along splendidly with the other food groups- feeling and looking amazing, in fact. And how can I know which animals were humanely raised and which ones weren't? Do I need to visit the farms, or raise the animals myself for that guarantee? Eating vegetarian is the best I can do right now to get my money out of a sick system and satisfy my health requirements at the same time.

Since I'm still eating eggs and milk, I've been looking into what companies to buy from that are cruelty-free, but finding those is sometimes problematic, too. I thought simply buying organic was a good solution at first, but it's not the whole answer, since it turns out many organic farms use the same confinement practices as conventional ones, just minus the antibiotics and growth hormones. So now I'm on the lookout for better options. For example, Whole Foods Market carries some pasture-raised eggs, which is a quality of life upgrade for laying hens above designations like cage free and free range. The Cornucopia Institute, which researches and qualifies organic food brands based on ethical criteria, gave a 4/5 rating to Wegman's Organic brand dairy, and amazingly the last time I shopped there, their organic cream was the same price as the non-organic. You can read the Cornucopia Institute's Organic Egg Scorecard and Dairy Survey to find out how brands sold in your area rank.

So for the time being, I'm going to continue focusing on cooking without meat, researching and talking about food from the perspective outlined above. On a positive note, cooking vegetarian after almost 30 years of being a meat eater is an interesting challenge, and I'm really enjoying sharing the recipes and the process.


  1. Could not agree more -- I didn't expect it to be this easy. Your photos reflect how incredibly appealing and delicious it can be, too! :)

    1. Thanks so much for your support, Cassie! You know it means a ton to me.

  2. Very cool. I agree with you on many points. (amusingly enough I drafted a similar post that has not been posted yet- I will be very interested to know what you think of it)
    I have not read all the literature you have, but after watching loads of sometimes graphic documentaries about the food and farming industry, I got really turned off, and embarked on a mission to find "happy chicken" for consumption. I did find some open pasture raised options at local farmers markets. And some of them do CSA and invite you to visit the farm. S. and I have been half-joking about getting a couple chickens in our yard for eggs.
    But tell me truthfully, do you miss anything in particular?

    1. I'm really looking forward to reading your post!

      The local pasture-raised meat and eggs are a good option if you've got access to a farm. From an animal welfare standpoint it's an obvious improvement, and instead of just taking your money out of the industrial food system, you'd be actively promoting the local alternative farming practices. It's something I'll keep in mind, but not until it's in our budget.

      It's also not all that weird to keep chickens in the suburbs. :)

      I honestly don't miss that much about buying, cooking, or eating meat. Restaurants are a little trickier, since a lot of them don't have good vegetarian options, but we don't go out to eat much anyway. I've been paying very close attention to how I feel, making sure I get enough calories and protein and fat from plant sources, and I haven't looked or felt this good in a long time, so nothing missed there. I do feel that there's still a slight stigma around vegetarianism- like it's seen as finicky or a cry for attention or something, but I just think back to the reasons I'm doing it and it's easy to shrug that off.

    2. Thanks!
      Is there a MOM's near you at all? They do have some really good chicken, but it is pricey. Farmer's markets are a bit more affordable, if you can afford the time to make it to one. We do have a friend who is farming eggs right now, if you have not checked out Wren Song Farms, you can find her on facebook. I've been trying to set up a drop for them to bring eggs for anyone who wants to organize that. If several of us want eggs and we can condense that into one drop off for them, it would help them a lot.

      I agree with you about feeling better without meats. Although, maybe you have a valid point here, I hesitate to label myself as vegetarian.

    3. I will definitely have to check out Wren Song Farms- thank you for the heads up! The nearest MOM's is in Merrifield, and I actually just checked them out for the first time tonight. Got some pasture raised eggs and other things that I'll write about soon. :)

  3. i've been lurking and reading your posts for awhile now and get hungry every time but haven't told you yet how much i love this blog!! :) your thoughts and ideas are so neat to read and are really inspiring--and your pictures never cease to amaze me--they make me want that much more to eat whatever you're talking about :) thank you for sharing all this--particularly your thought processes and explorations into becoming vegetarian. i really admire all the investigating and stone-turning you've done--and of course like where it has led you because i obviously agree--but regardless of that, even if you had come to a different conclusion, i would still admire you for it--the Looking At is something i wish more people would take the time to do. in short, this blog and You Rule, and i'm moving into your house so you can make for me all the deliciousnesses! :D

    1. I'm so happy you've been reading and enjoying it, love! I was thinking of emailing you and telling you about my decision to go veggie (you've been a big inspiration to me on that, maybe without even knowing it), but I got all nervous... like, nahhhh, she's been a vegetarian for so long- all this stuff is old news! But seriously, thank you for setting such a good example. And you know I'd cook for you ANY TIME. Move on in! :)

  4. dammit--the thing just ate my last comment!! stupid hungry food blog!! lets see if i can retrieve it from the creaky, old memory banks...

    silly girl--please don't ever feel like there's anything you can't share with me or talk with me about! not to be all creepy and stalker-like, but i've always Admired and Respected You and thought you were (and are!) The Coolest :):) and long-time-being or no, this stuff is never old or boring or "duh" to me--i Believe that everyone comes to things in their own way in their own time, and this will always be a current and Important subject in my book--i just don't tend to talk about it much because its become part of my fabric and i forget to notice it, which is a mixed good and bad thing. i'm Honored and Glad to have been an inspiration in any way in your processing of this--and on a selfish note, it is very nice to hear thoughts similar to my own echoed from outside my head! :) You Rock, Beautiful, and i can't wait to see you again--and not just for your mad cooking skills!!