April 30, 2014
Healthy Living

My Vegetarian Adventure

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I’ve evolved from a carefree eater to a careful eater . . . . 

When I first started dating my husband-to-be, he was a vegetarian. Close friends would tease him mercilessly. They even dubbed his big batches of garbanzos and bulgur “garbage and bullshit.”

That was back in the ‘70s, when vegetarians were fringe eaters. Friends poked fun at them. Families ignored their wishes. Restaurateurs considered them a nuisance. Many vegetarians were frustrated and militant. They didn’t help their own case much, either. Serious vegetarians were seriously strident.

My husband-to-be was a dabbling vegetarian, not a serious one. All it took to lure him back to the mainstream was a fat, juicy steak and a temptress (me) who knew how to navigate a kitchen.

      Roasted vegetable salad on bed of arugula. Photo Credits: Susan Sampson

Nowadays, vegetarianism is but one of many tributaries in the culinary mainstream, and no one blinks if a vegetarian paddles by. Restaurants are fairly accommodating. So are friends and family. Although their eating habits may still sometimes seem demanding, the most that vegetarians today are subjected to is gentle ribbing – like this BuzzFeed clip titled 21 Things That Happen When You Don’t Eat Meat.

So, when I went vegetarian for the entire month of April, no one considered me odd. (Funnily, the only flak I got was from my husband, who kept grumpily asking: “Is there meat in that?”) In contrast, folks were startled when I spent the previous month as a vegan, and full-out marveled when I stuck to a juice fast throughout February. As Einstein might have said, times change and it’s all relative.

The most fundamental transformation during this three-month reboot of my life and diet is this: I have evolved from a carefree eater to a careful eater.

I’ve been spending a lot of quality time with veggies. Being a vegan is hard, but being a vegetarian is easy. There’s a cornucopia of delicious meatless dishes to choose from, and no need to jump through hoops in the kitchen or supermarket. Being a serious vegetarian, however, takes more thought. It’s important to resist the siren call of cheese and white carbs, or you’ll feast on them non-stop. French fries or mac-and-cheese are fine occasionally, but won’t change your life. Making friends with whole grains, nutrient-dense greens, colourful root vegetables and fibre-filled legumes will change your life.

Paying attention to what I’m eating, how much and when has paid off. Three months of limiting my options and eating with no distractions have left me 27 pounds lighter, and my blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol levels have plummeted. Another strange side effect: Food tastes so damned good. This reawakening of my tastebuds reminds me of rolling open a blind and letting the sunlight stream in. Eating is incredibly satisfying, yet I am satisfied with less.

I’m spending the month of May with some meat, then taking stock of my situation. It’s crucial to find a balance between my overwhelming passion for cooking and the urgent need to take control of my weight. I suspect I’ll end up as a part-time vegetarian or vegan. And I can live with that.

Four vegetarian meals: Bean Smash With Kale & Egg, Smoked Cheese Risotto, Classic Channa Masala, Mediterranean Chopped Salad

       Satisfying channa masala, an Indian chickpea curry.