I've been a vegetarian my whole life. My parents are hippie health nuts who opted to raise me and my sister on fresh, meat-free foods. They introduced us to poultry, fish, and meat as toddlers, but as family legend tells it, I tried chicken once, spit it out, and announced I didn't like it — my taste buds had been taught to crave tofu, beans, and veggies. And so, that is what I ate. I've never carved turkey at Thanksgiving (we do an Italian or Mexican feast). I've never forked up red meat (intentionally). I've never snacked on shrimp cocktail. And, I don't want to. End of story. It's a lifestyle that evokes questions from strangers and dates and "just try my steak once!" taunts from old friends, but it's my choice. I eat delicious, balanced, and nutritious food every day. And I feel great at least 360 days a year.
While my experience is one-sided, it has taught me plenty. Here are some of the more fruitful life lessons grown from my years as a veggie head.
- You don't have to justify your lifestyle. Unorthodox life choices intrigue others, but you don't owe anyone an explanation. Sometimes I'm in the mood to divulge why I'm not ripping into the carnitas served at a dinner party, but sometimes I double up on guacamole, chips, and a margarita and eat another (vegetarian) serving of goodness when I get home. Live the life that works for you without feeling the need to defend who you voted for in the last election, whether you are team Jacob or Edward, or what you dished on your plate. Here's a secret: at the end of the day, no one really cares. We're all just doing our thing.
- Food choices are personal, not universal. Being a vegetarian works for me, but it doesn't work for my sister, who since adolescence has eaten poultry and fish. She likes the taste. I don't. She's still my favorite dinner date. We split the veggie curry, and she gets her chicken dumplings on the side. We all want, crave, and need different things. This could very well be the best spice of life.
Why isn't being a vegetarian a missed steak?
- Always be flexible and inventive. Creativity, whether in the kitchen or at the supermarket, keeps meals (and life!) exciting. I love to mix and match unexpected flavors with my favorite grains and proteins and see what stews up. I aim to be especially adventurous when I cook for myself so I never feel cheated when vegetarian options are lackluster.
- Don't expect to be catered to. Contrary to what my grandmother might think, the 3.2 percent of Americans who are vegetarians aren't trying to be difficult. I'll speak for us all when I say we don't ever presume friends will adjust their menus just for us. The effort is always felt, but never required. We're big kids. We'll figure it out.
- It's not about what you don't do, it's about what you do (or eat!). Some say we are what we do. Others say we are what we eat. Whatever you take, think Bing Crosby: "accentuate the positive . . . eliminate the negative." Do or eat what works for you. Forget the rest.
- Don't restrict yourself, make choices. If you've ever tested your willpower you know as soon as you define something as off limits, your mind starts misbehaving. Being a vegetarian, or aiming to eat less sugar, drink more water, or run a faster 5K, requires planning, constant effort, and daily (if not hourly) choices. Don't focus on what you can't have or do, but focus on what you can have or achieve. It sounds hokey, but it's true. If you try hard enough, you'll feel healthy, successful, and fulfilled every day.
Are you — or have you ever been — a member of the veggie army? Share your lessons learned and advice in comments.
Source: Flickr User fifikins