Thanks to high-profile celebs like Alicia Silverstone (vegan), Posh Victoria Spice Beckham etc. etc. etc. (vegetarian), and Amanda Seyfried (raw foodist but hates it since she’s only doing it to stay Hollywood skinny), going vegetarian or vegan is all the rage these days. Despite my general skepticism of anything touted by a celebrity, since I happen to be a vegetarian-by-choice-vegan-by-force-and-yes-I-still-eat-fish-atarian (For those of you keeping track, with the center free square I totally have a bingo! It spells C-R-A-Z-Y.) this is one trend I can get behind. So you’d think I’d be one of those exhibitionists standing in Times Square in a lettuce bikini and holding up posters of slaughterhouses. (Anyone else question the motives of the painted, dramatic, naked PETA girls? Meat whatever, oooh look there’s a camera!)
The thing is, I’m a non-militant vegan. I’m going to end up on PETA’s naughty list (like the no-fly list but with way more cavity searches) but I have to say it: being a vegetarian is not for everyone. And that’s ok.
This weekend a good friend stumbled across Alicia Silverstone’s blog (that’s based off her book which I haven’t read because honestly I already mostly eat that way and I’m not going to take fish out of my diet no matter how many times she tells me they squeal in psychic pain so I’ll save my $20 thank you) and decided that she wants to try going vegan. So she did what any rational person would do: she got as far away as possible from me. No, actually she asked me – the girl with so many food issues I got on TV twice to exhibit all my crazy – for advice. Over a text message. For the love of little green apples girl, I can’t even tell you my shoe size in a text much less explain my philosophy on food! So instead of an 8-word answer you get an 800-word one.
5 Things to Consider Before Going Vegetarian (Or Vegan or Raw)
1. Your motivation. Your reasons for going veg are going to be really important in deciding if this lifestyle is for you. You want to save the animals and/or the environment? Good answer, as long as you’re really passionate about it. That reasoning sounds great until you’re confronted with Uncle Lloyd’s famous BBQ at the family reunion and you think, “Well heck this pig’s already dead – at this point it will best benefit the environment in the form of manure via my brown-sugar-and-special-sauce poop!” Or perhaps you want to lose weight or get healthy? Those are great reasons but know that a veg diet isn’t going to magically make those things happen. A Diet Coke and french fries are vegan but that doesn’t make them health food. Bad reasons for going veg include “Because [insert celebrity]
2. Your social circle. It is a lot easier to eat veg if lots of your friends and/or family members do too. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be the lone raw foodie at the annual hotdish potluck but it will be uncomfortable. And you will end a lot of dinner parties hungry. Unless you have the cajones to show up with a little tupperware of your own food, which I have never quite had the nerve to do – rather I just try to eat dinner before we go anywhere to dinner. Yes, it’s as crazy as it sounds. So if you live in Cali and get stroll past that little vegan cafe every day on the way home from surfing, then this will be a lot easier transition than for those of us who live in the land where there has never been an event where sausage has not been served.
3. Your feelings about vegetables. You would think that this would be a given but I have known more than a few “vegetarians” who hate vegetables. I had one friend whose diet consisted solely of white flour, cheese and tomato sauce (i.e. spaghetti, cheese pizza, and tater tots with ketchup). And I used to shop with another vegan friend who filled her cart solely with prepackaged food-in-a-box. (Hint: white flour and sugar are still white flour and sugar even if the box says “organic enriched wheat flour” and “brown rice syrup.”) If you want to reap the vast health benefits of the vegetarian lifestyle you need to eat vegetables.
4. Your free time and money. Like most healthy eating lifestyles, going veg will take either more of your time or more of your money. At first, probably both. Yes you can do veg very cheaply but it takes effort. Coconut oil is 8$ for a teeny little bottle but butter is $2 for the same amount. Lots of the specialty food items like nutritional yeast, tempeh, etc. can only be found at pricey health foods stores or on the Internet. Also, it is possible to go veg by eating an Amy’s Organic frozen dish for every meal but chances are you are going to have to devote some extra time to looking up recipes and cooking. The other time-suck is if you have a family that you cook for, very often you end up making two meals – one for you and one for the omnivores – unless your whole house is ready to make this change. By far most of the vegetarians I know live in a meat-eating household and end up making some concessions to that.
5. Your tolerance of change. Are you a tiptoe-into-the-pool kind of girl or a rip-the-bandaid-off-and-cannonball-into-the-water gal? (If you are the latter, you’d better not leave that bandaid floating in the pool is all I’m saying.) Going vegan whole-hog (hee) is a huge lifestyle change. Pretty much everything that you are used to eating will be gone. The way you have learned to cook will be useless. All the items in your pantry become suspect. 99% of cookbooks won’t apply to you or will need modifications. A simple trip to the grocery store can take you 3 hours as you interrogate every product you pick up (just ignore all the people staring at you talking to that eggplant – they’re just jealous you can hear things they can’t.) Some people like this total life overhaul and find it refreshing. Others get so freaked out when they realize how much animal products permeate their lives that they run screaming away and never look back.
I don’t say all of this to discourage anyone from going vegetarian. I write this to manage your expectations because you’ll have a better experience as a veg-head if you know what’s coming down the pike. My advice to anyone is to give this lifestyle a try! There are enormous benefits to a plant-based lifestyle. But maybe work into it slowly. Try adding a vegetable to every meal. Try going meatless one day a week. Or three. Whatever you think you and your family can handle. Try a few vegetarian/vegan substitutes for foods you normally eat to see if you like them. (Me, I don’t tolerate processed soy at all well – helllooo rancid gas! – so I avoid all the “burger” type stuff, soy milk, tofutti cuties and the like.) Try out some new veg recipes like the ones from Heather Eats Almond Butter or Averie of Loves Veggies and Yoga.
You don’t have to go cold turkey (hee!) unless you want to. Something I have learned over the years of eating meat, not eating meat and everything in between is that there is a lot of judgment about food out there. There will always be someone freaking out about something you eat or don’t eat so find where you are comfortable and where your body feels the best and then ignore everyone else.
What’s your opinion on vegetarian diets? Have you ever tried one? What would you tell my friend? What do you think of vegetarians who will eat meat every once in a while? Should it be an all-or-nothing lifestyle?
Written By Charlotte Hilton Andersen for http://thegreatfitnessexperiment.blogspot.com only! Not to be re-published without permission.