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Relationships & Love

Why I Became A Vegetarian

Like most women of my generation, I was raised on Sunday dinners of either roast beef or roast chicken with thick gravy poured over mashed potatoes.  During the week our dinners consisted of pork chops, meatloaf, beef stew, chicken soup, and pork goulash, to name a few.  But now that I’m vegetarian, I shudder to think that I actually ate those dishes. What on earth were they thinking back then?

I have always eaten fresh fruits and vegetables, but I never thought about giving up meat or dairy. And then, about a year ago, I learned that my cholesterol remained elevated even though I had been trying to bring it down. Around the same time, I’d begun taking yoga, and I vented to my instructor about my frustration and fear of being unhealthy. She reminded me that there are high amounts of cholesterol in meat and dairy products.

She is also a director of a vegan living program, and each spring they conduct a four-week workshop to encourage people to eliminate animal products for 30 days. They met four Saturdays in May. (Vegetarians do not consumer meat, while vegans avoid all animal products, including dairy.)

I accepted the challenge reluctantly – after all, for over 50 years I’d thought it was normal to eat meat and dairy products.

That workshop changed my life. Ultimately, though, my decision to alter my eating habits wasn’t entirely related to controlling cholesterol. For our final meeting, the organizers took us to an animal sanctuary – and that was the day I vowed I would never eat meat again. We saw animals that were rescued after being tortured and caged in overcrowded conditions. When I heard the plump chicken breasts I thought I loved were filled with growth hormones and antibiotics to get them to that size, I was horrified.  The conditions and the cruelty the animals had suffered brought tears to my eyes.  For over 50 years I convinced myself that it was acceptable to kill animals with hearts that beat like mine in order to nourish myself.  This became a moral issue for me.

It was time to explore vegan recipes.

My husband, Kevin, loves meat and would divorce me if I ever said that bacon is no longer allowed in our home! So I realized I had to get creative to avoid preparing two dinners. If it tastes good, Kevin will eat it, no matter what ingredients are (or aren’t) included.

A friend bought me a cookbook, Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen, by Chloe Coscarelli, and the first night I made myself an easy pasta and bean recipe. I wasn’t sure Kevin would be satisfied with this as his only dish, so I made him chicken as well. When I saw that he liked the pasta I ordered another of the author’s books, Chloe’s Kitchen.  I was hooked the moment I tried the Wontons with Apricot Mustard Sauce.  So was Kevin.

And, I found out, Oreos are vegan. What a relief, since it’s Kevin’s favorite cookie. So I prepared a recipe I found for vegan oreo cheesecake and it was fabulous. I can now tell the world I can be vegan and eat my cake too.

But I did run into some obstacles along the way. It’s harder to find good dairy-free products than it is to find tasty meat-free products. However, after some trials and errors, I’ve found delicious nondairy cream cheese and margarine as well as hazelnut-flavored soy coffee creamers and coconut or soy ice cream.

As for meat, there are many substitutes such as soy crumbles, meatballs, and “chicken fingers.” I like having them in the refrigerator for convenience, but they contain sodium, and just like processed meat versions, they are not the healthiest choice. I prepare them for myself on nights when I treat Kevin to a chicken cutlet or turkey burger. On more rushed nights, I do the meat alternatives. Kevin likes the breaded soy chicken fingers and soy crumble chili.

I find when I compromise things work out. I love quinoa; Kevin hates it, so I make him rice on those nights. When I have had a long day and cannot prepare two dinners he is great about eating my vegetarian choice. But it’s a fact that he loves meat, and sometimes I see the disappointment on his face I’ve cooked yet another vegetarian meal. So on days when I have time I prepare him his favorite chicken piccata. And while I still dislike his eating bacon if for no other reason than it is so unhealthy, I zip my lip.

I’ve had a lot of success on this journey, but I’ve felt weak at times, too. One of my favorite websites, when I get overwhelmed or discouraged, is www.livevegan.org. I’ve picked up useful tips, including how to explain to friends why you no longer eat meat. They also have wonderful recipes.

I feel sad when I hear friends with heart disease or diabetes say, “I’m not surprised have this. My parent (or brother or sister) has it, too.” While I am not a doctor, I sometimes think we automatically define our ailments as hereditary. Did anyone ever consider when growing up the entire family ate the same way?   I know that some people take cholesterol pills and then eat cake and pie. Sometimes when pills are an alternative we feel it is fine to make unhealthy choices. Some of our health issues are beyond our control, but many are not.

It took me 56 years to come to the place in my heart that it is horrible to harm animals for my enjoyment. I write this article with the hope I can convince even one person to try to become vegetarian or, better yet vegan, and that person encourages another.

I get frustrated sometimes with Kevin and his continued meat consumption. But he, like all of us (even me!) must change on our own. And change takes time.

To quote my yoga instructor, who brought me to the world of learning compassion, peace and kindness toward all living things, I end this piece with her prayer: Until all are free.  Namaste.