Monday, March 9, 2009

Vegetarian for (almost) a week

This post is one that I started writing, and for whatever reason never got around to posting it. It's rather old, but since I haven't been posting lately I figured I should post it.

One of the great things about being an atheist and not believing in absolutes, is that I can explore other peoples morals, as long as they don't hurt anyone. This past summer I was TDY to Austin for a few weeks. I decided that I would try to be a vegetarian. I eat meat on a daily basis and think nothing of it. To some people in the world, it's considered evil to kill animals to eat. It's also evil because it takes a lot of grain to make a steak. You could feed many more people if you ate the grain instead of feeding it to cows.

I figured that if I was going to make this work, that Austin would have the easy access to vegetarian foods that would make it possible for a vegetarian ignoramus like myself. On the first day there I went to Whole Foods Market to fill my fridge with wholesome healthy vegetarian food. There was a very helpful lady at a small bar/restaurant inside the store. She explained to me that there are all kinds of vegetarians. Ones that eat eggs and milk, ones that eat shellfish, and vegans that eat only things that grow from plants. There are even people that don't believe in cooking food! I had no idea. I decided that since I wasn't really doing this because of my morals, but instead only to gain some perspective that I would try out different types of vegetarianism at some meals, and that I wouldn't eat meat (chicken, beef, cow, goat, fish, crustaceans, etc) for the entire week. Products from animals that didn't involve any killing would be okay, like dairy products and eggs.

It was about lunch time, so I asked the lady if she could recommend a good vegetarian meal for lunch. I got a taco salad that was entirely vegan. Nothing was cooked, not even the shell, which was made of pressed flax seed. There were a ton of fresh vegetables, salsa, avocados, rice, beans, and some kind of substitute sour cream that tasted just like the real thing. I was very impressed and really enjoyed it. The only thing I wasn't crazy about was the flax seed shell, and only because some parts of it were a little too hard. So, first meal down, and I actually enjoyed it. I stuffed myself and didn't feel bad at all because I still ate significantly less calories than a Big Mac and I was much more full.

The lady at the counter (I wish I could remember her name) suggested that I get lots of fruit, try out the meat substitutes, and to get healthy dips to make eating vegetables more enjoyable. She also pointed out that a lot of carbs that I usually eat only have eggs in them, so if I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian then many of the foods I love would still be on the menu. Unfortunately it also meant that most of the unhealthy desserts I love, as well as sodas, would be on the menu. Looks like being a vegetarian isn't healthy by default. So I got a little bit of everything, and decided that sodas and ice cream could be my rewards for eating better, but only sometimes.

For my first night we all went out to eat at The Armadillo and guess what? The special for the night was vegetarian lasagna! How appropriate, I could eat veg, and I could save money. Again, it was delicious. I wasn't even aware that I was eating vegetarian except for my coworkers giving me shit about it. Apparently it's unmanly and un-Texas like for me to not eat meat. I was nice and full, and didn't feel bad about it.

Breakfasts were no different then normal, just cereal. Snacks were much healthier, I was eating fruit or these really good Cascadian Farm granola bars. I really like them a lot, and still eat them now that I'm back to being an omnivore. Lunch was were I started to have problems. We were too far away form our hotel to come back at lunch, and we didn't have a fridge to keep things cool at work. We ended up eating out almost every lunch while we were there. I quickly found out that most restaurants don't cater to vegetarians, even in Austin. The most they would do is have a veggie burger. Also, if they happened to have a veggie meal, they would only have one veggie meal. If you were in the mood for it great, but otherwise you had no other choices. Fast food was essentially off the list. I made it four days eating many veggie burgers, many salads, and many PB&J's. A personal favorite, but not something I want to eat all the time.

On the fourth night, I was taste testing a whole bunch of easy to make meals that were vegetarian. There were some boxed meals that you just add water kind of like hamburger helper without the hamburger. I also had a few random meat substitutes, and a few frozen meals. I'm not sure if I just don't know how to pick vegetarian meals, or if maybe vegetarian food doesn't fit the microwave/pre-made meals category well. I could tolerate some of the things if I had to, but wouldn't want to eat any of them. After maybe my fifth or sixth thing I tried and didn't like I figured I had tried being a vegetarian long enough, and went across the street for a nice big Whataburger.

The most important thing I learned is that unless you are used to it, you will definitely miss eating meat. There just isn't anything like it. If I were going to be a vegetarian full time I would just have to forget about eating meat, the substitutes were horrible. I also learned that not nearly as much of my meals that I eat consist of meat, and that many of the meals that do have meat don't necessarily have too. I also realized that I like good fruit, especially strawberries, significantly more than a candy bar. The reason I don't eat as much fruit as I should is mostly because I hate for it to spoil if I'm not in the mood for it, and that I dislike mediocre fruit significantly more than a candy bar.