Vegetables have a bad rep but vegetarians have an even bigger ill repute. Meat eating folks--and I am taking great liberties here because until 11 months ago, I was on that team--look at herbivores as sad little people who are missing out and living in a bland world of tasteless asparagus and soggy carrots. Carnivores look at us as being just a tiny bit on the side of loco. "Tofu casserole? No, gracias, I'll take the carnita," they say.
A year ago, I was one of those people. But I did not know any better. Since discovering the galaxy of vegetables that I can eat and the delicious recipes to make 'em, my palate and life has been enriched. I don't feel I am missing a thing. Seriously.
The second most frequent question I'm asked by well meaning friends is how--How did you do it? Is it hard? Do you miss eating meat or fish, I mean, "aren't you the grand daughter and niece of master Caribbean fishermen?" Then, after hearing me gush about how light I feel, the weight I keep off, the glow of my skin, my friends almost always ask for a great veggie recipe. (See the butternut, pesto gnocchi above.)
Becoming a vegetarian for me was easy because I was resolute. Here are three tips if you've been toying with the idea.
The most important secret to being a vegetarian is first and foremost mindset.
Its all about your attitude-- ie your life ethos. If you are open and excited it helps but if you begin lamenting the chicken wings and cheeseburgers that you will miss, chances are you will have great difficulty transitioning and living a vegetarian life. You are setting yourself up for failure by having a deficient attitude. Think abundance. Think new world. Think tasty.
Try this: Instead of thinking of all the foods you will deprive yourself, expand your perspective: think of all the new and delicious dishes that will now be added to your breakfast, lunch and dinner repertoire. There is a cornocopoia of vegetables (and fruits) waiting to be the superstars of your table either raw and always prepared to your delight.
The second most important secret is: imagination
Take a walk to your local farmer's market and check out what is in season. Be fearless. And adventurous. I still can't pronounce some of the names of the root vegetables I've tried, but damn they taste good. Let your fingers do the walking after you buy the yams, parsnips, and ñame, (root veggies are in season now) and do a web search for recipes. One thing though, stock your pantry with spices--cardamon, curry, cayenne pepper, coriander, turmeric, black pepper corns, smoked paprika, sea salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and of course, Adobo Goya. No one said eating vegetables has to be a bland affair. Spice that bok choy up in garlic, sea salt, black pepper and saute in olive oil-- and eat away. Try to have fresh herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme. And always have garlic, ginger, lemons and shallots handy, those four ingredients make anything mas delicioso.
The third secret: educate yourself
You'll need to know what to eat for nutritional value or better put, how to eat your vitamins. Good proteins (hello nuts, quinoa, chia seeds) and important, and just as vital to your health, is knowing what to stay away from (white enriched flour pastas, white sugars, breads, etc.) Eating healthy largely depends on tastebuds but also age, gender and state of health. Dr Weil has a great healthy eating starter site.
How I did it: Start smallBegin one meal at a time. The biggest mistake in trying to do anything is trying to do it all at once, Don't change your diet forever. That is unrealistic and you are setting yourself up to fail. Start with a small step, make your next meal completely vegetarian. Then try again the next day. Then ease into two vegetarian meals a day. Some people I know are weekend warriors--all week herbivores, weekend, carnivore; some are pescaterians, mixing it up w fish and veggies only. This small step approach is simple and before you know it, your body will crave the more light fare and like me, you will look back and think, how did this happen?
Why I became a vegetarian:
Because I get easily grossed out:
Just because you refuse to watch films or read books that chronicle how farm animals are being abused and injected with hormones & antibiotics and their shit that ends up in our meat, it does not make the harsh reality of the industrial farm system any less real. I wanted to learn where my food comes from and there is nothing more sobering than the films, Food Inc and Food Fight. Get educated. And next time you thirst for a cheeseburger, images of sick cows and scary stats of how we are becoming immune to super antibiotics because we are eating antibiotics in even after the steak was fired up -- will crop up. You'll be running to the nearest juice bar.
Because I am compassionate:
The footage of pigs being skinned alive by dipping them into scalding water then killed so that we can eat pork loin, pork chops and bacon will leave you weeping. Don't get me started on how chickens are treated. But Vegucated, which chronicles the journey of three meat eating New Yorkers who attempt to become vegans, will also inspire you to at least give it a go. The film is jammed packed with useful information making the leaning toward vegetarianism easier to try.
Because I want to live healthy
A vegetable diet is healthier. This is not my opinion, it is a fact. Another fact, the western diet is killing us. I agree with Michael Polan: any food that is packaged doesn't really count as food, its food stuff. I say it's food, sort of. The film, "Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead," tells the story of an Australian man who juices his way to perfect health and in the process inspires an entire community of people in Iowa. Watch it.
Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead
Most important of all:
Get a veggie buddy
If you are the only vegetarian in your family you will need a support system. Hell, you might even have to start a vegetarian support group. Studies show that people are more likely to succeed - in a fitness program, diet change, etc, if they have a buddy. The friend provides motivation, inspiration and accountability. Having a friend with whom you can cook and share meals with is after all what life is really about.
Buen apetito my beautiful señoritas!