A Temporary Vegetarian

I’m doing something I’ve never done before.

I’m eschewing meat. On purpose.

There is no ulterior motive, and no need to get alarmed — it’s only temporary. How hard can it be?

Blame it on my working vacation in a mountain town filled with fit granola heads, and restaurants with plenty of menu space dedicated to veg-heads.

And I don’t have to review a single one of them, so I can order what I want, like a bowl of yellow curry with tofu and mushrooms at Squatters Brew Pub.

Blame it on my temporary housing, in the home of a lovely vegetarian, who has a pantry stocked with grains, beans, and nuts, and shelves stuffed with vegetarian cookbooks. (That’s her own cookbook in the middle, the blue Chocolate Snowball.)

The surprising thing about eating strictly vegetarian, to me anyway, is that it’s just not that hard. A piece of cake.

Breakfast has always been an easy meal to drop the meat, what with all the oatmeal and egg options, including one of my favorites, huevos rancheros from Loco Lizard — not to mention the smoothie kick I’ve been on lately.

Lunch and dinner, on the other hand, always seemed like meat meals to me.

But I’m finding I don’t have to struggle find something appealing without meat, like a juicy avocado, tomato and sprout sandwich with smoked Gouda from The Back Door Deli.

Of course, this — like all fairy tales — will come to an end.

Because at the end of the day, I’m a bacon-loving, steak-eating girl. Life without meat just doesn’t sit right in the saddle for me.

Maybe that’s why my temporarily vegetarian mouth and my permanent carnivorous brain had a failure to communicate just two weeks into this little experiment.

You see, I ordered a bowl of French Onion Soup at The Foundry Grill at Sundance Resort without blinking an eye. Delicious, caramelized onion soup with a toasted crostini and melted Gruyere — vegetarian, right? Wrong.

I had reached a turning point:

I could drop the charade and return to my flesh-eating ways, or I could dust myself off, wiped the sherry-drenched, rich veal stock off my chin, and climb back on the vegetarian horse.

In the end, I chose the latter (right after I drained the soup bowl) and, for now, I’m back on the veg-train with another week to go.

But I was wrong about one thing.

Giving up meat is lot harder than I thought, after all. It’s not a piece of cake (and I probably couldn’t give up cake for very long, either.)

How about you? Have you ever given up meat? Did you stick with it, or revert back to your old ways?

28 replies
  1. Kristina@FormerChef
    Kristina@FormerChef says:

    Yep, I did it for 21 days in February this year. But I went VEGAN, and also gave up gluten, sugar, caffeine and alcohol at the same time.

    I saw it as a personal challenge as a cook and in that way it was worth it. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done and it forced me to THINK about everything I put in my mouth. I documented it all on my blog, and tried to make dishes which would appeal to even the most die-hard non vegans (like my husband). I wanted them not to notice that the meat was “missing.”

    After doing it, I eventually went back to eating everything but I do seem to eat more vegetarian dishes now, without thinking. Vegetarian is way easier than Vegan. For me, giving up dairy forever would not be something I’m willing to do if I don’t have to. The soy substitutes just don’t cut it.

    Reply
    • chefgwen
      chefgwen says:

      I remember your 21-day challenge, and admired you for doing it and blogging about it. That was serious, and my experiment is not really. I just thought it’s something I’ve never done, and I thought it would be easier trying it while I wasn’t on my home turf.

      Vegan would be impossible for me because of the dairy. I’d have to give up honey, too, which I use on a daily basis.

      Thanks for reminding me about your challenge. I’m heading over there right now to have another look.

      http://www.formerchef.com/2010/02/07/21-day-cleanse-diet/

      Reply
  2. fabamy
    fabamy says:

    After reading “Omnivore’s Dilemma” last year and watching “Food, Inc.” I went 11 months without meat. I was frustrated at the meat industry and putting so much crap into our diets. I’ll be 40 in a few months and did it mostly for health reasons. At 11 months, I craaaaaved steak. So, I went to Sprouts and got an organic steak.
    For now, I will only eat organic, free-range, grass-fed meat. Knowing what’s in it in the regular grocery stores, I can’t bring myself to put it anywhere near my mouth. Knowing how the animals lived FAR from a natural, happy animal life only reinforces it.

    Reply
    • chefgwen
      chefgwen says:

      Thanks for leaving a comment! Food, Inc. impacted me, too. It made me *think* about food in a whole new light. I’m much more conscientious now. And I respect the small farmers, ranchers and growers much more than I did before.

      Reply
  3. Geri Koeppel
    Geri Koeppel says:

    When I met my husband, he told me he was a “vegetarian,” so I started cooking meatless meals for us when he’d come over. After we got engaged, I realized he did eat fish, so that made it easier — a couple of meals a week with tuna, or shrimp, or whatever.

    But for about a year, I ate virtually no read meat or chicken and very little fish or seafood. I say “virtually” because at his German family functions, it would have caused way too much uproar for us to take a pass on the sausage and pork roasts. But that was just once or twice.

    I got used to it and dropped a bunch of weight in a hurry (that’s why the wedding dress was a size 2). But Eric is a picky eater, so it got harder and harder to make interesting and varied dishes. I would also get a little frustrated when we went to restaurants and I had to choose the one vegetarian option every single time.

    And I never felt that good. I didn’t have a lot of energy, because I have always been borderline anemic and need lots of protein. I’m sure I could have done a better job on nutrition if I paid more attention, but again, when you’re cooking for a guy who doesn’t like a lot of things, it wasn’t that simple. I also had irritable bowel for like a year – no fun – probably from a surplus of fiber.

    So, the health issues, combined with the fact that I started working for the Tribune and contributing regularly to the food section, made me yearn for my old omnivore ways. It didn’t take too much arm-twisting to get Eric to come along.

    We’d probably be better off eating less meat, and I do try to still cook meatless sometimes, but as you know, there’s no work out there (that I know of) for a vegetarian restaurant reviewer.

    Reply
    • chefgwen
      chefgwen says:

      Geri, picky eaters are a tough crowd, but it sounds like you’ve opened Eric’s eyes to a whole new world of delicious food. If you do find that vegetarian restaurant review gig, let me know, ha!

      Reply
  4. Sharon Miro
    Sharon Miro says:

    Kristina’s experiment affected all of us-in a very good way. I could never give up meat either–I do love my pig–but I do try for a few days a week now with no meat, fish or poultry and have pretty much eliminated red meat except for Sat. Feeling better and gotta say, it helps with the weight!

    Reply
    • chefgwen
      chefgwen says:

      Sharon, you have an amazing daughter, and you know how much I respect her. You’re a pretty terrific mom, too. I’ve not noticed a weight change after only 2 weeks. But that wasn’t really my goal. Heck, I don’t really have a goal other than to see if I can stick to it for 3 weeks, and well, as I mentioned, I kinda blew it with the French onion soup. A small hiccup.

      Reply
  5. eatslow
    eatslow says:

    Ciao Gwen-

    You wrote this at a most opportune time for me. I’ve been taking the vegetarian route for about 2 weeks now. Backed by a convenient time to force myself to eat a little better, it also was the influence of the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and of course the many things I’ve learned since being away from home. We’ll see where it goes.

    Oh and by the way, last time I did this, as well as this time, it was the rich and meaty stocks and broths that I miss the most too.

    Reply
    • chefgwen
      chefgwen says:

      Ciao, Natalie! I would bet that you’ve seen some things (I’ve read your friend’s post) that would make me even more committed to this routine. But I know me, and I’ll be going back to meat as soon as we leave the high country. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll eat a few more veg meals, though. Study hard, and good luck with the rest of your program. xxoo

      Reply
      • eatslow
        eatslow says:

        You are right. We see, but even more importantly, we have learned why it might be the best time for these kinds of decisions. Even “Meatless Mondays” or whatever might fit the bill. But thanks and have fun with your work-cation. xoxo to you too! Or, as the case may be, baci!

        Reply
  6. Kim at Rustic Garden Bistro
    Kim at Rustic Garden Bistro says:

    Hey Chef Gwen!

    Kudos to you for going vegetarian. And kudos to Kristina at FormerChef for going vegan AND giving up all the other stuff!

    I’ve tried 3 times this year to go vegetarian for 30 days. Each time, I’ve slacked off before day 7.

    I’m with ya, it’s tough. But someday, I’ll try it again.

    [K]

    Reply
  7. Anissa
    Anissa says:

    I’ve tried the Vegetarian diet, in June of 1996, to be exact. I was trying to get a handle on my health issues and made a conscious choice to not eat meat. At first, it was a struggle as I needed to change my eating habits – most folks are “trained” early on when to eat, how to eat, what to eat, etc.

    I was raised on a small ranch and my diet consisted of beef, pork, chicken, fish, deer, rabbit, duck, etc. Thankfully we always had a garden and my love for fresh produce was developed. To say that my family didn’t understand it is an understatement. I was, and continue to be, the butt of many jokes.

    Dining out can be a challenge. Until more recently, vegetarian choices primarily consisted of pasta, pizza, and the “dinner” salad (I was in rural America). If I chose a “Mexican” restaurant it was beans and rice, maybe a cheese enchilada. Sadly when asking the server how the meal item was prepared – chicken stock in the sauce, soup, rice or lard in the beans – they look at like you are weird. Many times I found too that unless the server was vegetarian, they just told you what you wanted to hear.

    When eating with non-vegetarians there can be quite a bit of “drama” around the place to eat. Will there be something there I can eat? The most memorable part in the beginning of my dietary change was having my baby sister read the menu to me every time we went out. I would just politely nod my head and say thank you. I finally got fed up with this process and the next evening out, I read in detail, every item on the menu that contained meat, I didn’t let anyone interrupt me. Then I “gently” reminded her that I learned to read years before she did. She got the point.

    The more research I did on “food”, the stricter I became with my diet. I was vegan for four years however I do like eggs and cheese so I put this back in my diet.

    I will admit that in the last 14 years, I have tried a bite or two of meat. I really mean only a small bite to see if I could or would want meat again. I tried a bite of buffalo, ostrich, and chicken. No, I didn’t like it or want it. Every now and then, if I mentally prepare myself, I can have a little fish.

    After all this time and all the research, I am “picky” about my food. I want to know what I am eating, how it is grown and how it is prepared. This is the only body I have and I need to take care of it. I prefer and want economical organic and local choices. I appreciate and honor those in the restaurant and food industry who choose to take a healthier look at the items they prepare and where it comes from.

    Nowadays, for me the choice to eat meat or not is irrelevant. I’m more alarmed with how “seeds” are being altered, the unethical treatment of animals and how our food is being mass produced. Which of course is whole other topic. ;)

    Reply
    • chefgwen
      chefgwen says:

      Anissa…what a lovely, thoughtful response. Thank you. It is your body and it is your choice. I feel grateful to have the opportunity to have choices, and I’m sure you do, too. Thank you for sharing. I know I won’t stick with 100% vegetarian, but I do think I will be more thoughtful about what I do eat, and I’ll appreciate the food — meat or plant — much more.

      Reply
  8. Eric
    Eric says:

    Since I’ve gotten older, I find myself eating less meat. I find myself being mostly vegetarian during the week and then grilling some sort of carnivorous delight on Saturday. I love cooking. So, it is not hard for me to whip up some meatless meals during the week: beans and rice, pesto (I make my own from the basil in the garden – by end of summer I have a number of batches in the freezer for winter use), spanikopita (I freeze individual portions). I don’t think I could ever become a full time vegetarian but I find myself eating lighter fare and enjoying it.

    Reply
    • chefgwen
      chefgwen says:

      Hi Eric…thanks for commenting. I think my “awareness” of my meat consumption has grown as I’ve gotten older, too. I think your plan sounds like a nice balance for you. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  9. Debbie J. Elder
    Debbie J. Elder says:

    Hi Chef Gwen,

    Great discussion on this topic. I, too, like to take a few days off from eating meat. Three weeks is probably more than I could handle though.

    Part of my dedication to not trying this for a longer period of time lies with my husband, who thinks he needs meat at every meal. He also doesn’t think that he likes vegetables, but will eat certain basics (corn, peas, green beans, potatoes). When I try something more daring (eggplant, tomatoes, squash, cauliflower), he is typically suspicious and has a built-in bias to not liking it even though it is delicious. It usually comes down to me preparing something totally vegetarian for myself, and something with meat for him. A lot of extra work!

    I like that locally owned restaurants are offering more options. In fact, I am craving Crudo Cafe’s Avocado sandwich right now (made with avocado – sprouts, bean hummus, cucumber, tomato, provolone, on wheat bread.) Think I might have to go get one :)

    Have fun on your holiday!

    Reply
    • chefgwen
      chefgwen says:

      Hi Debbie…. is it me or is there a “meat & potatoes-only” in every family? Fortunately, my husband is adventurous like me, and happy to eat whatever I make. He’s also kind enough to say “that’s interesting” when he doesn’t like something. That said, I know he doesn’t like olives, artichokes, eggplant and mayo, so if I cook with those, I add them to my plate on the side. I love Crudo, too. Those guys know how to cook.

      Reply
  10. Melissa Hayes
    Melissa Hayes says:

    Soups are very deceiving and is something I’m very cautious of now, but I’ve been vegetarian for almost a year. I’m trying to cut out eggs and dairy completely so far milk n eggs have been much easier to give up than cheese or butter! I think what you’re doing is great, even if only temporary. If everyone took a temp break from meat, the carbon footprint of meat would be much less.

    Reply
    • chefgwen
      chefgwen says:

      Melissa… vegan sounds so restrictive to me personally, as I love cheese and yogurt, and eggs, too. By the way, your photographs are stunning. You are an artist behind the lens.

      Reply
  11. Lori G
    Lori G says:

    If you’d like to go veg and need a little incentive, read “Eating Animals”. Very well written and opened my eyes to the whole factory farming thing. It’s easy once you find out what you’re really eating when you eat meat from a factory farm. (chicken is the worst)

    I WILL start researching more now at my local Whole Foods to find family farmed and processed meats.

    Reply
  12. Elaine Buker
    Elaine Buker says:

    I became vegetarian after watching Food Inc. It was immediate and am sustained in it for 18 months I see nothing wrong with honey, but I don’t use it often myself. Only meat lapses have been Corned Beef on
    St. Patrick’s Day (I’m a Bostonian) and a hot dog at a ball game once.(and I’m a Red Sox, Fenway Park fan. I eat eggs, beans, legumes,

    I’m a vegetarian because of the inhumane way animals are raised and slaughtered for market. I cannot endorse those practices by purchasing meat. I might be tempted to try chicken if ranged raised, and other meats if raised locally and slaughtered by the farmer that fed them wisely, treated their physical problems humanely and personally knew how to slaughter them with a minimum of pain.

    I knew nothing about Rabbi’s in slaughter houses, but I
    do appreciate Imams who say a prayer of thanksgiving to God at slaughter time and who value animals simply for being what they are.

    Reply
  13. Michael
    Michael says:

    I’m always amused that people freak out so much about going vegetarian. It’s incredibly easy. In fact the only difficult part about it is being harassed by friends and family.

    Reply
    • Gwen Ashley Walters
      Gwen Ashley Walters says:

      Michael, I have eaten meat my whole life. Raised in Texas, beef was on our menu nearly every day. I didn’t so much freak out about going vegetarian, but I did wonder if I could do it. Turns out I could… but I was ready to return some meat to my diet after the experiment. I do have a greater appreciation for those who make it a permanent lifestyle change, though. Thanks so much for commenting.

      Reply

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