Monday, February 21, 2011

Vegetarian Musings

I was a vegetarian for seven years, in the somewhat predictable era between late high-school and my early twenties (who didn't dabble in some sort of dietary diversion during that time?).  My college roomie and I now have a good laugh over the show we once made of opening the windows and airing out our apartment in disgust when her boyfriend (now husband) would cook bacon there (we both now quite love all things pork-y). All of my veggie leanings evaporated for good when I moved in with guy roommates who grilled a mean steak during a particularly athletic period in my life post-college.   Then, as now, there is something about red meat that just replenishes my body in a way that nothing else does, especially after a long run.

With that said, I've been thinking a lot about vegetarianism lately.  It's kinder to the planet, the wallet, and the bod.  The warm weather that hit us last Friday got me in a spring cleaning kind of a mode, and it made me want to clean up our diet a bit as well.  I indoctrinated our beloved slow cooker with a slew of meaty goodness from short ribs to brisket to chicken thighs.  Finally, even my meat-loving husband has begged for mercy.  I also have some imminent bridesmaiding to do, and figure I could do with a wee detox to really be looking my best for these special occasions.  Now is not the time for a cleanse for a number of reasons, so my plan is to lean us into a bit of vegetarianism/veganism for a bit.  Nothing too extreme, just a little shift in our weeknight dining.   

I'm inspired to do this for a number of reasons:
1) Did you happen to catch Oprah's Vegan Challenge?  Oprah and 378 members of her staff went vegan for one week, and the results were phenomenal (almost 500 collective pounds lost), as was the episode about the experiment, which featured Michael Pollan and a fascinating discussion about America's meat industry.   Mama O also did a 21-day vegan cleanse awhile back with similar good results.  The episode was incredibly thought-provoking, and reminded me that meat is not a necessity at every meal.
2) Some of my favorite food bloggers are vegan or vegetarian, and reading their recipes makes me want to delve back into this type of cooking.  Mama Pea has been posting a month-long vegan eating plan she created for a family friend that is full of inventive vegan recipes to try (Quinoa Lasagna! Pumpkin Tofu Curry!  African Peanut Stew!).  Heidi Swanson has a new cookbook coming out, and is previewing gorgeous veggie recipes left and right! With literally months of recipes at my fingertips, there is no excuse not to dive in head first.
3) My name is Jane, and I'm a Whole-Foods-a-holic.  I'm sorry, I can't help myself.  From the gleaming produce displays to the ready availability of bizarre-o health foods I love (Kombucha, Svelte, Organic Lactaid), I've come to a point where it is hard to bring myself to shop elsewhere.  That's all well and good, but a mama has to stay on a budget, and it is amazing how much you can cut your grocery budget by skipping the meat counter or making just one or two choice purchases there, instead of having it be the bulk of your weekly shop.  In order to enable my WF habit, I'm going to cut back at the meat counter and stock up on veggies.  Even just with this week's shop, it is already made a significant difference.
4) Finally, some of the most delicious food I've eaten in my life has been vegetarian cuisine.  I was lucky to take a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia with two girlfriends of mine back in the day, and more often than not, we chose vegetarian dishes for our meals.  I still remember those curries, soups and stir-fries as a highlight of the adventure.
We particularly loved this place in Hoi An, Vietnam, where you would place your order, and then the chef would get on his bike and ride to the market for ingredients; so fresh and delicious, I dream about it to this day!

So, all of this is to say that you can expect some great vegetarian recipes here in the next several weeks.  I'm kicking things off with a slow-cooker Indian vegetable curry, which I'll report back on promptly.  And if you have any veggie faves to share, I'd love to hear about them.  In a family with lactose intolerance, cholesterol to watch, and a general winter malaise to shake, I'm excited to embark on this healthy change.  Stay tuned for more!

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