I am a vegetarian and I have been since I was eight years old. The story goes that I was a picky eater and not very fond of meat in general, but would indulge in fast food burgers and hot dogs. My mother, coming from a loving place, stated that if I was only going to eat the bad meats then I should just not eat them at all. I do not think she ever imagined that I would agree with her. However, seventeen years later, I am still holding strong to my vegetarian ideals.
When I was young my eating habits seemed to be more of an inconvenience than anything else. People were always very concerned about my health, badgering me with questions about where I get my protein, iron and calcium and so on and so forth. A young me used peanut butter as a go to answer, which seemed to quiet concerned strangers. An older me can give you a wider list of different foods including spinach, broccoli, almond milk and avocados, amongst others. Back then the only other vegetarian I knew of was my aunt and it was seen as an odd way of life, potentially dangerous to your health and of a slightly hippie mentality.
The decision to exclude meat from my diet seemed a natural one and I am grateful I made it so young, without really taking into account all of the pros and cons. I am not an aggressive vegetarian, I will not try to force my diet onto anyone else. I understand the concept of survival of the fittest and I support the idea of waste not, want not. If you are going to eat an animal, use the entire animal for everything you possibly can. I do not agree with hunting as a "sport." It's not a sport, it's simply cruel if the purpose of the game is to hang a head on your wall so the creepy fake eyes can follow me around your room, haunting me with guilt, even though I didn't actually kill the poor animal. I digress.
It took me awhile to understand that you can be a vegetarian and still not be healthy. Through high school and my early college years, I ate everything besides meat, which included such lovely "foods" as Doritos, ice cream, cheese and crackers, pizza and more. I did not pay attention to nutritional value and I certainly did not make sure I got my fruits and veggies each day. Now I do and as a whole I feel happier and healthier.
What I find interesting though is the fact that being a vegetarian has become common place. There are meat-less options at every restaurant now, which was not the case a decade ago. Eating at other people's houses still makes me feel like I am putting them out, but only because they unnecessarily stress about it. When people cook meat based dishes, they almost always include a side such as vegetables or starch that are perfectly okay for me to eat. I still have people apologize for eating meat in front of me, which makes me laugh. The biggest concerns that I have when I eat out are, is my food being cooked on the same griddle as bacon or other meats and is there chicken or beef stock in the soup or sauce.
I ate breakfast at the diner the other day and took one bite of my home fries and literally had to spit them out. All I tasted was bacon, which means that they were probably covered in bacon grease. What a lot of people do not understand is that I have not eaten meat in such a long time, that when, on the rare occasion, I do unfortunately ingest something that has a meat product in it, I get sick, mostly indigestion.
My best friend has a gluten free diet. She is flour free because it actually makes her sick, not because it recently became trendy. When the two of us go out to eat, it is an interesting time. I can't have meat, she can't have bread or certain fried foods and the server is bombarded with questions from the both of us. I am actually a server and sympathize with their plight. I had a woman come into to eat and she was gluten free AND a vegetarian. "Good luck Lady," is all that went through my head, even though I sympathized with her.
Different diets and eating habits have become more accepted than when I was young, but it still makes social gatherings somewhat awkward. My boyfriend and I went upstate to visit my great aunt and uncle and they made dinner for when we arrived. My aunt cooked pasta and a sauce with sausage in it. She didn't realize I didn't eat meat and when I told her she offered to scoop the sauce out around the sausage. I felt terrible, but I had to object and opt for butter on my pasta. I don't think she minded, but it still makes for an awkward few minutes.
I love to go out for a nice dinner every once in awhile, mostly for the atmosphere, but most of the time I enjoying cooking at home, where I know exactly what I put into my food. In addition, I love cooking and find it incredibly therapeutic. Sometimes cooking can take a long time and sometimes I am very hungry and not patient at all. A great vegetarian and healthy option is roasting vegetables, which does not take much effort or time and yields a fulfilling dish. One of my favorite options is roasted broccoli with feta cheese. Below is the recipe, so if you ever find out you have a surprise vegetarian guest coming over, you can whip up this dish without making them feel like an inconvenience. More on the health benefits of vegetarianism and the lifestyle choices it includes later.
Roasted Broccoli with Feta Cheese
Two large heads of organic broccoli, chopped
Chop broccoli into small florets and lay spread out on a baking sheet. Coat broccoli evenly with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Get your hands dirty by tossing the broccoli to get all the ingredients mixed together. Cut lemon in half and squeeze lemon juice to coat all of the broccoli. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes or until it starts to brown slightly. Let cool and toss with one cup of feta cheese and squeeze the other half of the lemon for another kick of flavor.