This month marks twenty years that I've been a vegetarian. A lot has happened in twenty years; I've expanded my palate, learned to make a lot of great food, and had more access to vegetarian and vegan options when dining away from home. I don't get as many odd looks as I used to or even as many questions about why, which is nice. I don't mind telling people why I'm a vegetarian, but it's not the simple answer most people want to hear. The short answer is that I really just don't like meat. The longer answer is that I think it's, well, disgusting to eat animals. More on that later. But now, a little on how it began.
It all started in the year 2000 when I picked up the cookbook, Garden Cuisine by the inventor of Gardenburgers, Paul Wenner. I'd made attempts at semi-vegetarianism for about ten years at that time and never really did like a lot of meat (I dislike ground meat and sausage so much that I won't even eat the vegetarian versions), but the recipes and the information in the book gave me the push to go completely meat-free.
At first, I ate a lot of pasta and pizza and quickly put on several pounds, so my next step was to actually make some of the recipes in the cookbook and understand the building blocks of food and nutrition. At that time, it was still a bit of a challenge to eat vegetarian meals in restaurants and I traveled a lot for work, so I still had a lot of pasta and ate a lot of pretty sad salads as well. I'm so glad that restaurants offer so many more options now (and have better salads!).
These days, my diet is more restricted thanks to my age. I have inched toward veganism over the last decade due as much to my body's rejection of dairy products as to my knowledge of the problems with large-scale dairy farming. And a dinner of pasta and bread--while delicious--makes me feel pretty sluggish.
The most challenging thing in the last twenty years, though, is the last ten when I've tried to raise a vegetarian child. She was on board with it for many years, but in the few years, she has decided she likes the occasional dead animal. I don't cook or serve it to her, but I do allow her to eat some sushi. Her grandparents are a little more indulgent. However, I've convinced her that a burger-less cheeseburger from McDonald's is a great option and she's a big fan of the bean burrito at Taco Bell. She's an American kid; you just can't do much to keep them away from fast food and marshmallows without seeming like a monster.
Oh, and the meat is disgusting thing? I don't know how people do it. Y'all know that meat used to be a live creature, right? It was a baby once. And as we are in the midst of a global pandemic that many are attributing to consumption of bats in China, I'm disturbed at the hypocrisy of so many people who have this completely subjective hierarchy of animals wherein every creature is assigned a spot that determines if it is fit to eat. In some cultures, any animal that can be captured is suitable to eat. Interesting how people decided where an animal falls on the spectrum (though I'm sure most people never think about it much). It even differs even within geographic areas and families. Even my own.