Accidentally Vegetarian

Brooklyn, NY, USA

Five days last week, I ate an entirely vegetarian diet. It wasn’t planned, by me or anyone else. It just happened that, when I opened my refrigerator or visited the grocery store, none of the carnivorous options appealed to me. Spring is in the air, even a hint of summer, and what I wanted were veggies. Just veggies and rice crackers and cheeses. (Vegan, my friends, will never be the lifestyle for me! Not even, apparently, by accident.)

I’m not philosophically oriented to vegetarianism, but it’s been a year for me of compelling arguments to partial vegetarianism. It started to really stick in my mind after Elly’s Goucher reunion picnic last spring. Sean said something in the course of conversation about being vegetarian once or twice a week because it’s better for the environment. It stuck with me as something I could really do, an opportunity to improve my footprint without giving up the deliciousness of beef entirely. Every so often, I would say to myself, “Oo, today I ate vegetarian!” and then go back over my day and realize I’d had beef stew or a ham sandwich for lunch. “Next week,” I would tell msyelf.

I was hesitant for primarily two misconceptions. First, I associate vegetarianism with tofu and soy, to which I am allergic, and which has some pretty negative environmental, health and economic impacts as well. On the occasions when I’ve accompanied vegetarian friends to a vegetarian restuarant, I’ve found it almost impossible to find something (other than leafy greens, which I really dislike) that I could eat. It got worse when I cut 90% of gluten out of my diet. Second, I had some concerns that I could feel full on a vegetarian diet. Protein is the thing that makes us feel satisfied, and no matter the stuffed feeling of lots of vegetarian mass in the stomach, I was sure I would still feel hungry.

At the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office’s Intergenerational Spring Seminar, one day’s meal was entirely vegan. I found their argument compelling. UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts explained that an enormous contributor to global warming is our meat-centered Western diet. It wasn’t the idea but the execution that disappointed me, and reinforced those preconceptions I mention. All I could eat that day were gluten-free veggie wraps at lunch and leftover gluten-free veggie wraps for dinner, because everything else had soy: faux-chicken, tofu, seitan. Even the rice and beans had added soy sauce, for reasons I simply can’t fathom.

What finally did it for me last week was a tactic I developed in my first summer in New York City, up in the Bronx. It was a revelation to me the day I realized that if I don’t like leafy greens, I don’t have to put them in my salad. Instead, I head to the grocery story for fresh veggies in as many colors as I can find, each color representing a different essential nutrient, and chop them up in a big bowl. An apple, carrots, tricolor peppers, a purple onion, brussel sprouts, a pear…. In this bowl, you’ll also see garlic-and-herb feta cheese. I make a huge bowl of it, and scoop it into single-serving tupperware for lunch each day.

This summer’s twist is that I’ve passed on the dressing. In the Arab style, I dice a pair of lemons and mix them in. It keeps the apple and pear from browning, and gives it just enough flavor to make dressing superfluous.

Now, I feel like I really can do as Sean suggests and be vegetarian once or twice a week.

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