Change: A Veggie Life

Inspired by Stacey, last night I made vegetarian green soup from kale and spinach.

This year, I want the Monday posts to be about the people who are making changes in their lives. I’m going to be one of these people, bringing you stories that I’ll share another week. This week, we’re focusing on my longtime friend and colleague, Stacey King Gordon.

I first met Stacey in 1996 when we were both fresh out of college, working at a magazine in Philadelphia. 16 years later, we’re living 30 minutes apart in northern California, we’re both married and we have kids born within weeks of each other. When she told me that she was going vegetarian in the new year, I was a little bit skeptical of an all-or-nothing lifestyle change, particularly for a foodie couple. But as she explains below, the vegetarian effort has flexibility and is more within the parameters of home-cooked meals that she can control, and less when she’s at the whim of others.

Best quote of the whole interview: “If I can do it 90% of the time, I feel like it’s going to make a difference in my life.” That’s my kind of change!

Do you have any good meatless recipes to share with Stacey? Post the link in the comments.

Why vegetarian?

So – there’s no easy answer to this. Basically, it’s two reasons:

1. I’ve been really wanting to eat more healthily, less for weight loss (though that is always a bonus) and more because I want to feel better and live longer! I am a true blue Midwesterner who has always enjoyed a good burger or side of bacon, but as I’ve aged, I have increasingly overindulged in these things — especially in today’s foodie culture where everything is better with bacon. What I’ve noticed is that I’ve felt perpetually bloated and lethargic for the past few years, especially after having my daughter. I feel that meat has played a big role in that, that it’s something I’m just not digesting well, and with meat in my life I too often make bad choices (i.e., I eat too many meals with just meat and carbs and no veggies).

As I’ve been reading Mark Bittman and others talking about the benefits of the mostly vegan diet, I’ve also found myself gravitating more toward these great veggies at the farmer’s markets and just love the idea of locally sourced, in-season vegetables becoming the base of my food. So, I decided 2012 was the year to give it a try!

2. I sleep every night snuggled against my 80-pound chocolate Lab in our bed. I have started to feel hypocritical in a way – how can I invite my dog into my bed and then turn around and eat a cow? I also have really strong reservations about the way animals are raised for food, and know that vegetarianism is a more sustainable way of life. It’s less of an ethical decision, but it is something that has always weighed heavily on my mind and that I have brushed aside for too long.

How strict? Are you still eating dairy? Eggs?

I decided that the best way to do this was to not deprive myself, and to only continue to do it if it felt right. My goal is to eat vegan as much as I can, but vegan is extremely hard, so I’m definitely still eating dairy (including cheese, milk, yogurt, lattes, etc.), but trying to cook without it as much as possible. For lunch today I made an Indian dish called baingan bharta (eggplant with tomatoes) that was totally vegan; I made a soup with greens last week that was vegan too. It’s not as hard to do when you’re cooking; eating out is a different story.

I’m also eating fish from time to time (someone called this pescetarianism), which really helps in situations where I’m eating alongside non-vegetarians or in restaurants where veg choices are limited.

So far the only time I’ve eaten anything besides fish has been when I took my daughter out for Chinese food: I ordered bok choy and mushrooms but picked from her chicken chow mein. We also had a turkey meat loaf at my in-laws’ house one night. But otherwise I haven’t felt like I’m missing out on anything. I’ve decided that I’ll eat meat on special occasions (such as on my birthday) if I feel like it. If I can do it 90% of the time I feel like it’s going to make a difference in my life.

Is the family in agreement? Did it take any convincing? I know that your husband is a carnivore, like mine.

I was actually pretty shocked. One night I mentioned in passing that I was thinking about becoming vegetarian in the new year, and my husband was totally on board. We’ve been cooking vegetarian every night, even for Christmas Eve dinner! He’s in the kitchen right this moment making tofu with red curry sauce. He’s been on the same page with me about eating better, and he LOVES the reduction in grocery bill — meat is expensive! Our grocery bill has dropped on average about $30 a week. He is still eating meat at restaurants and for lunch, but we’re cooking veg at home.

Our 5-year-old daughter is another story. She eats “vegetarian” much of the time anyway, simply because she doesn’t have a great range — she’ll eat some chicken, fish sticks and turkey if we put them in front of her, but she’s just as happy with pasta or peanut butter or a soy corndog. Also, her afterschool program features vegetarian cooking, so she’s getting exposed to that as a lifestyle already. We’re not trying to change anything for her. The only real difference is that she’s not eating what we’re eating quite as often — but that’s not a huge priority since that’s been so hard to do anyway.

Tell me more about easing into the idea before the new year began. When we went out for lunch last month, I noticed that you ordered vegetarian choices. Was that part of the plan, to gradually adjust?

I knew I wanted to try to start officially January 1. But I decided one day that it would be good to “practice,” and after that I just started making different choices – about what I cooked and what I ordered. It was easy, especially because there was no rule that said I HAD to do it – I was only doing it because I wanted to. It helps that we have so much ethnic food around (especially good Indian) that features wonderful vegetarian options, and also that we have these fantastic farmer’s markets where all the hearty vegetables I just love — squash, chard, kale, leeks — are in season right now!

On New Year’s Eve I decided we should go out for one final burger. We went to True Burger in Oakland and did the whole thing: cheeseburger, fries, milkshake. It was great, but I felt like if I had to do it again I could have just as easily done without it — and I felt gross afterwards all day! I am surprised by how much I have not been craving or missing meat. But we’ll see how long that lasts.

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6 Responses

  1. Anne says:

    My husband and I recently began a “weekday vegetarian” diet, without a lot of advance planning or discussion. We plan to only (potentially) eat meat/fish on Saturdays and Sundays, though we’ve agreed that if we’re served meat at someone’s home on a weekday, that’s fine too. (We don’t feel that our experiment should inconvenience other people since we’re not true vegetarians.) With this approach, we avoid the all-or-nothing problem while still cutting way back on our meat consumption and gradually introducing new dishes into our diets. I like the structure of it. Our main problem is that that we don’t currently have many go-to meatless meal ideas, so we’re floundering a bit with the menu. I think it will be easier in the summer when fruits and veggies are more appealing. Veganism isn’t even a remote possibility at this point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we add some vegan dishes to our rotation as we experiment more.

  2. Alisa says:

    I think that the lack of meatless recipes can be the most daunting part. Sure, there are lots out there, but it’s tough when they’re not your easy go-to items. Nearly every meal in my repertoire is meat-centric, simply from years of habit. It takes thought to come up with alternatives.

  3. Stacey says:

    There’s no lack of meatless recipes!!!!

    Tonight’s menu:



    I think what has been fun is finding what’s in season and planning meals around those fruits and veggies. I’m doing these grain bowls for lunch this week (courtesy of yesterday’s SF Chronicle: that have beets and kale in them as the main attraction. They’re so gorgeous and delicious – and now they are the center of my meal!

  4. Alisa says:

    Oh, I know that there are tons out there, but it requires research on my part. Sometimes that’s just enough effort to deter me. Of course, all I really need to do is shift some of my side dishes — like spaghetti squash, or grains — and just skip the meat. I’m probably making it harder than it has to be. Then again, I haven’t *really* been trying.

    Wow, spaghetti squash with spiced butter? That couldn’t possibly be bad.

    I also like my recipe for couscous with curried apples:

  5. Bryn says:

    Stacey, it strikes me that what you’re doing isn’t so much changing your eating habits as becoming more mindful of what you eat. I like the idea of being more thoughtful and attentive. For a GREAT source of recipes and inspiration, check out Heidi Swanson’s blog and her cookbook (I got this for Christmas) Super Natural Everyday. Also, the January edition of Bon Appetit has a feature of gorgeous, inspiring vegetarian recipes from London chef Yottam Ottolenghi. Yum!
    Happy eating,

  6. Peggy Jo Donahue says:

    Great story, thanks Alisa AND Stacey!

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