I am a man of many passions when it comes to food. Over the course of my continuing education in learning about my likes and dislikes, I’ve had some polarizing statements come out of my mouth.

1) I could never date a vegetarian.  Okay, that one was asking to be broken. When I first said it, I think I meant that I could never date someone who so closely affiliated the biggest parts of who they were with vegetarianism. Yes, it shapes your eating habits, but to constantly talk about what you can and can’t, should and shouldn’t, will and won’t eat is too much of a grind if you’re in a relationship with someone whose profession and passion centers around food.

That being said, the woman who has accepted me as her own does not eat the barnyard meats. Nothing with legs, says she, and that’s fine.

We eat fish from time to time, not so much as we used to in Seattle, but it’s part of the menu. I’ve learned to extract flavors from vegetables, and I have an open relationship with my meat, knowing that if she’s out of town, it’s alright to cook a burger or two. Most of the choices I make, however, have evolved into cooking things that we’d normally eat together, anyway. I don’t have cravings for red meat, nor do I go out of my way to get a pork chop or two if I want one, although the option is there at the grill down the street.

Instead, It’s a pasta, some vegetables, a sauce, maybe some shrimp if it’s around. I do like risotto. I find myself looking for more things that are green, and get a bit frustrated if I don’t come up with something a little bit healthier if I’m going to cook a meal.

I can’t eat like I used to. Burgers make me feel gross and lethargic. I really like chicken wings, but if they’re fried, I just don’t care for how they make my stomach do flips when I’m least expecting it. In times of culinary crisis, a salad can be your best friend.

This brings me to point the second.

2) Veganism is a waste of time. I used to say that your body needs animal protein, and that to deny it what it needs causes conflict in your innards. A comfortable solution to fast food and diets high in saturated fats this is not. Anything your body needs that you take out of your diet needs to be replaced with something. Veganism just sounded like so much of a hassle.

Today, though, a friend was looking to drastically change her eating habits, and decided that veganism was the way to go. Admittedly, it’s a tricky road, and one that I probably won’t go down. Still, how does one achieve a good balance of nutrients in a plant-based diet to fully function on a daily basis? Where does the protein come from? What about the energy that you would lack?

What ensued was a conversation on Facebook back and forth between a few different voices, some vegan, some not. One woman had a gluten intolerance. I think it’s fascinating to find out how people deal with certain restrictions of food consumption to come up with a suitable solution to their own dietary needs.

First, the biggest culprit is red meat. I say this working from behind the counter in a meat department, and against my better judgment from the standpoint of wanting it to be a success: We eat too much red meat. Our case would not be as bounteous if we cut everything to portion sizes that the governing bodies recommended. We would lose our porterhouses and our ribeyes. A 20 lb. ham would take a family of four two weeks to polish off. It just wouldn’t be right. Still, we have options for healthy eating where the recipe dictates a ratio of meat to vegetables that allows us to be comfortable in recommending items to people who want to eat healthy.

I realize it’s not for everyone, and I want to let people who are considering veganism to know that if it isn’t for ethical reasons, it can be a soft veganism. So long as you are doing it for health reasons, there are many options out there for living a plant-based existence.

What has two thumbs and enjoys a plant-based diet? This guy.

Somewhere out in the ether is a nutritionist, John Pierre, who touts ‘going to the source’ as a method of finding optimum nutrition. For example, if you don’t want to eat fish, but you want the benefit of Omega-3 fatty acids, look at what the fish eat: Green sea vegetables. Who says you can’t skip eating the fish and go straight to the source? If you’re not vegan, who says you can’t fortify your eating choices by adding nutrient rich greens to your diet?

I do love nutrient rich greens of the variegated kind. There’s kale, chard, mustard greens, bitter searing greens, etc. These are all excellent choices from which you can derive a large part of your total nutrition, and in conjunction with other nutrient dense plants, seeds, or nuts, you can get a balanced meal. One that comes to mind is Black Beans and seared kale. Add brown rice, a serving of nuts, and you’re on your way. It doesn’t have to be complex, and you don’t have to be constantly substituting things in and out of recipes. A lot of different countries have recipes that are vegan or vegetarian based, from the afforementioned rice and beans with kale to dozens of Indian dishes.

I found a great blog specializing in Indian dishes that stand alone with flavors and health, and they’re vegetarian by design, not because they’re appealing to a niche. That is secondary. The composition and health are the primary driving factors behind these recipes. Check it out. 

From Currylicious- Chickpeas with Grated Coconut. Click the Picture for the Recipe

Nobody says vegetarian food has to be boring. Look at granola. That’s vegan without being called vegan. Put some fresh fruit in there, a splash of alternative milk (make sure there’s no added sugar and that it’s low in added oil-that negates the health benefits), and it’s breakfast.

It doesn’t have to be boring, this food, but it should be healthy. Here’s a helpful hint: If you can’t see the food, or if it’s hidden behind multiple layers of packaging, it’s probably not the best for you. Want to know what is? Vegetables. Fresh Vegetables. Even frozen vegetables are good. Clarence Birdseye patented a food technology long ago that harnesses the nutritive value of rapidly frozen vegetables so that from farm to table they retain almost all of their deliciousness and health. Canned beans are good for you, and I know from experience that they’re cooked equal or better than I can make them at home.

Veggie Burgers are delicious, so long as you don’t close your eyes and hope that it tastes like meat. You’ll be disappointed if you do. If you just want something that tastes like it’s not trying too hard, be satisfied with your patties, or for a more healthful alternative, make a big batch of your own using all the good things that you can think of.

Make a pot of brown rice. Fluff it up, eat some with dinner, and use the rest for burgers. Add some cooked lentils, some finely chopped kale, a bunch of spices like coriander, turmeric, cumin, some onions, maybe some garlic. Mix it by the hand squish method until it becomes something that will hold together as a blob. Patty them, separate them with waxed paper, throw them in the freezer, and pull one out when you need it. Shopping for all this  stuff once and making a big batch is a great way to make it easier on yourself to eat healthier.

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Even if eating vegan or even strictly vegetarian is not  for me, the conversation taught me a lot about how I think about my food. I don’t want to classify my eating habits as anything. Aside from eating takeout out of convenience once in a while, I know how to eat healthy. I need my greens, and if I choose to eat mostly vegetarian, I know where to get my proteins from: Barley, Quinoa, Rice, Nuts, and Beans. It’s not about ethics for me. It’s about health. I’m not going to shut out specific food groups unless it’s proven that I need to cut down. Moderation, as always, is key. A little cheese is not going to hurt as long as I eat some fruit and maybe some nuts.

There are so many great vegetarian dishes out there that I’ve been meaning to try, and not because they’re vegetarian, but just because they look like they taste good. Aside from eating what’s right for your body, isn’t that what matters most?

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