“Well, what do you eat?”
Growing up I had the fun, glamorous experience of being a vegetarian in the public school system. Whenever it came up (usually the first day in a new school, during lunch break), the other kids looked horrified and fascinated. From kindergarten through high school I got the same reactions. What do you eat?
It didn’t help that I was a bit chunky through high school. The general assumption was that vegetarians looked like waifs. Like starving heroin addicts. Oh, and that we supposedly smelled like vegetable soup. Huh?
The response of course was, “everything you eat except for the animal parts”. Often waving at my overly generous hips, I would elaborate on pizza, cookies, ice cream, and everything else that tastes yummy and can make you fat. To this day, I know some of those kids didn’t believe me.
Then I found a kid in high school that was trying to convert to being a vegetarian. He confided in me that he had only been eating rice and lettuce for a month and wasn’t sure he was going survive. Well, duh! We fellow vegetarians got together and gave him a quick education on nutrition. Maybe I’m biased, but I think that people with ‘alternative dietary habits’ tend to have a bigger education on nutrition than those ‘normal’ people. Survival skills.
The number one problem with being a vegetarian (besides the weird beliefs of the carnivores) is getting proper protein in your diet. There’s an ongoing argument about protein sources, so it’s a good idea to vary types of protein on a daily or weekly basis. And legumes are your BFF.
Legumes are peas, beans, soy, peanuts (no, they are not nuts), and lentils. There are many more that are not a common food source. They contain the essential amino acid lysine, but lack methionine. Which is nice because whole grains are rich in methionine and low in lysine. When you combine legumes and whole grains, you create the complete protein necessary to keep you going. This doesn’t mean you have to do this at every meal. Your liver stores various amino acids, so by keeping a balanced intake, your body can actually build protein as it gets the necessary parts.
If you look back at history and traditional meals of different cultures, you’ll see that meat at a meal was often a once-a-week thing (if at all, depending on wealth, the season, and environment). A lot of traditional meals already combined these two elements because people aren’t stupid and natural selection picks off the people that don’t eat properly.
In India there are a lot of rice and dahl combinations. Asian cuisine likes to combine soy with rice, and Indonesians like tempeh with rice. The Americas with a lot of Spanish and native influence combines beans with corn. Even kids like peanut butter sandwiches.
(Okay, don’t get all upset if I mention the word ‘tofu’. That’s another five-page essay in itself. People who don’t know it, think it’s like eating slugs. And people who know it too well, think it’s one of the worst things you can eat because it’s over processed. So we won’t even go into tofu right now.)
There’s always a lot of argument going on when you get people who feel passionately about eating ‘right’. So everyone has something to say about what the perfect diet is. I’m more of a moderation kind of person. The Man and I try to eat a wide variety of foods to not only fill our nutritional requirements, but to keep from getting bored, and learn to make different kinds of food. I feel like anything carried to an extreme is unhealthy. Whether that’s food, religion, politics, or even washing your hands.
Being a vegetarian is a challenge for many reasons. But like anything else, if you have a basic education in it, you can make good decisions. You know what GI Joe says about knowledge.
There are literally thousands of ways to bring legumes into your diet. And yes you can make it taste awesome. Don’t forget your whole grains along the way. When in doubt, put some cheese on it. That’s my usual M.O. Yummmmm!