On June 1, we’ll be celebrating a year of being mostly vegetarian at our house. This will be a little round-up of what we do, and maybe more importantly, what we don’t!
I am going to be honest about my reason for eating vegetarian. It’s mainly for the environment. I think that eating plants, rather than eating domestic animals raised on plants, is better for the planet. Reducing animal suffering is a side effect, but not my main rationale. I think any steps toward a more plant-based diet are better than none. In fact, I know people who hunt, fish and farm animals in ethical, no-waste ways and I have respect for that. I just don’t want to do it myself.
We’ve done 3 major food shifts in the past 2 years. First we started meal planning. Next, we decided to go “Real Food” and buy ingredients to make all our meals from scratch. Finally, we went vegetarian at Rom’s suggestion. We had been eating meatless meals for lunches and 1-2 dinners a week, so it wasn’t a dramatic change-over. It took us over 2 months to use up all the meat in our freezer and start fresh as vegetarians! During that time, we ate more meat than usual, so being done with it was a welcome break.
We agreed on the following “rules” for our one-month trial run:
- All meals prepared from scratch
- No meat purchases for the freezer (ignore sales!)
- Don’t use processed meat substitutes like veggie hot dogs, TVP or tofu
- No meal skipping and filling up on peanuts, popcorn, etc.
- No exceptions for vacations
- The exception – we will eat meat if it is served to us as the main course in someone else’s home
- No wrangling extra opportunities to eat out
We usually have dinner at my parents’ place weekly, so 1 meal out of 21 each week would have meat. Therefore, I say we are 95% vegetarian. I figure if we weren’t visiting, my parents would still make the same roast chicken and spend the rest of the week eating it as leftovers! So the net effect on the environment is no worse. I suppose our once-a-week “crutch” might prevent us from craving meat the rest of the time.
We have meals out once or twice a month, and we planned to order whatever we wanted. We weren’t overcome by meat lust, though, so we decided to start visiting all the vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Halifax instead.
To start off last June, Rom cooked from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and I cooked from Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook. Everything we made was new to us. The two cookbooks were very different: the Bittman one is based on ingredients, so if you have some asparagus, you can look up ways to prepare it; whereas The Vegetarian Times was more meal-oriented (breakfasts, main courses). Over the months, I dug into several more cookbooks, and focused on one-pot meals like soups, stews, casseroles and crock pot dishes. Eventually we came up with a repertoire of meals that we like making and eating, so we have a rotation of sorts, although not a very strict one.
The biggest surprise to me has been that combinations of vegetables and grains can taste so entirely different from each other. Our repertoire now includes:
- Green Pea and Quinoa
- Carrot Ginger
- Curried Winter Vegetable
- Bean and Greens
- Butterbean Mushroom Chowder
- Veg Lasagna
- Pasta Primavera
- Pasta with Red Lentil Tomato Sauce
- Spaghetti with Aduki Beans
- Cincinnati Chili Mac
Salads as a Meal:
- Orzo Salad
- Rasta Salad
- Barley Succotash (hot or cold)
- Veg Pizza
- Falafel Sloppy Joes
- Omelettes or Frittatas
- Stuffed Peppers
- Shepherd’s Pie
- Lentil Loaf
- Nut Loaf
- Carrot Cashew Burgers
- Leek Strata
Stews, Curries and Chilis:
- Lots of recipes – I especially like veg stews with peanut butter in them!
My next goal is to make a vegetarian moussaka.
We stock our pantry differently now, with lentils, beans, pasta, couscous, quinoa, rice, oats, lots of nuts and dried fruit. Then we buy fresh produce and dairy for the week’s menus and that’s it! We still buy a few packaged goods: cereal, crackers, cheese, ice cream, tea and coffee. Also canned tomatoes until I can preserve enough myself! I have not been too great about baking lately, so that means buying bread.
I did a little analysis of grocery costs. All costs include paper goods and cleaning supplies, but I have since minimized spending on those. With just two of us at home eating both meat and a variety of processed foods, our grocery costs were $482 a month. After switching to “Real Food” including meat, the monthly grocery bill averaged $528 a month, I suppose because we were buying more fresh food and better quality ingredients. Our current grocery costs are $438 a month. So we are saving $90 a month over eating meat, or $45 a month over eating processed junk, LOL! One way of thinking about it is that we have saved the cost of buying meat, and also absorbed the cost increases of groceries over the past 2 years. We have breakfast at home and we pack lunches for work, so this pays for all of our meals and snacks, with no extra costs for eating “on the run.”
There is no question that food, cooking and eating consume a great part of my time, but I like it that way. There is nothing else I’d rather be doing.
Another nice side effect is that our weights have stabilized at a lower point and we rarely have to think about our sizes. I don’t miss that humbling, sluggish feeling of my weight being on the upswing. (Boo Hiss to tight waistbands!)
As you can see, 12 months later, it’s not a trial run any more. One thing that helps is having that flexibility to eat meat once in a while if it’s difficult not to, or if we just want to. Knowing that, we don’t exercise it much. So we are not purists, but I think “veg enough” is working for us just fine.
Now I’m sure that for some, “veg enough” is having some corn with the meat loaf!
How veg are you?