In the 1980s my best friend was vegetarian. I remember how hard it was for her to find something to eat when we went out. One time we went to a Mexican restaurant with her and her mother, and I remember her crying at the table because her mother didn’t want to pay $1 extra for the only thing on the menu that was vegetarian. I really had hoped things had improved by now, thirty years later, but I have to say now that I’m doing a year of vegetarianism, I’m finding it quite a challenge, particularly when going out to eat.
I’ve learned that just because a restaurant has a vegetarian menu and a gluten-free menu, it does not mean that it will be easy to find something that is both vegetarian and gluten-free. When I was just gluten-free I never noticed how many gluten-free menus were 95% meat and seafood. And now that I’m trying to be vegetarian, I’m finding it disappointing that so many veggie burgers, hot dogs and “meat substitutes” are wheat based. In the past I knew I would have to deliberately avoid the vegetarian option at weddings, charity auctions and other places with limited menus, because the vegetarian option is unfailingly some sort of pasta. And to be honest, even when a place has gluten-free pasta, it’s generally undercooked and not very good. Yeah I know, First World Problems.
So I recently mentioned that I’m trying to be vegetarian for one year. I was fully expecting that I would be starving all the time, since meat is the only food that really hangs out in the stomach for any length of time to be digested. But I have to say that my body has gotten used to it, and I’m not as hungry as I feared. Still, I’m gaining weight, but maybe that would be happening anyway because of my age and a lack of vigorous exercise.
Just before I went vegetarian, I read in Primal Body, Primal Mind “Remember, the more you overeat carbohydrates and protein, the better your body gets at converting protein to sugar, even if that protein is part of your own muscle and bones. (Even hear of osteoporosis?)” pg 141. I am borderline osteoporotic, and I admitted to myself that I was a protein addict. I was eating nuts, eggs and meat several times a day and I knew I was relying too much on protein to calm the nutty feeling I’d get from eating sugar, potatoes, bananas, or anything with a high glycemic index. Since quitting meat, I’m actually feeling more balanced, which is quite a surprise. Still, I look forward to combining small amounts of meat with all the awesome new vegetarian and vegan recipes I am discovering during this process.
I had a dream a few weeks ago that I had a big slab of fish on a stick and was eating it. I took it as a sign that fish was a food my body was missing. Flax oil poured on salads and gluten-free bagels cannot substitute for fish oil; my body could not be fooled. The next thing I knew I was at a wedding rehearsal dinner where the only options were chicken and fish. I chose the fish, ate and enjoyed it. I’ll add on an extra day of vegetarianism at the end of the year.
Then I visited a Thai food truck in Portland, and requested tofu in my stir fry thingy. Blocks away, I discovered they gave me chicken. I ate a little of it, not wanting it to simply go to waste. I felt sick for the rest of the day and part of the next day. I’m still not sure if it was simply the food truck experience, or that my body wasn’t used to chicken. Either way, I am not eager to have chicken again anytime soon.
At a recent wedding, where I had ordered the beef two months prior, someone got the memo that I’d since turned vegetarian, and a few minutes after this photo was taken, my plate was whisked away and replaced by one with quinoa instead of beef.
In mid-July I took refuge at the Sakya Monastery with His Holiness Jigdal Dachen Sakya, and during the course of the ceremony, His Holiness briefly broke free of speaking in Tibetan to look right at us new Buddhists and declare in English, “No meat for a year!” The translator sought clarification; apparently no other group of refuge-takers had been given this instruction at the monastery before. We were told that our Lama was recommending one year of vegetarianism for the sake of sentient beings, but it was not a requirement. Indeed, the book I’d read about taking refuge states that Buddhist are not required to be vegetarian. Still, I had the feeling His Holiness was looking at us with a kind of clairvoyance, and knew that at least one of us really needed this particular instruction, and who knows? Maybe that someone was me. So I started my year of vegetarianism on July 16 and will occasionally post here to let you know how it is going.