In or around 1976, I attended a family picnic in which a whole pig was roasted. I stopped eating meat that day and declared myself a vegetarian. When I told my mother she said she wasn’t going to cook any differently so I’d better learn to cook. I took that as a challenge, purchased two books about vegetarianism: Diet for a Small Planet and Recipes for a Small Planet. I read all about why vegetarianism was a better option for the Earth than diets that included meat. The book told me that it took much more land to grow food for someone who ate steaks than for those who ate vegetables. It also told me some things that later were proved incorrect, like having to eat complimentary proteins at one sitting. This was later changed to eating complimentary proteins over the course of one day.
I also learned that there were different types of vegetarianism. Since I chose to still eat dairy and eggs I was what was called an ovo-lacto vegetarian. I made sure to make that distinction when I spoke to others especially other vegetarians (although in the late 1970’s they were hard to find), not wanting to have people think I was being a hypocrite — that I knew my place.
I don’t think I was too obnoxious as a vegetarian that time, but I probably was to some people. I do remember a Thanksgiving where my Aunt Leila and I got into a shouting match in which she asked if I thought I was too good to eat the food on the table. We didn’t speak again until she was dying of lung cancer.
I began to eat meat again as a testament that I was a different person after a 3-month stay in England and after breaking up with my fiancé. It was on a British Airways flight from London. The meal was beef tips. It was probably awful (1979’s British airplane food) but I ate it and ate meat for the next few years afterwards.
The second time I quit eating meat was when my boyfriend (now husband) and I lived in Pittsburgh. I don’t recall the reason or length of time I was an ovo-lacto vegetarian this time, but it was a while. Now that I think about it, I think it was until our honeymoon in Europe. I figured it would be hard to be a vegetarian on a budget whirlwind tour of Europe.
The third, and final, time I quit eating meat was at an event on the National Mall in Washington DC. I came across a PETA tent and stopped to look at the displays. That night I announced to my husband I was done eating meat. By this time I’d acquired several books, in addition to the Diet for a Small Planet books. I had a copy of Lauren’s Kitchen and at least one of the Moosewood cookbooks, so I had a lot to choose from. This time I was a little more obnoxious about my diet. I remember telling a workmate that I was a vegetarian so many times that she finally told me to shut up about it.
At some point, however I decided to start eating fish again. Then I even added poultry to my diet (even though the PETA display involved chickens). At this point I knew I was not a vegetarian any longer, but a person who didn’t eat red meat. I’d gone from someone who altered my diet because of my concern for animals to one who was more concerned about my health and red meat was linked to colon cancer and possibly connective tissue disease. When I discovered I was pregnant with my first child I gave up the red meat restriction, claiming I was concerned that I wouldn’t get enough nutrition to the baby without meat.
These days it is so much easier to be a vegetarian or vegan or ovo-lacto vegetarian or even pescatarian. More people believe in it. More restaurants cater to it. More friends and family members are willing to alter menus for their vegetarian friends.
Except if you turn to the Internet, which I did the other day to get ready for a gathering for which I’d be serving appetizers, dinner and desert to a group of friends, three of which are some degree of vegetarian. I knew I’d make two cottage/shepherd’s pies: One was a lentil shepherd’s pie and one would contain beef. I also knew I’d serve various cheeses from England for appetizers and a trifle for dessert.
I always use Jello in my trifles butI didn’t want to serve it to vegetarians so looked for recipes for vegetarian trifles. I learned that unless one uses artificial sweeteners they cannot make even an ovo-lacto vegetarian trifle. It seems that most white sugar is filtered through bone charcoal. I didn’t tell my guests about the sugar thing — and served it without Jello.
So, what was the point of this post? Not much. Just some things I’ve been thinking about lately.