Thursday, July 29, 2010

Vegging Out

I reorganized my recipe file on Monday. No, it wasn’t on my list of things to do during my vacation week. But on Sunday, when the mess of culinary clippings crammed in a kitchen cabinet made an ordeal out of extracting a bowl for Jim’s potato salad, it suddenly took precedence over re-potting my lavender and trimming the cat’s claws.

I’m not going to go on about how this project took far longer than anticipated. Or about the perfect file box I found at the Container Store (disguised as a greeting card file—something I didn’t know existed and probably also need!) But sifting through the recipes and deciding what to keep—and what to toss—took on an unexpected significance.

It was like looking through a photo album of my life, one that dated from when I got married (in 1977) to the present. Who was that woman who whipped up all those wok wonders? And casseroles with ground beef, noodles and Campbell’s soup as the main ingredients? Was there really an era when I made beef stroganoff and chicken cacciatore? Or when compiling ways to make mac & cheese and potato salad was my sole mission in life?

My pile of cast-offs grew—and so did my realization that the way I eat has changed dramatically over the past 30-plus years. As I labeled the tabs of my colorful new file and filled it with favorites and promising possibilities, several things became clear:

1. I’ve always eaten more poultry than beef or pork.
2. I’ve lived by the adage that eating fish in restaurants is preferable to living with the smell at home.
3. Pasta and any dish featuring beans or lentils is a mainstay.
4. Looking for new ways to prepare sweet potatoes or Brussels sprouts? Give me a shout.

Which leads me (more or less) to the point. At the start of the process, the biggest stack of recipes involved chicken. By the time I was done, it was vegetables. That’s because I chose to reorg my recipes at a time when I’m as close as I’ve ever been to becoming a vegetarian. I feel instant disappointment at not being able to write, “Because I am a vegetarian.” But that would be a bold-faced lie—considering the fact that at my son’s birthday dinner last night I had the signature dish at 5 Napkin Burger.

However, reading my friend Diane’s recent blog post about vegetarianism made me realize that, while I admire those who just wake up one day and—voila!—stop eating animals, I don’t need to apologize for that fact that, for me, it’s a process that’s been going on for several years. Lately I’ve been doing lots of reading and experimenting and talking with my friend Stacey, who is sort of in the same boat. I’ve been looking at the issue through a variety of lenses: from the health benefits and animal rights abuses to the impact on the environment.

To be honest, I don’t have one good reason to continue eating meat. In fact, going totally vegan would suit me best from a health perspective. Sure, it’s inconvenient: all that searching for weird ingredients and cooking—what a drag! And although I happen to like most non-animal sources of protein, far be it from me to try to convince Diane (or Jim) that tofu tastes as good as last night’s thick, juicy burger.

That said, I just finished Jonathan Froer’s book, Eating Animals, and can no longer stomach the thought of consuming chicken or pork. Even fish is making me nauseous. So I’m enjoying leafing through vegan and Ayurvedic cookbooks. Exploring local farmer’s markets. And searching for stores that sell quinoa and adzuki beans in bulk. A few weeks ago I stumped a clerk at Whole Foods when I asked what aisle the mirin was in (imagine that!) And I’m still searching for umeboshi vinegar—although I’m not exactly sure why.
And yet—I avoid crossing the line completely. Oh, to wake up one morning and just know! In the meantime, I’ll continue this process of elimination and try to be okay with it—which is no easy task. As Jake drove us home from 5 Napkin Burger, I said, “This might have been my last real burger experience. I’m thinking about not eating meat anymore.” Without missing a beat, he replied “Again?” Ouch.


  1. It is lovely eating mostly vegetables, but as you with the "5 Napkin Burger" burger, I'm not ready to eliminate Luke's Lobster Roll from my diet!

  2. Taking it one day at a time works. We are consuming at least 50% less meat every week. I am grateful for every day that no animal dies so I can live. I am also enjoying exploring new recipes!
    What is UMEGOSHI vinegar? (oops...omeboshi)