Could you live life without meat, as a complete vegetarian?
I never thought I’d be asked that question. I grew up in Nebraska, being taught that cattled raised in Nebraska were the ultimate food – the best you could find. The best grasses upon which to graze and the best climate in which to live. The phrase “corn-fed beef” was synonymous with elite steaks, and cattle in Nebraska were corn-fed.
Meat and potatoes. That was the epitome of a good meal. In fact, since my mom didn’t really cook, we didn’t experiment with other genres of food. Even our local fast foods didn’t celebrate varieties of culture. Our fast food taco joint was called Taco John’s. Not Taco Juan – just good old John.
So when my 10 year old son came to me and announced that he wanted to be a vegetarian, I was thrown for a tail-spin. What? A vegga-what? And immediately after it sunk in that he wanted a different kind of food preparation, my older son came to say that he’s going to be a vegetarian, too!
When his father and I determined that the reasons were from a deep conviction and that they were sure about this, I started researching vegetarian meals. As a family, we talked about the decisions and agreed that we would all be vegetarian in the home. We wanted to respect the boys’ choice. If this was the way they were choosing to test their own limits, to learn how to follow their convictions, then we could support them. The girls, both dancers, went along easily because they wanted to eat a little healthier. My husband, however, had the hardest time. He is and forever will be an omnivore.
My problem was that, before vegetarianism invaded my home, my biggest cooking goal had been to get in and out of the kitchen as quickly as possible. That meant mostly prepackaged, convenience foods. I knew that if my boys were going to eliminate meat from their growing body diets, I had to have the most fresh foods possible. I had to completely relearn how to cook.
I started researching the internet, listening to podcasts, buying magazines, and traveling 35 minutes to get to the closest Whole Foods to buy the “exotic” ingredients that were required in my new recipes. Just for the record, by exotic, I mean an eggplant. Before vegetarianism, I had never cut into an eggplant. And I thought that an artichoke heart came from some weird animal. No joke…
Let me pause in my story for just a minute to explain the younger son’s reasons for eliminating meat from his diet. He had been studying in science about our digestive systems. He learned that our teeth weren’t ideal for eating meat, our stomachs weren’t suited for processing meat, our digestive system was way too long and twisted for digesting meat efficiently, etc. At the same time, he was studying in his Bible the Garden of Eden story. He read that Adam and Eve were originally vegetarian, only eating the fruits and vegetables of the garden.
He put the two things together and decided that, if our bodies weren’t made to eat meat, and if the original humans weren’t meat eaters, then he wouldn’t be a meat eater either. As I said, he is a kid of great conviction. Whether I agreed with him completely or not, he felt really strongly that the facts, as they presented themselves to him, left him with no other alternative than to cut meat out.
The reason I share this story is that cooking vegetarian has been a huge facet of my life the past few years. Living with the inconveniences of our choices, learning how to deeply support our kids in their journeys, and studying how to make compassionate decisions in our food choices, have all led me down a long trail that I’d never trade. Over this blogging walk, I’ll be sharing some vegetarian stories and some of my best meat-less recipes. Stay tuned!