Vegetarian in a Meat-Centric Household

Alyssa Wright shares some of the changes in her relationship to eating out and cooking at home since becoming vegetarian.

My family loves meat. For the longest time, I loved meat. My family has even raised animals to eat them. We’ve gone hunting for deer and squirrels. We processed deer, rabbits, and fish in our kitchen and ducks in our backyard. My dad helped a friend process his chickens. We buy half a cow or pig on a regular basis.

And then I changed my mind. I decided I had some disagreements with eating meat, so instead of ruminating over it for ages, I committed to quit. I’ve talked openly about having meat after changing my mind. It’s only been almost three months. Here’s a few of the aspects of changing my diet I hadn’t anticipated.

Fast Food/Eating Out

I eat a lot of Panera Bread. A lot. Almost every day that I work, I buy food. I had a lot of variety in what I chose from the menu before. Now I tend to pick from the same small selection of items. The caprese sandwich, the BBQ mac n cheese with avocado instead of chicken, the Mediterranean veggie sandwich, or the southwest chili lime salad with avocado instead of chicken. Almost every time, I order one of those.

As for other places, most of the ones near me are burgers, like McDonalds or Wendy’s or Burger King or Culver’s. I don’t crave burgers at all anymore, and I haven’t even wanted to go get fries or icecream there either. I’ve gone to Chipotle once, a Chinese place twice, and Taco Bell twice, but those have vegetarian main dish options other than just salad.

Cooking at Home

I knew we ate a lot of meat at my house. What I hadn’t expected was how much more time I would spend cooking. Whereas before I cooked dinner for the family once a week and made myself lunch sometimes depending on the leftovers, now I cook nearly every day. Most of the time, there are no vegetable leftovers or very little. So I can’t base my meals off leftovers, I have to make something. I’ve bought some of my own food the last couple months and learned a little about just how expensive it is.

I’ve had a lot of fun with food since becoming vegetarian. I had viewed it as restrictive, coming from a meat-centric perspective, but it’s actually not. I have to pay more attention to what I’m eating, yes, but it’s encouraged experimentation and a playfulness that I hadn’t fully tapped into before. I created a soup without a recipe when I had a cold in place of chicken noodle soup. I had fun making that soup, experimenting with the basic cooking principles I had learned in the past. I took a favorite recipe of mine, Serbian mussaka, and tried it with black beans. I had the vegetable ratios off, but it worked. I never would have thought to try making it with black beans at all if I hadn’t become vegetarian.


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Having Meat after Abstaining for Three Weeks

I stopped eating meat on December 4, I think. I have only made two exceptions to my vegetarian diet. I had a small piece of ham during Christmas dinner. At my boyfriend’s family’s New Year’s Eve party, I had two boneless chicken wings, two beef (?) ravioli, and a “sausage flower.” I was really surprised to find that I didn’t really enjoy it.

I used to love meat. When I first stopped, the biggest temptation was bacon. It still tempts me. A lot of menu items with meat are tempting. The chicken salad sandwich on a croissant, the chipotle chicken avocado melt, the steak and arugula, the Cuban… I loved meat.

Which is why I was so surprised. I probably would have thought the ham was fantastic before. It was okay, but I didn’t want more than the small piece I got. I was really tempted by the chicken wings, they smelled and looked so good. So I made an exception, and wasn’t actually impressed. I know that I probably would have thought it was delicious and gotten more if I hadn’t stopped eating meat.

Less than a month of eating vegetarian and my taste preferences changed. I’m really shocked, honestly. I would have expected it to take longer for me to not enjoy meat.

Newly Vegetarian: My First Week

For the last week, I haven’t eaten meat. The last time I had meat was for lunch on Monday December 3rd.

I decided to stop eating meat while writing An Informal Discussion of the Ethics of Eating Meat for Over the Invisible Wall. My research included an article about fish and fishing and a video of a vegan’s thought-provoking speech on eating meat. I did more research on the meat industry.

Monday night and Tuesday I hadn’t fully committed. I thought I would try it or eat a lot less meat. I was eating vegetarian, but thought I would eat meat Wednesday night. I managed to abstain from meat, including bacon. Bacon was the biggest temptation. My grandma offered me bacon on Monday and my parents made bacon on Tuesday. I almost caved. Almost.

Wednesday I thought I’d have a small amount of meat for dinner. I was ready to commit to eating significantly less meat, but was still debating if I’d have any meat. That night I found I didn’t want to eat the chicken. That surprised me. I’d expected it to take longer for me to be disinterested in meat. I was definitely not disinterested in the leftover bacon in the fridge, but I didn’t want the chicken I’d made.

Thursday was harder than anticipated. It was my first day back at work since I’d stopped eating meat. I thought Panera would be easy because there’s a lot of various options. How wrong I was! While making people’s food, I remembered how much I love the chipotle chicken avocado melt and the Cuban panini… and bacon. I was reminded of my love for bacon countless times. I told myself, “Bacon is the enemy,” and laughed at myself for that. I also realized only two of the soups are vegetarian and I don’t really like one of them. I still managed to not order anything with meat.

Friday was the best of the first four days. I had fewer problems with feeling hungry and had an easier time abstaining from meat. I talked with Julianna Carbonare, a member of my Praxis cohort who has been vegetarian and vegan, about my problem with hunger. She suggested that I need more protein, so I made an effort to increase my protein intake. I had eggs twice, for breakfast and lunch. I discovered that the green passion smoothie at Panera is fantastic with basil.

Saturday I had thought out what I’d eat ahead of time. I learned that Culver’s, a burger place, surprisingly has a vegetarian soup and a few salads. At this point, it was already getting easier and feeling more natural to not eat meat. I did not want it, and only craved bacon a few times while at work. I had a better understanding of how much I needed to eat throughout the day to not feel ravenously hungry.

By the end of the week (only a week!) it felt natural. I never thought I would ever be vegetarian, but now I am.

Throughout the week I talked a lot with my friend Justine about food and eating vegetarian. She shared the information she had and suggested some food ideas. At her recommendation, I bought a few vegetarian canned soups from the brand Amy’s. I picked out some other soups while browsing. I made overnight oats Friday night and they lasted through Monday morning. I made protein “cookies” for a portable, filling snack early in the week. That first batch had a grainy texture that didn’t feel like a cookie, but the taste was good. I made another batch Monday morning before work. I didn’t follow a recipe or write down how I made them, just combined ingredients based on my knowledge of baking in general and cookies more specifically. They turned out better this time, but they were a bit crispier than I intended.

I’ve had to be more conscious of what I’m eating and putting in my body. I pay attention to foods that contain protein, because that helps stave off hunger between meals. I did some research to make this easier and now have a list of 36 plants or plant based foods that contain protein.

It’s been difficult starting out, but I feel good about what I’m eating and that I’m not harming animals.