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Reflections on Eating Vegetarian: A Week in Review

I recently embarked on a crazy journey. My goal was to eat vegetarian for one whole week. I was out of town at a professional Summer Seminar in Rhetoric and Composition at Michigan State University and was able to eat five days worth of meals at a five-star cafeteria (see this article for more), and the other two days in airports. The food in the cafeteria was especially good. Not what I had in The World Famous Bean at ACU back in the day (over 15 years ago–wow!). The students donned chef coats and cooked the food right in front of you. Amazing!

Many of you followed along during the journey, but if you did not (or if you just want to re-visit some of the pages), you might be interested to see with your eyes the variety of food I ate and the many different options of eating vegetarian. It isn’t all steamed cauliflower and roasted peppers (although those are good!). The pictures are also really pretty! I have included links to each day’s food, including verbal descriptions and visual photos of what I ate at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Background of Experiment, Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four, Day Five, Day Six, Day Seven

Phyllo and Zucchini Strudel with Summer Squash Saute

Though short, this journey opened my eyes to a variety of issues about food, eating, mealtime, fellowship, and myself. I share some of these with you in today’s post. Since it’s Tuesday, let’s just make it part of the Tuesday 12 Series.

1. Eating vegetarian reduces the number of food options available, which simplifies the process of ordering food.

When I go to a restaurant, I scour the menu looking for something to eat. I am not one who orders the same thing each time. I actually order a different meal each time. Even when I cook at home, I rarely make the same thing twice. I like to cook and eat a variety of foods. Sometimes, it takes me at least 15 minutes to decide on something to eat.

But eating vegetarian meant that I was typically given two main meal choices along with soup, salad, and veggies. I didn’t even look what else was being served. I saw the vegetarian options and decided what I wanted. It was so simple. And since I’m trying to simply my life and my mantra is becoming “less is more,” I think simplification is a good thing.

2.    Eating vegetarian does not equal healthy eating.

This may not come as a surprise to vegetarians, but I guess it did to me. I assumed that a vegetarian diet meant a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables and legumes. And it does. But it also includes the oh-so-yummy dairy food group of butter, cheese, and milk, oils (even healthy ones still are high in fat), and desserts. I do think, though, that eating vegetarian means that you can enjoy these foods more often since you aren’t eating high-fat meats and maybe fewer calories. Although I can’t point to any “real” data to back these points up, I can say that I didn’t gain any weight this week–even though I had more dessert than I have had in a very long time.

3.    Meat substitutes taste good (at least most of the ones I ate).

The vegan hot dog wasn’t my favorite, but the ground meat substitutes and the tofu were both tasty and served their respective purposes in the dish.

4.    When you don’t eat meat, people assume you are a vegetarian.

The people at the Seminar assumed I was a vegetarian. I never ate any meat, so, of course, I was a vegetarian (really, this makes logical sense). But what’s interesting is that I never told anyone I was a vegetarian. They just inferred, after looking at my plate, that I was a vegetarian. My suitemate, Karen, knew about my “experiment,” but I didn’t tell anyone else until much later in the week, and only if they asked. I found it really interesting that after the first or second day, many of these colleagues even pointed out vegetarian dishes that they thought tasted (or looked) good. They often directed me to a certain station to make sure I tried one of the vegetarian dishes being served there. I found this quite endearing.

I also noticed that the cafeteria staff made assumptions about me when I ordered the vegetarian option from their station. These assumptions weren’t bad; I just noticed it, that’s all. Vegetarians are typically a certain type of person (more health-conscious, more environmentally-friendly, more liberal, etc.). I could tell this in the questions they asked me and in their friendly smiles and eye contact. This generation of college students (the people working the food stations) seems very aware of the impact, the difference, one person’s personal choices can have on the larger society. To me, they seem more socially aware than my generation, which, I think, is a good shift.

5.    Individuals and restaurants can be very accommodating to vegetarians, vegans, gluten-freers, or others with dietary food requests and restrictions.

Many restaurants these days are conscious of the wide variety of eaters coming in their doors. Many now have a wide variety of options for all kinds of people, and the food is quite comparable. Even when we went over to one person’s house for dinner (who is not a vegetarian or vegan and has no known food allergies), she thought in advance and made vegan hot dogs, gluten-free dishes, dairy-free dips, and many other dishes that people with specialty requests could eat. I find this to be extremely thoughtful.

6.    Eating a vegetarian diet can cause massive problems on your intestines.

Not eating meat can constipate you. It happened to me on Day 2 and lasted until Day 6 (Friday). One colleague at the conference told me to eat more fruits, so that’s what I did. I don’t know if the relief on Friday was the result of eating more fruits or if my body adjusted to a plant-based diet. Either way, I was thankful.

In the same vein, I did notice that bowel movements are not the same (If this topic grosses you out, embarrasses you, or makes you uncomfortable, proceed to #7. If you read on, remember that YOU WERE WARNED!).  Instead of the long, S-shaped pieces of poop Dr. Oz once told Oprah were ideal, my poops were shaped like small round pellets. This happened the entire week, every time.

One interesting benefit/side effect of not eating meat is that your poop smells different; it doesn’t stink quite so bad. I hadn’t really considered this point–that not eating meat would impact the smell of my poop–which is odd considering I have a 9-month baby who doesn’t eat meat yet and whose diaper does not smell near as bad as it will in a few months when we introduce meat into his diet. I’m wondering if this rings true for any vegetarians out there??

7.    Eating less meat is a really good idea.

Eating less meat can be good for your health, as much research on eating a plant-based diet suggests, even if you primarily eat low-fat meats. It can also be good for the environment. I’ve heard it can be more cost-effective and cheaper (Have you noticed how expensive meat is?). It can make you think more reflectively about food and eating and mealtime. It can get you to change normal routines and be more thankful for what you do eat. I could go on and on here, but I firmly believe that eating vegetarian, even if it’s only once in a while–is a good idea.

8.    Eating vegetarian encouraged me to slow down, talk more, listen more, and really pay attention to each and every bite, to savor the flavor and ponder the taste.

I was shocked to see how my eating habits changed when eating vegetarian food. Granted, I was not eating these meals with small children, where the words slow, savor, and ponder don’t often show up. However, I do think it was more than the fact that I was eating with adults. The food I was eating was on my mind the entire time. I studied it. I pondered the food combinations in a dish. I analyzed how I thought the dish was cooked. I questioned what spice was used. I tasted the food, I mean, really tasted the food. I didn’t just eat with my eyes, but I also ate with my mouth…in a deep way that I often miss when eating before. This habit could have been because I was doing an experiment about food. I’ll grant that. But even at other times, I think about food all the time–what I’ll cook, what I need from the grocery store, which food is the healthiest, etc. This time, however, I thought about food while I was eating it. This is a new thing for me–to be conscious of every single bite that goes in my mouth. It was a neat discovery, and I thank this vegetarian experiment for it.

9.    I had more energy throughout the day.

Usually after lunch, I experience what I like to call–“the afternoon crash.” Right after lunch, I suddenly become so sleepy that I can do nothing but think about getting in bed and going to sleep. This feeling of exhaustion is overwhelming. If I am home, I may go take a nap. If not, I just try to make it through the next couple of hours. Either way, this sensation comes almost every day (depending on what I ate at lunch).

Interestingly, I did not experience “the afternoon crash” one time during the entire week, even though we went immediately back into the Seminar for another half day of work. I didn’t get sleepy. I didn’t get tired. I was able to concentrate.

What’s more is that after the Seminar ended for the day, between 5:15 and 5:30, I exercised. I either went to the gym or jogged around campus (all but one of these days when we went over to a colleague’s house for dinner one evening). One might think I would have wanted to lie in bed and read or just rest (this was actually my plan), but I had more than enough energy to work out for well over 45 minutes each day I was there. THIS IS HUGE. And it felt great. My energy level was amazing, and this alone is making me consider being a vegetarian, at least for breakfast and lunch.

10.   I slept better at night.

I am a person who gets up at least twice a night to go to the bathroom. During my time eating vegetarian, I did not get up ONE SINGLE TIME to use the bathroom. I drank just as much and drank it just as late. But I never had to go during the middle of the night. I don’t know if it’s connected or not, but it was an observation so I put this here. I have decided that I probably still needed to go (I had to go badly when I woke up in the morning), but I was sleeping better and was not awakened by the need to go. I’m interested to hear from others: Does this ring true to your experiences?

11.   I felt full and was always satisfied after finishing a meal.

Eating vegetarian can be quite filling. You’re not just eating “rabbit food.” Rather, the meals were satisfying and delightful. And because I ate slower, I was full faster, oftentimes, before I had even finished my plate. It’s interesting how all this works together. I even noticed that I was focusing on what I could eat, rather than what I couldn’t eat. I didn’t even glance at the meat dishes served. I didn’t even miss them–in looks and desire or in taste.

12.   Eating vegetarianism brought me closer to God, the creator of all things.

I have been taught my whole life that, “in the beginning,” humans and animals were vegetarians (Genesis 1:29-30). Even though meat was available, only a plant-based diet was ordained by God. It wasn’t until the flood that God told people they could eat meat (Genesis 9:1-3).

This week reminded me that God is the creator of all food, meat, grains, fruit, vegetables, and other wonderful delicacies. And I thank God for all the food supplied to me. As an American, I recognized how blessed (some would say cursed) I am (we are) to even have the choice to do something like this. Others in the world–too many people–are starving, literally, and here I am able to eat with so much to choose from. I have learned that food is a gift. Eating food is a a git. And being thankful for it should be part of our daily lives…whatever you consider yourself.

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Overall, this was an interesting experience. I learned a lot and I’m left with even more questions than with which I began this journey. I hope my experiences have shown you that it isn’t too hard to eat vegetarian once in a while. Even if you would never eat vegetarian for an entire week, I do encourage you to challenge yourself for one meal, probably dinner. I think it’s worth it. Maybe it will make you appreciate where you food comes from. Maybe you already appreciate that. Perhaps you want to see how it impacts your budget, or what a complete vegetarian meal tastes like. Or maybe you just want to pull an April Fool’s Joke on your loved one. Going vegetarian just might be for you.

If you’re interested in this topic or in trying it out for yourself (even one day a week), check out these sources for more information:

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One final note, this experiment did not involve me cooking vegetarian food, which would be a different thing entirely. I am so used to cooking food with meat, and I have become quite good at it, and cooking vegetarian “main” meals seems like it would be a challenge. Although I cook vegetables with almost every meal, they are the “side,” the appendage to the meal, the part that my husband could do without. It seems to me that cooking vegetarian would take this challenge to the next level. Maybe that’s what’s next.

Here are some questions I’m considering now:

  • What would “going vegetarian” look like if I actually had to cook all the food? How would the food taste? How would I feel preparing it? What would the food taste like? Would I like it? Is it more difficult to prepare vegetarian foods?
  • How does eating vegetarian impact a food budget?
  • How does eating vegetarian impact my children? Would they go for it? Would they express “not feeling full” or “still being hungry”? How does one move a family toward a vegetarian diet?
  • What would my church family say if I brought a vegetarian dish to the weekly potluck, especially something more “exotic,” like edamame, lentils, and quinoa (yes, these are exotic around here)? Would anyone but me even try it?

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Thanks for journeying with me. As always, I love hearing from you (even if you disagree—just be constructive, not rude, demeaning, or mean).

What is your response to this experiment? Would you ever try to eat vegetarian? Why or why not? What are you favorite vegetarian recipes? What is something you have learned about eating vegetarian? What have you noticed? What resources (documentaries, movies, books, cookbooks, etc.) do you recommend that I (or my readers) take a look at? What assumptions do you have about vegetarians?