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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?


Anxiety Abatement: 12 Ways to Simplify Your Home

Today is the first post in my 12 series.

I write today about simplifying your home by clearing out the clutter–physical clutter, such as toys, books, and decor; environmental clutter that increases anxiety; and emotional clutter like distraction.

I have my own issues with clutter. Last fall, I stayed home with my new baby. I work outside of the home, but my wonderful university gave me a semester-long maternity leave when I had my baby at the beginning of the term. During this time at home–almost every single day–I came to realize that I did not like being at home. I was shocked by this revelation. I really thought I would like staying at home.

I have a nice home. And I like my stuff. But I disliked being at home because of the constant mess. I didn’t like looking at the junk, and I mostly stayed in one or two rooms so that I didn’t have to see the rest of the house. Too much clutter.

I decided to do something about it.

Today, I present to you 12 ways to simplify your home, to de-clutter your home so that you can find the emotional sanity you need and truly live your life in focus. These items are not ranked in order of most important, but I chose to number them to make it easier to skim the list.

1. Consign, sell, or donate at least 2/3s of your toys. Seriously, do it. Over the past several months, I have been cleaning out the toys. It’s been easy to get rid of the ones my kids have outgrown. If we don’t need it anymore, I’ve gotten rid of it. I also tried to get rid of toys that limit creativity or originality, toys that come in such a pre-form package that they do not allow children to use their imagination. My daughter’s Barbie dolls are the only things that I have yet to throw out in this vein. She has about 10 of them. I told her she can keep 2. She’s deciding which ones and then they are gone.

The hardest part for me has been to dwindle down the toys to a very small stack. But I have tried. I only have one more room to do. The results? It’s been freeing for my children. Their rooms are neater. Cleaning up is not quite as big of a task. They don’t seem so stressed out or overwhelmed when I ask them to clean up. I’ve also noticed that they are playing more. They aren’t coming to me saying their bored. They know where their toys are, and they want to play with them and then pick them up. As I was separating the toys into consignment or donation piles, I also added one more pile–a rotating pile. I put the rotating pile into one storage bin and moved it to our garage. Eventually, I will rotate the toys in the bin out with the toys in their room. My kids are enjoying their clutter-free spaces. And I am enjoying their better attitudes and their renewed interest in the toys they have.

2. Cook the same meals (or types of meals) each week. I like to cook gourmet meals. I like to eat good food. I like to watch cooking shows and discover new recipes. And I must admit, I’m still trying to put this one into practice. We have simplified our weekly menu by instituting Pizza Night, a tradition going strong for several years now. The problem here is that I’m the only one who’s known about this weekly event. I cook and plan the menus and having one weekly meal on my list has made meal-planning and grocery-shopping easier. My kids know that we have pizza a lot (it’s my daughter’s favorite food), but until recently, I didn’t call it Pizza Night. I am learning, however, that children need to experience anticipation, so I plan on communicating meals like “Pizza Night” to my children. Over the summer, I plan to institute “Meatless Monday,” “Pasta Night,” and a “Mystery Dinner.”

If you were to take this tip one step further, you might even designate the exact meal: chicken spaghetti, soup, chicken tenders, breakfast-for-dinner, lasagna, etc., so that the meals are simplified even further. I don’t think this would work for me because of my own interests as a cook, but if it works for you, great. Go for it. The goal here is to simplify meal-planning, cooking, and eating and for all to experience joy at the dinner table.

3. Get rid of all those extra cookbooks on the shelf. Admit it, you probably don’t use half the cookbooks you have on the shelf. I just went and counted my cookbooks. I have at least 50 (and I just got rid of about 30–still working on the others!). I probably only use 8 of them. But the others are special to me, so I’ve kept them. I still have too many, though. My sign should be that they don’t all fit on the bookshelf I have in my kitchen. Still trying…

4. Play a game. Indoor or outdoor. As a family. With your child. By yourself. Play a pick-up game of basketball. Play Horse or Knock-Out (I recently played this with my 7-year-old nephew and my brother-in-law Derek, and it brought back so many memories of playing these games in middle school and high school. I loved it!). Play a baseball game where the trees in your backyard are your bases. Play board games like Candy Land, Chess, Monopoly, or Checkers. Play Double 9 dominoes, Uno, Spades, or Memory. Anything your kid likes. Or, make up your own game, complete with materials and rules.

5. Try to filter out the adult world from your children. Try this for one week: No fights with your spouse. No negative comments about other adults (friends, teachers, church people, the president, politicians, relatives, in-laws). No inappropriate content coming to your children through the TV (especially the morning and evening news or certain video games that can desensitize us to violence). Instead, be present with your children. Talk to them at the dinner table or when they come inside from the backyard. Listen to them. Learn about their world, their interests. And let me know how it goes.

6. Donate all those books on your bookshelf to your library. My husband and I both went to graduate school, where we were required to buy hundreds of books for our courses and our research. Most of those are at our respective offices, but many have entered our home. If you don’t use it or think you will use it, get rid of it.

But graduate school books are the least of our worries when it comes to books in the home. Novels, Christian books, self-help books, biographies, and children’s books are of much greater concern. I must admit that I am cheap when it comes to books. I don’t like to spend money on books. I go to the library at least once a week. Any book my local library doesn’t have I can get through my university’s interlibrary loan service (which is awesome). That being said, I still have a lot of books. People give books to me because I am an English teacher, and, hey, I like books. But I don’t like books to clutter my shelves. I used to think having books in your home was a sign of intelligence and brilliance and being smart. Just think of all those movies where smart, rich people have these amazing libraries with the movable ladder. But now I don’t really care to live up to that standard. Books and bookshelves lead to clutter. So, get rid of your books. Getting rid of the children’s books has been the hardest part for me. I put some of them in the rotating pile and got rid of at least three shelves’ worth. I now have three shelves of books–one shelf for each kid. That’s still a lot, I know. But we do read a lot and we read a lot of the same books, so I’ve kept a few.

7. Consign or donate your unworn clothes. Seriously, do it. It is liberating. Go through your clothes, your spouse’s clothes, your kids clothes. Consign clothes that don’t fit or that are out of style. If you have gained or lost a lot of weight recently, get rid of the clothes in the different size. Even if you lose that weight (or gain it back), those clothes will be out of style. And it will make you feel better when you are getting dressed each day not to be staring at those other sizes.

8. Turn off the TV. At least 2 days a week, no TV allowed. Try it. It’s amazing how much more time you have to do things you love to do–and things that will make you feel so much better about yourself than watching 4 hours of TV every night. Read, write, cook, eat, talk, scrapbook, exercise. Find a passion and turn off that screen.

9. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed at the mess, take 15 minutes to do a quick pick-up of the house. Toys and mess can be overwhelming for adults, too, and setting a limit on how much time you spend picking up is good for you, too. Get the kids involved. Make it a game. We did this recently and it was the fastest, most fun clean-up we’ve ever had. I set the timer and provided an incremental countdown of how much time we had left. The older kids were so excited. They kept coming back to ask, “How much more time?!!” Fun will be had by all.

10. Read more. Take the time to read that mountain of books on your nightstand. You will have more to contribute to discussions with your husband or your friends. You will learn something. You will feel good about yourself. You will grow as a person.

11. Make it a goal to have 2 entire days or evenings of unstructured time at home. Nothing planned. Nothing scheduled. Except being with your family and letting your kids run free. They can know you are there and come to you when they need you, but don’t plan an activity–even in the home. If your kids get bored, tell them, “Well, then, something amazing is about to happen.” Just be. Your kids will appreciate it in the long run. And you will, too.

12. Pray more, and dwell in the presence of the Lord as often as possible. In the rush of my busy life, I must admit that personal time with God often gets lost first. I used to have quiet time in the morning. But with young children, such a goal is idealistic rather than realistic, and I won’t beat myself up over not being able to have this peaceful time the same way I did as a single woman. Instead, I have learned–through the gentle love of some older, wiser women–how to integrate prayer and God into my day rather than save a single time or space for it. I like this idea. I’m still not very good at it, though. I am trying, though.

This list is far from comprehensive. These changes take time. Change is a process, not a one-time fix. I merely offer some things that have worked for me. They’ve helped make our family closer. They’ve allowed my kids to open up to me in ways they hadn’t before. They’ve decreased my own anxiety and have helped me deal with the feelings I have being in my own home.

What tips do you have to make your home a peaceful place?


Running around Like a Crazy Woman: Why Less Is More

Simplicity Parenting book coverI am currently reading Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids. This book, by Kim John Payne, a school counselor and an educational consultant, has challenged me to re-think the way I parent my children. He has encouraged me to consider the ways my good intentions as a parent may have negative consequences on my child. This book is challenging, provocative, and inspiring.

Right now, Elizabeth is 6 years old. She is playing t-ball. Beginning next week, we will have practice or games 3 nights a week.

Peyton is 4 years old. He is playing t-ball. Elizabeth and Peyton are not on the same team. Shane (my husband) is the assistant coach of Elizabeth’s team and the head coach of Peyton’s team.

For the next 8 weeks, we are going to be eating, breathing, sleeping, and thinking t-ball. T-ball every night of the week, except Wednesday when we have church. T-ball on many Saturdays. Several nights, both kids have a game, so we’ll be at the t-ball fields for close to 4 hours.

But we love t-ball. We like that our children are engaging in activities (we think) they (will) like. I enjoy chatting with other parents and getting to know adults and children in our small community. We like that our children feel good about themselves by playing and accomplishing something. We like to be Jesus to the community by serving them. We like being involved. We like our kids starting and finishing something.

But that’s not all. In the Winter, Elizabeth played basketball. In the Fall, Elizabeth and Peyton both played soccer. And through it all, we had a newborn baby who is now 8 months old to cart around.

I pause now to ask myself, “What are we doing to our children by enrolling them in all these extracurricular activities?”

In the United States, parents are told the following dominant narrative: “You must enroll your children in as many activities as possible at very a young age. The more the better. Ballet. Dance. Swimming. Soccer. Summer camps. Team sports. Individual sports. And on and on.”

Just look at some of the examples of prodigy kids. Tiger Woods began golf at 2 years old. Andre Agassi started playing tennis around age 4. Cild actors like Drew Barrymore and the Olsen twins began acting when they were young. I’m sure there are numerous other stories (if you know of some, leave them in the comments).

In short, if you want your child to be good at something, start them early on the activity/task. Malcolm Gladwell even points out in Outliers that to become good at something, perfect at it, you must put in over 10,000 hours of practice.

So what have we done to make our children successful? We begin early. We want them to reach that 10,000 hour mark well before their teenagers and it is deemed too late. Just consider the book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (which I will write about soon). If you haven’t read it, you’ve probably heard about the book (it was quite controversial) and her “Chinese way of parenting.” The author–a law professor at Yale–spent countless hours every single day making sure her children had mastered the piano and violin. They practiced all the time–literally. Even on vacation. Everywhere. Every. Single. Day.

But Simplicity Parenting asks a simple question really, “Why?” 

Why do we do this to our children? What do they really gain through these activities? And what is the cost of this attitude of more, more, and more? What are the results of our over-scheduled, over-stimulated, busy lives? Especially on our children?

Throughout the book, he answers these questions, and in quite provocative terms. Put simply, he says that “less is more.” Seems simple, but when you unpack this idea in terms of schedules, television, screen time, clutter, toys, your day having a rhythm, order, and flow, stress, anticipation, sleep, food and eating, an ordinary day, and filtering out the adult world from your children, you can see how this idea becomes even more convicting.

Less is more.

We have forgotten the gift of boredom.

Less is more.

Our children need unstructured play time.

Less is more.

We need to clear away the clutter.

Less is more.

The true power of less is that it creates smarter and more imaginative, energetic, independent, creative, self-confident kids. Kids that know how to solve problems, get along well with others, figure things out, and build a deep relationship with their parents and others.

Simplicity parenting is worth the try.

For those of you interested in learning more about the book, you might like to watch this informative four-minute video by the author.