Because neurotic is the new black....

Ann Nichols

Ann Nichols
East Lansing, Michigan,
December 31
I write, I read, I clean up after people and I worry about things. I have a chronic insufficiency of ironic detachment. My birthday isn't really December 31; it's March 22 but it won't let me change it.


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JUNE 6, 2012 8:23AM

Going Meatless

Rate: 36 Flag

About ten days ago I stopped eating meat. There were no green-bordered, engraved cards made from heavy stock telling the world that “Mrs. Nichols announces with pleasure her decision to forego all animal protein until further notice.” There wasn’t really a reason, either, aside from a niggling thing in the back of my mind about the hypocrisy of refusing to eat lamb and veal while eating other (older, less adorable) birds and animals. That, coupled with the fact that I mostly just don’t love meat that much made it pretty easy. I already ate Garden Burgers when my husband and son grilled regular burgers, and I always ordered my Chinese, Thai and Korean food with tofu instead of meat.

Well there was kind of a reason. I read a lot about factory farming, how animals are treated, and the environmental costs of raising, slaughtering and distributing meat. I am also troubled by farmers subsidized to grow food for livestock rather than for people. I would feel infinitely better eating organic, grass-fed, free-range everything, but we really can’t afford it. I buy organic milk and vegetables, but our budget doesn’t extend to ground beef that costs three times more than “regular.” For me, it’s easier to stop eating it.

It’s also true that vegetarianism has always been a romantic, aspirational thing for me – I’m an earthy, hippie type born ten years too late, and I have been reading Diet for a Small Planet, Laurel’s Kitchen and the Moosewood cookbooks since I was in high school. Throw The Tassajara Bread Book, a little patchouli and alfalfa sprouts growing on the windowsill and you have the stuff of my dreams.

It helps that I know how to cook, so that I can make “convertible” meals to provide meat to the carnivores I live with while preparing a vegetarian alternative for myself. It also helps that I am neither zealot nor purist. Last night I made Penang Nu, a beef curry, and cooked some tofu for myself. At serving time, I picked out all of the meat from my portion and divvied it up between my husband and my son, stirring the cooked tofu into my own portion. A real vegetarian would probably have been horrified, but it worked for us. A purist might point out the hypocrisy (that damned word again) of talking the talk about factory farming while continuing to buy meat for my household. Thing is, though, neither of them has any desire to be a vegetarian, and I am not on a crusade to change the world. My husband grew up on a farm and is far less sentimental than I am about the whole “eating things with faces” dealio, and my son is a rail of a kid who needs all the nutrients he can possibly get while he’s growing. This is my thing.

Outside my own house, finding something to eat is a crapshoot. Some of what I find reminds me of the Veggie Dining Hall of my senior year in college. I ate there not because I was really a vegetarian, but because I was chasing a boy who ate there. The offerings were not only meatless but flavorless, and generally repulsive; there seemed to be a belief that people gave up any interest in texture, seasoning or complexity along with animal protein. My personal favorite was a slab of shivering, naked tofu, un-flavored in any way, baked served on a plate with a lemon wedge on top. I have, in recent days, ordered the “veggie” version of something in a restaurant and had a similar experience to the Tastectomy Tofu.

Other restaurants do better, although I was perplexed by the Chinese place that offered “Vegetarian General Tso Beef” and “Vegetarian General Tso Chicken.” As it turns out, seitan comes shaped like pieces of beef or pieces of chicken. It was pretty good, my “vegetarian beef,” but in general I’m not enraptured by the idea of “fake meat.” I would rather have an honest slab of tofu than a tofurkey and I prefer decent falafel to most “veggie burgers.” It seems strange to forswear meat and then create fake versions as if the rejected substance was the de facto holy grail of foodstuffs. Why not eat an honest seitan stir-fry or lentil-cheddar loaf instead of making faux meat?  I will admit, though, that it’s tricky to grill falafel.

I still cook meat at work, and I’m okay with that. I try to make sure there are tasty vegetarian options, but it is not my charter to impose my personal choices on the public.  I’m still pretty sure that if someone offered me a taste of grilled, marinated flank steak, or the world’s best fried chicken, I’d eat it. If I went to dinner at someone’s house and they had made their famous Chicken a la Neige, I’d probably eat it to be polite. I will not be that vegetarian, the one who makes everyone around her feel guilty and backwards because they have made the perfectly valid and healthy choice to eat meat.

But who knows? I may never eat meat again. I may start eating meat again tomorrow. I may, in the final analysis, be an ovo-pisco-vego- flexitarian.  (Or a Rastafarian). All I know is that right now, I don’t eat meat and it feels just right.

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Not eating critters becomes easy over time, because not only do you lose your taste, you body loses the ability to process it, and eating it makes you feel really bad. These are also the best of times for a vegetarian. Restaurant dining in the seventies meant a meal of french fries and iceberg lettuce. Until she passed away, my mother was convinced my vegetarianism was a phase that I would eventually outgrow, and continued to sneak meat into my food.

So congratulations are in order! Our secret password, in case you have not yet received your welcome packet is "braised brussel sprout".
I don't think I'll ever become a vegetarian because there are some recipes that I just don't want to give up, like bar-b-que......but at our house, we don't eat meat every day. Not only do we not feel the need to eat meat every day, it's sooooo expensive!
I knew greenheron would get here first with *this* post!
I like that you are neither "zealot" nor "purist." ~r
Good luck with your search for delicious meatless meals. Meat is not my favorite but I make an exception for bacon.
Ann, you sound like you're on the right track! We still eat a lot of fish and shrimp in our house, and occasionally free-range chicken, though. I too abhor the factory farms and feel better doing my bit to not support them. There are some great substitutes for, say, pepperoni and bacon.
I tried to go vegan a few months ago after watching "Forks Over Knives" and I felt great. I lost 10 lbs. really fast, too. It was hard to find vegan meals at some restaurants, and I found myself really missing certain dishes such as homemade chicken soup, shrimp and grilled chicken salad. I've cut back dramatically on my consumption of beef and pork, but still eat chicken and fish. My dream is to become completely vegan. One can only hope. :)
LOL, shivering naked tofu! How glad I am that vegetarian cuisine has progressed since then!

I spent about 15 years as a lacto-ovo vegetarian, then started eating seafood, then chicken and, horror of horrors, actually ate a filet mignon a couple of weeks ago when we celebrated my father-in-law's 80th birthday.

Still, most of my meals are meatless. Last night, dinner was black beans, steamed red russian kale and roasted sweet potatoes. I used to be somewhat "militant" about vegetarianism, but you never win any converts that way. Even if someone never goes vegetarian "all the way", eating less meat, and eating meat from local, sustainable sources is a very, very good thing.
no steak...bacon cheeseburgers...ribs...spam!!!!!!????.....hell,just shoot me an get it over with.....
I quit red meat when it just started tasting like blood to me. No thanks.
We have cut back on meat quite drastically due to my son's girlfriend who is introducing us to organic plant foods. I scared the wits out of everyone by dropping a quick 10 lbs. I attribute it to this gradual nutritional change.
Ann, your posts always go down a treat! R
Going on 30 years for me and still not easy...especially with our move in 2002 to SW VA. But even my family, at gatherings, etc., still seem puzzled. Oh, you don't eat shrimp? There are so many fantastic vegetarian dishes and they couldn't come up with anything other than spaghetti? Oh well. Eating habits are just that, habits, and "vegatarian" ain't a bad habit. Stick with it, it will do you proud.
Great post, Ann. I'm finding that about half our meals at home are meatless... not because I planned it that way, but because it just sort of came out like that. Good luck in your meatless adventure! I like that you're not a purist or a zealot--purists about anything can be tiresome.

Can we be Rastafarians together?
I used to work in the farm animal welfare field--it literally changed the way I eat. I eat meat, but very selectively. If you are interested the issue of eating humanely, as well as environmentally, give up factory farmed eggs and pork first. They are truly the most horrific when it comes to inhumane treatment. I do go to Whole Foods and pay a lot for eggs from pastured chickens. I just eat fewer eggs to save money. Dairy is hit and miss, depending on the producer. Organic means little more than what an animal is fed; it has little to do with how an animal is treated. A leading organic milk producer uses a confinement system for its dairy cows, so I never buy their products. Beef is actually the least egregious (relatively speaking) in the industrialized system, because most cattle will spend at least the first part for their lives on grass. There's a lot of movement around dismantling the factory farm system (the Denny's chain was the latest to announce it would make its pork suppliers phase out gestation crates) but it's slow going. If you want to know more, follow Mark Bittman at the NY Times. He's doing good work around this issue. Modern livestock farming is a complex issue (free-range, for instance, is almost meaningless under USDA guidelines) I hope people will take more time to learn about, but I understand it's also a hard issue where transparency is unfortunately hard to come by.
Whew. I'm climbing down off my soapbox now.
Oh, good luck on this journey. The hard part is remembering to be kind to yourself and not hold yourself up to the yardstick of others. The best diet is the one that makes you feel energetic, nourished, and vital. For some that is vegetarian and for some that is animal protein based. And always is the need for our relationship to other people. When I was a student in Spain in the early 90s, there were some vegetarian students on the trip (and some Jewish vegetarians as well) who were mostly miserable. Meat, especially pork, was cooked into almost every meal. Some gave up their vegetarianism for the while, so they could eat with others. Some had breakdowns, as no Spanish host family would consider serving anything but seafood or meat to their student. I had my own place, and ate a lot less meat in order to save a lot of money in my budget, but that "luxury" of cooking for oneself was not available to the other students. Although I tried veganism later (for good and bad results), I decided I didn't want to have to forgo meals every time I was a guest elsewhere. Sometimes that means eating crappy vegetarian food, too. :)
Reading about what you are experiencing is very interesting, and very familiar. I agree--sometimes it hard to find something reasonable to eat when away from your own kitchen. I became a vegetarian at 15, and I appreciate your references to animal cruelty and environmental impact--when anyone asks me why (which is rare after so many years), those are the reasons I provide. I have also cooked using all of the cookbooks you mention and like them very much. Keep us posted!
You know Pythagoras said that no judge should eat meat because it changes one in a way that they can no longer make honest judgements. Good for you and good for all who do too.
Good luck with your new dedication to veggies and -- IsThatBaconISmell? - tofu. My mouth rejects the texture of tofu.
good for you Ann. I keep trying (over and over throughout the years) but the craving eventually gets the best of me and I backslide.
a lawyer changes
ad enters diner
request tofu
tofu baloney
tofu scrapple
Later . . .
I hope so.
No eat porcupine.
I see sad road kills.
Drive responsibly.
I too like that you are not a zealot, I do eat a fabulous barbeque that's meatless (and not processed so much) and, as greenheron says, these are the best of times for eating out as vegetarian.
Have fun! I've been vegetarian since the 80s, have raised all three sons and a husband on veggie meals -- about that son of yours?
" and my son is a rail of a kid who needs all the nutrients he can possibly get while he’s growing." That sentence made me flinch. Exactly what is not gotten by too many. A vegetarian fed well isn't missing one iota of nutrition. Not that I care whether your son is vegetarian or not, I am a rare vegetarian who is a firm believer in anyone eating what they want to, but I had to say that as there's too much misinformation about nutrition and being vegetarian -- plus I have two grown sons, plus a teenage son, all strapping, energetic and smart.
Mostly, have fun! I am so happy I made that choice eons ago, I am a different thinker, a healthier human (I avoid the processed soy products, I recommend anyone avoid them too), and I love to cook good food -- I'd love to hang out and cook tofu, or something yummy, with you : )
"...something else yummy..."
I'm currently munching away at my tofu with veggies this afternoon. Strangely, I also am having a little chicken with it, as I find I need animal protein every once in a while or I start feeling too limp and weak.
But then, even the Dalai Lama has to eat some chicken now and again for his health. Not that I do not feel semi guilty, mind you. But the needs of the body kind of dictate what we may eat or not eat.
This was an interesting read. Thank you.
Skipping all animal protein is unnatural and will get you into trouble. Don't let mushy feelings for animals make you sick. Make sure to include a little for B12, iron and zinc. But don't eat too much.
I'm a near-vegetarian myself. My husband (Hindu) abstains from meat and over the years with him, I've found myself gravitating towards more and more veggie food. I've found, though, that whenever I try and give up meat for good, I start craving steak and burgers. So I guess the term for me is flexitarian.
Used to be a vegetarian back in my know-it-all twenties, then--dang it--had to start eating meat because of an iron deficiency (food allergy related) in both myself and my daughter, which is now under control. We still can't go totally meatless, and not just for health reasons. I wouldn't go totally meatless because--like you--I don't want to feel smug and lord it over people like I'm soooo superior to them because of my eating choices.

I heard this joke on the Prairie Home Companion one weekend:

If you're at a party, how do you know if there's a vegan in the room?

The answer: Just wait 5 seconds and they'll tell you.

I don't want to be like THAT, and eating a little meat now and then will do the trick.
You're my kind of vegetarian! Because I've never liked meat, I have been vegetarian (NOT vegan) since 1987, except for turkey sandwiches, BLTs and my sister-in-law's infamous Finnish meatballs. One of my sons is veg, too, so when I am not cooking a veg meal, I always cook a veg and a non-veg version (spaghetti, tacos, it all works). But I really don't understand the persistent substitution of soy protein for animal protein (further, the plucked pinquill holes in mock duck are a little too realistic for comfort). There are plenty of great vegetarian recipes that stand alone. Just look to the Indian sub-continent. Bon appetit!
Q: how do you recognize the vegan at the dinner table?

A: don't worry, he'll tell you.

my boy told me that joke.

i make meatballs so dried out that i have passed off felafel balls as my meatballs before. i agree, i see no point in pretending to eat meat. i envy your resolve. i cant give up bacon.

you are doing the right thing.
@daisyjane--your boy remembered the joke better than me (I'm awful at remembering jokes). It's much better the way he tells it.
amy - laughing. i didnt realize you had already told it - i like it your way too! poor vegans, how we harass them! :-)
I haven't made it there yet, but I have the same "niggling" feeling, about animal flesh and sugar too. I love that my man does all the cooking--God forbid I should lift a finger in the kitchen--but on the down side, I have to live with his menu choices and decadent cooking style. Being ready for change means being willing to cook. Yuk!
Good for you, both doing what you want and doing it without being an evangelist. People have different nutritional needs, and I find many vegetarians, particularly vegans, to be harsh and inflexible. I too cannot pass up meat and get enough iron, no matter how many supplements I take. I also cannot digest wheat, oats, corn, lentils, beans, all but the smallest amount of raw vegetables, etc, etc. I lack the enzymes. So I eat meat and dairy because that's what makes me feel healthy, and I pay a premium for the organic version, for knowing that it's local and so on. The slaughterhouse is the main impediment to eating humanely. No matter how meat is raised, it has to go through a limited number of licensed slaughterhouses, increasing the cost and carbon footprint, and injecting unnecessary suffering. Local meat growers, at least in my area, are trying to address that obstacle. Meanwhile, I wish you all the happiness and health that comes with being a well-informed--and flexible--vegetarian.
Good for you, both doing what you want and doing it without being an evangelist. People have different nutritional needs, and I find many vegetarians, particularly vegans, to be harsh and inflexible. I too cannot pass up meat and get enough iron, no matter how many supplements I take. I also cannot digest wheat, oats, corn, lentils, beans, all but the smallest amount of raw vegetables, etc, etc. I lack the enzymes. So I eat meat and dairy because that's what makes me feel healthy, and I pay a premium for the organic version, for knowing that it's local and so on. The slaughterhouse is the main impediment to eating humanely. No matter how meat is raised, it has to go through a limited number of licensed slaughterhouses, increasing the cost and carbon footprint, and injecting unnecessary suffering. Local meat growers, at least in my area, are trying to address that obstacle. Meanwhile, I wish you all the happiness and health that comes with being a well-informed--and flexible--vegetarian.
Hi Ann,

Thank you for sharing your new vege-venture with us. I've been on the same path for several years and have to admit it was difficult at first. As time wore on I actually became very anti-meat to the point that I feel I could never go back now.

Eating is such a habitual thing and most people don't realise just how many healthy alternatives there are to meat. Protein from nuts is far better than protein from animals, for instance.

I'd like to point you to a very good website which covers many aspects of animal friendly eating - www.diet-and-anti-aging.info

There's plenty of recipes and inspirational pointers there. Good luck with the new lifestyle and think of all the lives you'll be saving :)
If only we had more people in Congress who held the same overall values -- not imposing their will on others and instead, looking for some sort of compromise or middle ground all could be okay with.

I ate vegetarian for about two years. Ten months of that was because of my girlfriend. I love's my burgers, steaks and bird, but not so much that I couldn't afford to chow down on salads and vegetarian style soups. When she broke up with me, I continued to eat primarily a vegetarian diet just because I was kind of used to it.

My meat consumption is very low. I still have a steak every once in a blue moon, but my finances are devoted to making my garden grow well and to spend the extra money saved on organic, free range beef, chicken and even organic fish. It is definitely more expensive that way for the meat, but a pound of ground beef is divvied up into two servings. That means four ounces of beef for me and four ounces for my wife. We do the same with the chicken and fish.

When we get home, we immediately separate the meats and fishes into portion bags (just your average ziplocked bag for freezing) and and divide it into meal sized portions for two, with each of use getting four to six ounces of meat. Non anti-biotically overdosed, grass fed, free range beef and chicken and eco-conscious fish.

If you take those portions and make a stew, you just cut the meat into little bits and make up the protein with vegetables, legumes and tubers. I like spicy food, so I practice my Chinese and Indian cooking this way, too. Smaller bits of meat make a good meal stretcher with rice or potatos.

I don't know if I'll ever go wholly vegetarian out of any ethical consideration, but if things keep going the way theyre going, it may come down to a financial choice -- more veggies or less eating.

I commend you on your forthrightness and willingness to recognize it's your choice and, as such, not something to foist on your own family members if they're not interested.

Brava and well written too.
I've recently discovered I'm a closet OPVF myself, Ann. It just slipped up on me and I'm charging it off to being a really hot summer and I just don't feel like putting all that gut work into digesting meat I guess. Maybe I'll be over it by T'Giving, but until then all the fresh fish, summer veggies, and fruit are mixing it up with smoothies and oatmeal cookies at our house.
But look what you're missing:
sir can a lot.
Congratulations, Ann. My husband and I decided to vote with our dollar by buying only free range eggs and meat which evolved into my giving up eating animals one by one until I found myself a vegetarian. The last change was giving up fish and when I did, it became an act of gratitude for mother earth. The changes were so gradual they became effortless. Because the changes were motivated by compassion I felt it was important to remain flexible and to avoid becoming dogmatic or fanatic, which actually made it easier for me to maintain the changes. I don't impose my choices on my husband and respect our differences, will pick the meat out of a dish if its the only dish we have, and am completely open to eating fish again if and when I need a protein boost which is rare. So every once in a blue moon, I am a pescetarian. I so totally love eating and do not feel deprived at all - and my blood work shows I'm doing well.
It is rather ironic to see this title nested among all the SPAM titles. Go look.
Nice piece, Ann. I've been a vegetarian for nearly ten years. I'm also nearly a zealot nor a purist, but I'm a committed lacto-ovo vegetarian.

I'll say three things: 1. I've almost never have a problem eating out. 2. It gets easier--to the point that I have no desire to eat meat at all these days. 3. Factory farming really is a moral issue. It's cruel to animals and what it does to our environment and our public health makes it cruel to people, too. We can all turn our heads and make jokes about it, or we can insist that, if this is the best we can do, we shouldn't be eating meat.

Oh, and Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone is the world's most ass-kicking cookbook.