Monday, February 20, 2012

The Accidental Vegetarian

It's mid-February. A show of hands, please: how many of us are still sticking with our New Year's resolutions?

Honestly, I'm not sure I made any resolutions this year. If I did, well, they were fleeting and of the altruistic, yet unquantifiable variety, such as “Be a kinder person.” You know, the types of resolutions that were intended to elicit similar responses from our kids: “I'll be nicer to my brother,” or “I'll help Mommy more around the house.”

Yep, we're not great about sticking with resolutions here.

Of course, because I'm a woman of a certain age whose metabolism flew the coop about five years ago, I always privately resolve to eat better and exercise more. I just don't speak those words out loud, because I know that the likelihood of me hitting the gym during the insanely busy spring growing season for my business is nil.

And, frankly, I refuse to deprive myself of red wine and chocolate.

So, imagine my shock when I became—inadvertently--a vegetarian.

This is a startling development for several reasons:

I grew up in a meat and potatoes family. Truly. Dinner centered around a roast beast, potatoes, white, squishy bread rolls, and maybe a salad. The overriding focus on meat was, I believe, a generational, socioeconomic attribute. Both of my parents grew up during the Depression. Our father often told stories of his life on the family farm, where the family celebrated the demise of a ill-fated chicken crossing the road with a rare fried-chicken dinner. He also raised a pet pig.

Trust me. You don't want to know what became of his pet.
I rarely ate a vegetable during my entire childhood. There's something to be said about being the baby of the family, particularly if you're a late-in-life, surprise baby. My siblings regaled me with dinner-table horror stories: gagging down ice cold, mushy peas until 10 p.m., eating a ketchup-covered banana that someone thought would be a creative way to avoid eating her fruit...

By the time I made an appearance, my parents were tired. It was easier to cater to my picky palate than deal with dinner drama. Thus, I became the pickiest eater in the Midwest. Not only did my mother make separate meals for me, I was never force-fed broccoli. Or peas. Or squash. My childhood vegetable consumption included:
  • Iceburg lettuce—plain, thank you. No dressing or weird additions to my crunchy pale green leaves, please.
  • Corn. With lots of butter and salt.
  • Potatoes. Honestly, I don't think potatoes even count. And all of the GMOs in the corn probably negates any health benefits the corn theoretically provided.
Embarrassingly, my vegetable phobia continued well into my adulthood. Yes, I added a few bits of green to my repertoire—cucumbers, real lettuce, asparagus, spinach salad—but until five years ago, I didn't even eat tomatoes.

(Ironic, now that I own an organic, heirloom plant nursery, specializing in—160 varieties of tomatoes.)

As a mother, I created my family's meals much like my mother did—meat, starch, and occasional side of quickly microwaved peas. Yes, I added more veggies and began growing them as well, but meat took center stage at every meal. Granted—our meat was pristine, raised humanely by local farmers, some of whom are now friends. Our meat originated from happy, healthy animals living happy, healthy lives. Free-range chicken, grass-fed beef, heritage turkeys—delicious, star quality dinner showpieces.

Then, a strange twist of fate.

A raccoon attacked one of our hens. (If you missed the drama, you can read about it here.)

In those moments of holding Salt, trying to assess her wounds and comfort her, something shifted.

My perception about food changed.

I suddenly found myself unable to eat meat.

I thought my aversion was temporary. After all, our daughter, who loves her chickens as if they are her children, still relishes Zaxby's even after the demise of her pet.

But as days passed, I found myself reading Alice Waters' books, heading to Whole Foods, leaving with a cart full of stunning produce, and then trying to figure out how to cook it. And you know what?

It. Was. Good.

Fresh eggs and Swiss Chard frittata. Mushroom risotto. Ratatouille.

Who knew? (Actually, I think many people knew. It was like discovering an amazing secret club, and I'd finally earned admittance.)

Even the kids ate more vegetables. Put an asparagus spear on the plate of a six year old boy, and listen to the whines ensue—until you share the “stinky pee” secret.

It's amazing how much more appealing the asparagus became.

My husband joked that I shouldn't write about my emerging vegetarianism, because he knows my carnivorous ways too well. And who knows? Will it stick? Right now, after seven weeks without meat, I'm optimistic. And I feel good. I'm not vegan—I eat seafood, dairy products, and eggs, so meal planning is fairly easy. Plus, it's not like I banned chocolate and wine from my life—that would never stick. Actually, eating my veggies and forgoing meat is surprisingly simple.

Last fall, our oldest son brought his new girlfriend home for dinner. Prior to their arrival, he informed me that she was—gasp!--a vegetarian. Panic! What could I cook? If I made risotto, could I use chicken stock, or should I run to the store for vegetable broth? Would she be offended by the steak I already prepared for the family? How much salad does a vegetarian eat? I made more, just in case...

And honestly, I worried. How could this relationship work? Our son is a serious carnivore, like me. He even owns this t-shirt to taunt his vegetarian friends:

Funny thing. Our son is now on his third meat-free week.

And he likes it.

Love makes college boys do some crazy things, huh?

I'm not advocating vegetarianism. It's not my place to tell anyone what or how to eat. (Although I do hope you'll support your local farmers as much as possible, please.) I still eat crap occasionally. I'm—shamefully--addicted to Diet Coke. (I know, I's really bad for me. I promise, I'll work on it.)

But this vegetarian thing?

Well. It's pretty delicious.

My parents should have made me eat my peas, after all.

Bon appetit!



  1. I think we were raised with the same menu. Corn, iceberg lettuce and taters. We are really enjoying the fresh veggies from Upstate.

  2. Love this! I did see that Pin of your wonderful tomatoes- now I'm going to Pin it on my Eat to Live Board!

  3. Hi! I just found your blog through Pintrest...I am loving the things I can find through Pintrest and I love your blog. Sounds like we have a lot in common. I work at a nursery and I became a Master Gardener when my boys became teenagers (they are now in their late 20's). I moved to a little town near Mt. Lassen and planted an orchard with a lot of heirloom apples and some peaches and other odd fruit trees and shrub. We have a blog also at:

    I do still work at a paying job because fruit trees take a while to produce enough to live off, but I enjoy both jobs and my hands are in the dirt a lot, when they aren't then I am usually sewing or baking. I look forward to sharing more gardening tips with you in the future!

    Oh, I also love Alice Waters! I actually got to eat a lunch catered by her and it was delicious!

  4. @Janet--there are so many great producers of fresh veggies in our area--we are really lucky!
    @Gardening Jones--Thank you! I'm fantasizing about summer and heirloom tomatoes. It's so much easier to eat well in the summer. (First, though--I need to get them potted up in the greenhouse! The babies need more space!) ;-)
    @ferne--Oh, I'm so envious of your orchard and your Alice Waters-prepared lunch! She is my hero, especially the work she does with school gardens. I met this amazing gentleman, Creighton Lee Calhoun, Jr., who wrote the book Old Southern Apples--have your seen it? It's a beautiful book filled with heirlooms. Looking forward to visiting your blog and following your gardening adventures!

  5. That's the usual way to become a vegetarian. Suddenly you realize you're eating somebody's leg.

    You're not a vegetarian though; due to eating seafood, you're a pescatarian.

  6. @Karen Anne--well, huh. Now I'm blushing. Today, I learned a new word, and it is "pescetarianism." Thanks for the heads-up! ;-)

  7. I can't eat beef. I found a really good bacon and it's been BLTs a lot lately. I do eat citrus fruit to hopefully counteract the bacon fat. Anyway, I am envious of your tomatoes they don't grow well in the PNW. That picture of all those colors and types of tomatoes is beautiful and packed with lycopene.