Ian Anderson 5 p.m., Dec. 17
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You Eat Chicken, Don't You?
Becoming a vegetarian is easy. Explaining to those around you that you do not eat meat and having them respect your position is an entirely different story. I don't even want respect. I am now to the point where I wish they would just leave it be, and I have a feeling I am not alone.
The argument I continually hear is "How do you get your protein?" There is not a single person in this country suffering from a protein deficiency. My own grandmother practically had a heart attack when I told her I no longer eat meat. "Why, that can't be healthy. You have to eat meat," she fussed the last time I visited. Grandma makes three things - Spanish rice, goulash, and chili. All with ground beef. She is the ground beef queen. Eating ground beef is healthier in the eyes of some of my family members than eating plants. Go figure. They sit and stare at me. "What are you going to eat?" I try to explain that it's simple to eat pasta without meat sauce. This is not a concept that comes easy to them.
The phone rings once a week. Another person having difficulty with my decision to eat an almost exclusively plant based diet has been my mother-in-law. Mind you, this is a person whose life is dedicated to the crusade against fat. She abhors fat, and talks about how healthy she herself eats to the point of exhaustion. "I had a third of a muffin and three strawberries for breakfast." The question on the answering machine this week, the one before Thanksgiving, is "Lorie eats turkey, right?" When my patient husband calls his mother to explain once again that poultry is meat, she counters with "Well, what fish should I prepare for her? She has to eat something." When I first switched to vegetarianism, this went on for months, with the same question, feel free to substitute in whatever meat you like. "She eats chicken, doesn't she?" "You eat fish, don't you?" As an acquiescence to me, she made rice once - with beef stock. She now acts as if I am a difficult eater. I ask that nothing be made special for me, and I try to be extremely gracious when it comes to the food prepared for me. I used to eat it just to be polite, but I soon realized that going against my principles because someone else is offended by my good intentions does neither of us any favors. The invites to my in-laws for dinner have ground to a halt, with the exception of major holidays.
Eating as I do has had a positive effect on some around me. My husband's eating habits have cleaned up, and he enjoys the meals I make for him. He even prepares his own vegetarian dishes for us now. One of my closest friends was having a difficult time losing weight after giving birth to her son. Her cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar were through the roof. At first, my vegetarian diet rubbed her the wrong way. She thought it was based on my love of animals, which is true, but not the entire reason. Why this angers some people, the fact that I do not eat meat because I do not condone the manner in which animals are raised for food in our country, is beyond me. I have been told that some feel that you are judging them by choosing a cruelty free lifestyle. If that is the case, so be it. Anyway, she was curious about what I was doing, because my weight is a very healthy 125, down from 140 two years ago. Skeptical at first, she slowly introduced vegetarian dishes into her own diet. She encountered a considerable amount of resistance from her husband and her family. The husbands, bless their hearts, can be terrible. Supportive at first, they become pouty after awhile, acting as if they are being starved against their will. "Can't we just have meat a couple times a week?" She stuck to her guns, and now eats an amazing diet, filled with fresh juices and organic produce. So does her husband and their son. This did not happen overnight. I leant to her my books, and shared information without forcing it on her, and she came to understand that this is not some crazy, tree-hugging way of eating, but a sensible, healthy way of life. She lost 15 pounds, and her medical readings are stellar. She is proud of herself, and has never felt better.
My sister literally called me an "a**hole" for being a vegetarian. She came to visit one week, and the friend I mentioned above, who likes my sister very much since they are very much alike, came over. My sister commented on how great she looked, and she told my sister what she had been doing. Funny thing about families - if you are doing something they don't agree with, you are a jerk. If someone else is doing the exact same thing, it is suddenly interesting, if not intriguing. Seeing my friend, with whom she used to drink and eat like godless heathens, and my husband, ditto, suddenly not just eating a healthy, plant based diet, but thriving on it, had a dramatic effect on her. She went home, called me and asked, "Guess what I am doing? I just went through my freezer, refrigerator, and pantry, and threw out all the garbage." She went shopping and replaced her unhealthy food with vegetarian and vegan options and, you guessed it, is now a practicing vegetarian.
Why is it that so many get upset about this decision? To not kill, to not pollute your body with hormones and antibiotics, to not digest saturated fat and risk heart disease and arterial sclerosis? Vegetarians are not difficult fussbudgets. I never preach to anyone about how I eat or why, and if they are curious, I try to be as diplomatic as possible in explaining my choices. But you should hear their comments when I order in a restaurant. "How can you eat that? That's so gross!" they cry, as they plow into their seventy-two ounce porterhouse. It's completely inappropriate, and at times I feel like responding "How can you eat that, weighing what you weigh?" Unfortunately, polite society dictates that we not counter rudeness with more rudeness.
Speaking of going out to eat, there are a couple of younger members of my in-law's family that eat vegetarian, so we will go out for Japanese or Chinese food when we are all together. The grind? We non-meat eaters order two of three vegetarian entrees, the rest order ten with meat. They then proceed to eat theirs, plus ours as a vegetable side, family style, so needless to say we wind up with little to eat. The unspoken elephant in the room is "if you weren't so difficult, you would have more to eat." The mere suggestion that you may want to order something for yourself that is not meant to be shared because you will not be partaking in most of the available food is met with complete indifference from most of the meat eating sector. Plus you feel petty and foolish ordering something only for yourself, which is supported by the elders who think you are just being a pain in the keister.
Many think I am on a "diet". My mother-in-law called Thanksgiving morning to inform my husband that she was preparing a half grapefruit for my dessert while the rest would be dining on pumpkin pie. She knows that pumpkin pie is not meat, but I am to be punished for my desertion from the norm by being made to eat grapefruit. He had to politely explain that I eat pie, much to her disappointment. I made the mistake of mentioning to friends that I had read the book "Skinny Bitch" and they think I am following a "program". I understand that some abhor this book, but it is a great read and was just one of many books I read to support my decision, including "Fast Food Nation" and "The Omnivore's Dilemma". I do not consider vegetarianism a diet. It is a lifestyle, one that I will adhere to for the rest of my life.
There is a certain hypocrisy and also some prejudice when someone tells you how you eat is wrong. How vegetarians eat is not wrong, just different. Trying to get someone to understand that innocent animals are killed because they have become competition for food that we do not need in order to survive is met with such unwavering obstinence that I no longer care to discuss it with those that believe their position is firmly at the top of the food chain. I suppose I will just continue eating in the manner with which I have become comfortable for my own personal reasons, and remain hopeful that those around me will not continue to view my choice as one of difficulty for them, but as one of good health and happiness for me. Pass the grapefruit.