9 Oct

I’ve had a couple of readers remark that they want to incorporate more meatless meals into their weeks, or even that they have herbivorous aspirations. (Side note: No human is herbivorous or carnivorous. We are all omnivorous, no matter what dietary choices we make. That’s a pet peeve, and yet I used the H word because I’m also a writer who loves assonance. So sorry.) While the internet teems with advice on transitioning to a meat-free existence, I thought I’d take a moment to share my own story.

I was an incredibly picky kid. I know you’re all shocked, given my hatred of mealy tomatoes, olives, raisins, and plenty of other things to which I’ve probably already admitted. I was the kind of kid who only ate vegetables raw and would rather dinner come from KFC or Wendy’s than the fridge and stove. I have no idea why I didn’t weigh 400 lbs at the high-school graduation. I guess it was a combination of cheerleading, swimming, and being a pushy shrew. Anyway, my incredibly hideous diet started to change when I hit college.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I attended a small, private, liberal-arts college for women in Southern California. I suppose I had little chance to leave eating the same way I came in. I watched my friends eat strange and interesting things, so I tried a few, too. I developed a love of falafel and Indian food, but even still, I mostly avoided any vegetables but salad.

My junior year, I studied in Italy for a semester. And that’s when I changed. Being a short, pale brunette from Oklahoma in a sea of tall, thin East- and West-Coasters never made me feel as out of place as folks back home assumed. Being an American in Italy was a different story. It didn’t take me long to realize I would have to make an effort, especially on my limited budget, to eat like the locals. When in Rome Milan . . .

My beautiful Italian roommate introduced me to the world of zucchini. Zucchini. Even the name is succulent. She also showed me spaghetti carbonara, pesto siciliano, gnocchi, and a million other things. Though I don’t eat pancetta ever or the cheeses (fontina! mozzarella! pecorino!) often, I am so grateful that she forced me out of my box. Since that time, I’ve been a much more adventurous eater.

First semester of my senior year, I decided to go meatless for a week just to see how I liked it. Apparently, I loved it. I haven’t eaten meat since. It’s been five years this month.

Many people advocate cutting it out slowly, but I did it all at once as an experiment. It took some getting used to, for sure, but it helped that I was living and eating on a college campus with lots of vegetarian offerings. I’m not sure it ever would have happened here in Fried Okrahoma. But I’m glad it did. I feel so much happier and healthier as a vegetarian. Though a meat-free diet doesn’t automatically remove all unhealthy foods, I do find that I have an easier time making good choices. Reducing my dairy has done the same.

So that’s how I became a vegetarian. I wish there was some magic formula to share, but really it just requires a combination of desire and resolution.

If you have specific questions about quitting the meat, let me know. I’m no expert, but I know what works for me.


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