Meat is Murder but Curry is Manslaughter
April 27, 2007 10:23 AM   Subscribe

Damn, damn, damn! I don't think I can eat meat anymore. I need to become a vegetarian, and I need your help.

I love animals. We have 7 friggin' cats. But, I also love meat: steak, lamb, barbecued pork ribs. As the years have passed, I have begun to love animals more. Nowadays, I drive by a field and I see lambs playing and I think: "Aww, they look so happy," then I immediately think: "And I'm going to eat you. I'm going to eat that happy, free little baby."

Slowly, I have not loved meat as much. Then, today I was watching a This American Life episode about pig breeders and -- that was it. It pushed me over the edge. It made me cry (well, silently, inside myself). I can't be in denial about where my meat comes from anymore! The whole industrial, chemical, genetic manipulation thing smacks of something very sick and unholy.

Afterward, I looked at my 8 kittens, and my crippled, half-blind pooch, and they stared right back at me and their eyes silently told me: "We are souls. Please don't eat us."

I cannot tell you how much this pains me. Right now, at this moment, I am actually beginning the grieving process of never eating meat again.

I need to know, HOW DO I EAT RIGHT as a vegetarian? Eggs and some forms of Tofu are okay. My SO is a vegetarian already, so I have learned to cook some meat free things. However, most of them have lots of cheese in them. I'm overweight, and trying to lose, so I'd like to not eat as much pizza and Mac and Cheese as she does. Pasta also is not something I want to eat a lot of.

My biggest problem with vegetarian dishes? They always look BROWN, and people seem to think CURRY is a delicious adddition. It is not.

Also, I love the Morningstar Farms fake bacon, but it seems so filled with nasty stuff, is it really good for me?

Help me out. How do I make the transition? What can I cook that's filling, nutritious and doesn't contain CURRY or TAMARI? How do I eat at restaurants? How do I break the news to my family? Yes, they accepted that I'm gay, but a vegetarian? I think that's going to be hard on them.
posted by joaniemcchicken to Food & Drink (62 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Also, I love the Morningstar Farms fake bacon, but it seems so filled with nasty stuff, is it really good for me?

Well, they certainly aren't good for you. Two thirds of the calories come from fat.
posted by grouse at 10:35 AM on April 27, 2007

No, those fake meat products are not good for you (just like the food they substitute, usually). But the good news is: your taste can adept. I have been a vegetarian for half my life, but I never liked typical vegetarian staples like tempeh and mushrooms. And now I do. Cut yourself some slack with regards to your health in the beginning, and invest in a good vegetarian cookbook (look in the askme archives). Maybe something like "the vegetarian meat and potatoes cookbook" appeals to you?
posted by davar at 10:40 AM on April 27, 2007

Perhaps you could keep eating meat. If it's the ethics of mass farming that bothers you, why not limit yourself to meat that has been reared with a little more dignity? Quite often this tends to be organic too. Aswell as eating better quality meat, you would be supporting farmers who actually care about the wellbeing of the animals they raise.

I recommend you have a read of this.
posted by popcassady at 10:43 AM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Eat To Live" by Joel Fuhrman is perfect for vegetarians trying to lose weight. Get it at the library then end up buying it, like I did.
posted by hammerthyme at 10:43 AM on April 27, 2007

I hope this answer isn't inappropriate, but before you convert to vegetarianism, you might try reading The Omnivore's Dilemma. In it, Pollan discusses the ethics of eating meat, and comes to the conclusion that eating humanely raised and slaughtered meat is not only not wrong, but a positive good--and he quotes Peter Singer, the de facto originator of the animal rights movement, as being in agreement (which really restored Singer's credibility to me).

The basic thesis (over-simplified, of course) is that for a given animal, it is better to exist than not, provided that the sum of its experience is "happy," or whatever the animal correlate of happy is. So not allowing the lamb to be born at all--as it assuredly won't be if there is no market for its meat--is only doing it a favor if it's going to have a bad life or a bad death.

So perhaps the real issue isn't whether or not the animal gets eaten in the end, but how it lives and dies. By all means stop eating confinement-raised meat of any kind, but support the farmers who raise livestock humanely--for the animals' sake.
posted by bricoleur at 10:46 AM on April 27, 2007 [11 favorites]

I'm sure you'll get a ton of answers to this question! I would go out and buy any of the Moosewood cookbooks (i have Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant which I love) and DEFINITELY get the Vegitarian Epicure ...I think that's the name, I'll double check this evening because my cover looks different from the Amazon cover. I would suggest including some Cuban Black Beans, homemade refried beans (you won't believe how delicious and easy to make these are compared to the canned crap!), indian dishes..yummm!

At restaurants, ask the waiters to substitute things (so you don't have to only look at the veggie stuff, but leaving out the meat in some things is easy enough). If you get stuck at a steak house with friends or family, ask if there are any veg options that aren't on the menu. There's usually a couple they can do (although most do include pasta). If you're worried about pasta because of the carbs, try and limit yourself to only wheat pasta, because at least you get protein and fiber from that.

As for how you tell your family....that's always a tough one. It's just easiest to say you're just choosing not to because from first hand experience, people don't understand the whole animal-eye thing if they don't want to. Then they try to convince you, you try to convince them, and it just gets ugly. Go for the more Bartelby the Scrivener approach, and just "prefer not to."
posted by lil' ears at 10:48 AM on April 27, 2007

You could do what I do and stick to the basics. You wanna be a vegetarian, right? So get yourself loads of veggies, cook 'em (but not too much), mix and match 'em, maybe drizzle some olive oil, eat. Delicious. Or make a great salad loaded up with lots of different ingredients, a small amount of blue cheese, wine vinegar and oil dressing. The trick in my book is to maximise the variety of veggies you have in any one dish, adds lots of different texture and flavour.

And you know what I find makes it work? Opening a great bottle of wine to go with :)
posted by Lleyam at 10:48 AM on April 27, 2007

It's true that it takes planning to shop and cook veggie, but that's true of non-veggie cooking. What I think I hear you saying is that you want to eat healthfully, too.

Eating more whole foods over processed food is a good way to go (not to mention cheaper than Morningstar Farms).

Sounds like you need some protein suggestions other than cheese. Also, ensuring that you have a good source of protein at every meal will help with satiety.

Portobello mushrooms are delicious and have a toothsome texture.
Chickpeas (aka garbanzos) and lentils are also good protein sources that you can make a chili with, no curry powder necessary.

Mr. Pocahontas really likes the tofu egg salad I make, because mashed firm tofu really does approximate boiled-egg texture. Just add mayo (they make vegan if you like), celery, black pepper, and a pinch of turmeric for color (it doesn't really have flavor in such a small amount).

I like to have at least three veggies in the tofu scrambles I make to add flavor and color, so start with an aromatic like onion or garlic, then add broccoli, peppers, spinach, squash, mushrooms --- whatever is in season!

And if you're really craving barbecue, baked tofu dipped in your favorite sauce might do the trick.

Good luck!
posted by Pocahontas at 10:52 AM on April 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Go the library and check out vegetarian cookbooks. There will be a lot of asian-inspired recipes, but there will also be many others. I'm seconding lil' earsrecommendations. I love The Vegetarian Epicure (she does use a lot of butter, olive oil and cheese) and the Moosewoods Cookbooks (they have a lowfat cookbook).

You can also modify almost any recipe with meat by removing the meat and/or replacing it with soy products (tofu, tempeh, TVP), eggs, dairy or beans.

I think the key to being a healthy vegetarian is to eat a wide variety of fresh vegetables and whole starches. Think of animal products, even those that are not actually meat, as condiments.

Also, there's absolutely no reason you have to go "cold turkey" (pun intended). Try eating half the portion of meat. If you replace it with a double portion of veggies, you'll also start to lose weight.
posted by annaramma at 10:54 AM on April 27, 2007

Best answer: This is pretty much the same transition I went through when I became a vegetarian. I gradually cut out meat, until I was just eating the most delicious stuff and only rarely. And then one day while eating a hamburger I gagged at the thought that it had once been alive.

"How" really isn't that tricky. Eat the same stuff, but skip the meat and increase your vegetable portions.

For protein: Bean and lentils are a good source of protein, in addition to the tofu and eggs.

For flavor: If you don't like curry, find other sauces and spices you like. Do you like Italian flavors? Add tomatoes, oregano, basil, bay leaves to things. Do you like Asian cooking? Get familiar with soy sauce and all the different kinds of stir-fry sauce out there. Do you like Mexican food? Add lots of salsa to your meals.

If you're trying to lose weight and go vegetarian at the same time, I highly recommend Spark People. I signed up for an account a few weeks ago, and its tailored vegetarian meal recommendations have been really good and healthy.

Some meal ideas:

Tonight for dinner I'm having a couscous medly with green bell peppers, kidney beans, onions and carrots, flavored with salsa.

Yesterday I had a pita bread, hummous, and fresh veggie platter.

Other recent dinners:
* roasted asparagus on a bed of rice with a poached egg and sprinkling of parmesan on top.
* a big bowl of brown rice topped with black beans, corn, salsa, a slice of cheddar cheese and a dollop of low-fat sour cream.
* stir fry veggies (broccoli, onion, garlic, carrots, cabbage, bell peppers) with tofu and soy sauce on a bed of brown rice.
* baked potato mashed up with black beans, salsa, and a scoop of sour cream.
* tortilla wrap with spinach, hummous, broccoli, tomatoes and a bit of Italian dressing.
* pizza and beer.
* spaghetti with marinara sauce and random extra veggies added to the sauce
* roasted mushrooms and broccoli in olive oil, vinegar, Italian spices.

These are the main courses, and they tend to be heavy in whole grains and veggies, and have at least a bit of protein. Be sure to get calcium somehow -- through milk, yogurt, soy milk, whatever works for you. I always have either a cup of yogurt or a bowl of cereal with soy milk with breakfast every day. And eat at least two or three fruits a day.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:55 AM on April 27, 2007 [7 favorites]

Best answer: First you need to figure out where you draw the line. This isn't necessarily about joining or becoming anything, it's simply about you taking responsibility for what you consume, making the compromises you think are fair, and basically being able to live with the results. This isn't about a lifestyle, it's about YOUR lifestyle.

If you ease into this, you'll feel more comfortable exploring different options, rather than just getting frustrated. Also some flavors and seasonings are, like you said, more common in vegetarian dishes. That's because some cultures simply rely more on this kind of diet, and tend to be the go-to ones for making them tasty. Some are acquired tastes, some you may never like. Don't sweat it!

There are threads in AskMe about dealing with others' critical opinions of vegetarianism/veganism. All you need to say to your parents is, "Sorry, I don't eat that anymore." Which you can follow up with "I have my reasons, that's all." If you don't feel like talking about doggy souls and whatnot. But be sure to gently remind people if you are making dinner plans, so that they are prepared to accomodate your decision. "I'm not trying to rub anyone's nose in it," you can say, "I just know it will take my friends a while to get used to the idea and thought I'd remind you." Simple, polite, then change the subject.

I like eating Mexican food a lot; beans and cheese (depending on how you feel about cheese. How do you feel about cheese?) and rice make for hearty dishes that often incorporate a lot of veggies. Or Thai food (how do you feel about shrimp souls? Squid?).

Make a PHYSICAL LIST that you can tape to your fridge to remind you of all the vegetarian foods and ingredients you like. That way, when you're grumpy and feel your options are sorely limited, you can see this list and maybe hear your stomach growl.

Once you know what you like, learn to cook it. This is invaluable and will save you money. It will also make you friends, once people realize that coming over to see you means you may cook them treats. Keep file of recipes; I've found tons on AskMe alone where I've thought, "Wow, that looks good" and then months later it's close at hand when I am ready to give it a try. After a couple years, I've gathered dozens of simple, cheap recipes of what (to me) sounds lke the tastiest food imaginable.

When you wind up at someone's house or in a restaurant and are tempted to break your own rules, examine your motivations thoroughly. For example, I have made sure that it is basically understood that I will eat meat out of polite deference in hospitality stuations where I do not wish to offend someone, and I will eat meat in a situation where I have the chance to sample something from another culture that there is no real substitute experience for. I feel unconflicted about doing so and am able to enjoy everything I eat immensely, firm in the knowledge that sometimes I must step out of my world, no matter how perfectly I've formed it, and into other people's.
posted by hermitosis at 10:58 AM on April 27, 2007 [6 favorites]

I'm a vegetarian and a runner, so I am pretty careful about eating carefully. Here are some meals I make very regularly:
-- Foul Muddamas (lots of alternate spellings). Basically cooked small brown beans, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, crushed garlic (or not), diced onion and diced tomato. Eat with whole wheat pita. You can find cans of it at a mediterranean grocer.
-- Spaghetti squash with tomato sauce. I like to make my own sauce, canned is fine. You can add red or brown lentils to the sauce to give it more oomph.
-- Bean soup. my favorite is tuscan white bean and I like to add broccoli or bitter greens.
-- pizza on a whole wheat tortilla or pita bread. tomato sauce, veggies, cheese (optional), egg on top. The cracked egg cooks up and is DELICIOUS.
-- Mashed or baked sweet potatoes with cinnamon and almond butter.
-- oatmeal for breakfast. give it some real nutrition by making it with soymilk and adding chopped nuts and dry fruit.

There are lots of other good ideas here. There are literally millions of things to eat- you just have to keep your eyes open! Also try things, you might be surprised. And totally seconding the Vegetarian Epicure. That is the rockingest cookbook ever, especially if you get a version from the 70's and they recommend weed with certain dishes.
posted by ohio at 11:00 AM on April 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

I eat mostly vegetarian--lately, mostly vegan--and I've found a lot of cookbooks and websites that have really helped me.

Here's a link to the page on my site that lists the ones that I've found most helpful.

Most of these cookbooks have tips on making the switch from eating meat to eating less or no meat. Most of the recipes don't include tamari or curry, either!

One thing that's useful to try is to restructure the concept of a meal. Instead of a meat, a starch, and a vegetable (the pattern I was raised to consider normal), think of other combinations. I like eating a soup with bread, for example.

I think I first found that tip in Laurel's Kitchen--a good cookbook (and general guide) for beginning vegetarians.
posted by Amy NM at 11:00 AM on April 27, 2007

My biggest problem with vegetarian dishes? They always look BROWN, and people seem to think CURRY is a delicious adddition. It is not.


I -- life-long vegetarian -- concur. A lot of "vegetarian cuisine" is bloody awful. I'm mystified as to who's genuinely enjoying the luke-warm lentil balls and other third worldy treats...

Go through cookbooks you already like rather than ones marked "vegetarian," and pull out the recipes that just happen to not have meat in them. Sift through your favourite dishes and figure out what can be made meatless; there're plenty of good classic recipes where the slab of flesh can easily be replaced with a slab of veg. The search engine has a box you can tick for 'meatless,' which brings up a lot of non-crap vegetarian stuff.

How do I eat at restaurants?

Well, for a lot, you learn to enjoy pasta (sorry -- if it's just a calorie thing, take half home) or a lot of side dishes. I'd recommend seeking out a vegetarian restaurant, though, just to visit once or twice and see if there's anything you actually do like there. Seaweed has sometimes surprised me...

But, even though you didn't ask -- well, ask your kittens what they really think. Mine wake me every morning pleading with me for meat. I don't think yours lose sleep over beef rather than portobello mushrooms on your burger. And going vegetarian too quickly does not seem to me -- this strictly going on anecdote -- to work that well for a lot of people; they live off, yeah, pizza and pasta for a bit. So, don't rush. What vegetables and grains do you already enjoy? Build on that.

On preview: ""How" really isn't that tricky. Eat the same stuff, but skip the meat and increase your vegetable portions" sums it up quite nicely. It's not nearly as complicated as some people make it out to be.
posted by kmennie at 11:01 AM on April 27, 2007

Or just stop eating meat. It's entirely not a big deal. When I gave up under the influence of too much punk music and seeing farms from working on them, I had no clue about nutrition. Twenty plus years later I'm still hale and hearty. No need to over-think your plate of beans if the will is there.
posted by Abiezer at 11:04 AM on April 27, 2007

good library of info on "eating right"

all the recipies you could possibly want, and its free

ps. forget the naysayers, you'd be just as bummed if someone "nicely" murdered your kids after they had a "few good years".
posted by teishu at 11:09 AM on April 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

In the fake meat arena, things that are normally heavily seasoned (like chorizo and other sausage) are your best bet for direct substitutions (Boca makes a good Italian sausage that works great with penne and homemade tomato sauce, and I love Soyrizo with eggs.) If you like some tofu, you might try experimenting with gluten-based mock meats. Casseroles are easy to make nutritious and vegetarian, as are stir-frys and rice/beans dishes like jambalaya. Soups and vegetarian chili can be made in large batches and frozen. Most Mexican foods can made with beans substituted for the meat.

Personally I'm a pescatarian, but my eating habits are based more on my ecological stance than concern for anyone's soul. That is, I'll eat seafood if I'm satisfied that it came from a well-maintained fishery and a ton of energy wasn't wasted by growing crops to feed it up to an edible size. You should consider whether you feel bay shrimp, squid or Alaskan salmon have souls. (I'm not trying to make fun of your choice, just not sure where you draw the line.)

As for restaurants, get used to asking the waitstaff to customize your meal. Lots of menu items can be adapted, and most places are happy to work with you. I also tend to eat meat when it winds up on my plate by mistake, on the theory that it's less wasteful to eat it and get the energy benefit, than to let it be thrown away.
posted by contraption at 11:10 AM on April 27, 2007

Like Lleyam, I recommend lots of different colours of veges - my rule is minimum 5 different colours on the plate.

I also freeze one-serve portions of different cooked beans, so you only have to cook beans every four-five months. Add nuts to rice or plain veges - lightly toasted pine nuts or cashews, even pumpkin seeds are good in rice. And firm tofu is great - cut it into small pieces (even julienne) and marinate in teriyaki sauce, or honey and soy sauce and garlic and ginger, or plum - then add it to stir fries, or fried rice, or in nori rolls. Silken tofu I'm not a fan of.

And don't be afraid to use stock for flavour! Vege stock (of course), but if you have any sort of 'mock-meat' varieties available these are also great (such as Massell Ultracube chicken-style, for eg). Cook rice, etc in stock for additional flavour.

I've been vege ~20 years and the only meat analogue I eat is TVP, and only then as found in Linda McCartney's Deep-Dish Country Pies. Because, yum. Otherwise, fresh food all the way. To start with, I think the best thing you can do is buy a couple of basic veg cookbooks and start cooking! I also recommend the Moosewood books.

Taking a multivitamin if you need to is okay, too.
posted by goo at 11:11 AM on April 27, 2007

Not a vegetarian, but I love veggies and hope I can help!

The first thing I would do is get to a library and browse the cooking section. There are plenty of great vegan or vegetarian cookbooks to leaf through for ideas. One of the books I recently read included sources of where to find additional nutrients that may be missing from a vegetarian diet. Head down to Whole Foods or Henry's for supplements like Brewer's Yeast.

How about starting slowly with the more familiar dishes? Risotto with peas, for instance. Pair with a green salad and crusty bread, and you've dinner. Try shirataki noodles instead of regular pasta. Substitute another grain for rice, like quinoa or couscous. And experiment with tofu! I went to this year's LA Tofu festival and there were so many different dishes present. The best was the grilled tofu steak with peanut sauce. It was unbelievably filling.

The fake stuff does vary. My mum bought a packet of nasty veggie cheese once, put me off forever. Trader Joe's Veggie Nuggets are yummy but not exactly full of healthy goodness. I did have the excellent vegan Turtle Mountain Purely Decadent icecream (the 'Chocolate Obsession' is bliss), but its quite expensive and difficult to find. It'll be a bit of trial and error I'm afraid.

Good luck on your way to becoming a vegetarian!
posted by sweetlyvicious at 11:12 AM on April 27, 2007

Vegetarian here for nearly two decades...

*sigh* I would be the last person to NOT support a (mostly if not strict) vegetarian diet, but I'd like to suggest that you may not really be best candidate for that lifestyle change. Firstly, a moral stance supporting vegetarianism is really unsupportable. Every living organism, regardless of diet, survives on the death of another. To claim otherwise is folly. Never feel sympathy for your prey, its counterproductive.

Personally I hold that a (mostly) vegetarian diet is great deal healthier than a standard meat-heavy diet (particularly if you dont rely on organic or wild-hunted meats) but choose your own justification.

If you are going to go veg, please do your research. You cannot remain healthy by eating canned foods, packaged veggie foods, or "fake meats". Those are all crap. You need to learn to cook what you need and that can take some education.

The vegetarian threads in the Blue are legion and many have great ideas and suggestions. Vegetarian Times magazine is a good resource, whether online or dead-tree edition.

Good luck!
posted by elendil71 at 11:12 AM on April 27, 2007

For restaurants, if there's nothing specifically vegetarian on the menu just ask them what they can make for you. Sometimes I order a few sides instead of a main, if they look good (chips and mushroom sauce with salad is pretty good!).

It's pretty difficult to find restaurants without a vege option now though (in the west) - IME it's only really the very high-end restaurants that occasionally don't.
posted by goo at 11:18 AM on April 27, 2007

Try going slowly. You don't need to jump into a "perfect" vegetarian diet right away. If you eat a lot of dairy and fake meat the first month while learning what else you like, or if you want to cut out red meat first, that's okay. Take some time to notice all the things that you normally eat that are already vegetarian, or can easily be made vegetarian.

Are there any world cuisines that you particularly like? Most cultures (other than the Inuit) have needed to find ways to maximize nutrition when minimal meat is available. It sounds like you don't like curry and pasta, but if you know that you like Chinese or Mexican food, try finding a Chinese or Mexican vegetarian cookbook.

Many new vegetarians are hung up on protein. If your diet is balanced overall then you probably don't need to worry too much about getting enough protein. A lot of good protein sources are probably foods you already eat: grains, beans, peas, peanuts, lentils, nuts, soy products, dairy, some vegetables, eggs, seeds, etc.

Here's a vegetarian nutrition pyramid.
posted by lemuria at 11:20 AM on April 27, 2007

I have been vegetarian for 17 years now. I do not eat any fake meat products (other than original garden burgers, which aren't really meat substitutes anyway), and I am not a brown rice/health food vegetarian. The only thing I put curry (powder) on is potato salad and I have no idea what tamari is. Also, I hate pasta and don't eat much of it. When it comes to cheese-type stuff, I don't eat much of that, either. So, what I am trying to say is that it is totally possible to be a vegetarian and not be the tofu and brown rice and tofurkey type of vegetarian.

When you go to a restaurant, and there is nothing on the menu, either get used to ordering like sally (from when harry met sally) "I'd like this without that and with this on the side" or just say "hey, I'm a vegetarian and I am really not fond of pasta or steamed vegetables (the typical defaults), what are my options" Typically, they'll make you something better than anything on the menu to begin with.

When it comes to telling your family, just say "I don't to eat meat anymore. Some people don't eat broccoli, I am not eating meat. That's all there is to it" If you don't make a big deal about it or guilt them about what is on their plates, they'll learn to shut up about it, too. The most annoying thing about eating with non-vegetarians is their obsession with pointing out the vegetarian options on offer. "you can eat this, and you can eat that" It doesn't sound annoying, but trust me, it is.

Finally, I have tons of great (mostly made up) meat-free recipes, most of them are based on things I used to like to eat as a meat eater. If you email me a list of some of your favorite meals, I'll send you some meat free recipes that might match what you like.
posted by necessitas at 11:26 AM on April 27, 2007

I am so not a vegetarian (though I've pretty much given up pork, since I find it impossible to get free-range pork for some reason). However, one of my favorite restaurants in New York City is Candle 79, which is vegan. They sell a cookbook you might find useful.
posted by Prospero at 11:27 AM on April 27, 2007

if your concern is with the treatment of the animals, as i assume it is somewhat do to your comment on pig farms putting you over the edge, you may want to reconsider eggs as an option. most eggs come from chickens which are kept in cages so small they never have an opportunity to open their wings and have their beaks removed in order to prevent them from attacking other birds.
posted by mailbox125 at 11:29 AM on April 27, 2007

I am not a vegetarian. I had the ethical dilemma and came to the conclusion that if life was sacred, there was no logical reason for plants to be less sacred than animals, and therefore everything must be eaten mindfully. However, we made a conscious decision to eat less meat last year (no beef since 2003). Nor am I a huge fan of prepackaged fake meat products. Last night we made Garbo Burgers. When a can of garbanzos costs less than a dollar, it's a good bit cheaper than Boca/Morningstar Farms/quorn too! Garbos are also important for such yummy and vegetarian dishes as hummus and falafel.

Other family favorites that are meat free (but few are vegan) include roasted root veggies with quinoa pilaf, soba noodles in peanut sesame sauce (Ted Allen's recipe), pizza (Ted's crust, standard veggie pizza toppings), almond/snowpea/mushroom stir fry, quick veggie biryani (yes I know technically a curry), multi-bean chili, pasta primavera, lentils and rice with carmelized onions, quiche (either broccoli/cheddar or spinach/swiss) and a bunch of soups.

Most standard cookbooks have quite a few recipes that either are already vegetarian or can easily be made so. My favorite in this regards is How to Cook Everything, although he also has a vegetarian version of the book now. I wrote a little thing on my favorite cookbooks here. If you are looking for vegetarian cookbooks specifically, there's Linda McCartney's book, The Gradual Vegetarian (which probably uses too much tamari for your tastes), and a bunch of books that were highly recomended but sit on the shelf unused. Most of the Greens and Moosewood and that sort of book tend to be a bit complicated for "I'm home honey what shall we cook". Websites to look at include Fat Free Vegan Kitchen and even though it isn't meat free Veggie Venture.
posted by ilsa at 11:43 AM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Mailbox, damn. Can I eat eggs from small farms or happy chickens?
posted by joaniemcchicken at 11:46 AM on April 27, 2007

Quinoa is great for transitioning to vegetarianism. I ate a ton of it during my transition, and read later that compared to other grains, it has a comparatively high fat and protein content. No wonder I couldn't get enough of it. (Found at health food stores, bulk section, or sometimes packaged too.)

Peter Singer's The Way We Eat is a fantastic companion to Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. Both are critical reading for anyone wanting to be thoughtful about their eating. Carni/omnivores please give it a chance - Singer, author of Animal Liberation, these days is in fact taking flak from vegans who think some of the (what I would call) practical concessions he makes in the book, betray the movement.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:59 AM on April 27, 2007

i did not mean my post to be a derail sorry, i just know some people who were surprised to find out about the conditions in which most commercial poultry is kept. this is certainly an old and biased website but has some facts to support my previous post.

@ joaniemcchicken
you can eat eggs from wherever you would like, i certainly do. i was not trying to pass any sort of judgment.
posted by mailbox125 at 11:59 AM on April 27, 2007

Here are some more cookbook recommendations that aren't heavy on "brown food" with cheese which is unfortunately true of many of the cookbooks widely associated with vegetarian cooking (as much as I love the early Moosewood cookbooks they too are guilty of this at times).

Peter Berley has several great books with lots of photos.

Fresh Food Fast - Delicious, Seasonal Vegetarian Meals in Under an Hour
and The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen.

My new favorite is Rebar: Modern Food Cookbook.

Dining out can be a issue that primarily depends on where you live. Some places you are doomed to a life of house salads, grilled cheese or pasta primavera. You can usually ask for a side of steamed vegis or ask them to leave the meat out of their salads... Other places have amazing options. If you can - try foods from countries where vegetarianism is a common religious-based preference - for example China, India, etc.

As for breaking it to your folks, explain yourself once but don't try to convert them or shame them while doing so. For family meals you can always offer to bring a dish to share and that will give you a fall back option in case they are too perplexed to figure out how to include you.
posted by rosebengal at 12:00 PM on April 27, 2007

Can I eat eggs from small farms or happy chickens?

Singer addresses this. Basically, from what I remember, he says if you visit the farm and witness the chickens' living quarters and see that they're happy, then yes. (Someobody correct me if I'm wrong.)
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:03 PM on April 27, 2007

Can I eat eggs from small farms or happy chickens?

The answer to this question for me happens to be yes. YMMV, though. The decision's yours, just like the choice to be vegetarian in the first place (which I am, and I heartily endorse it). What The Omnivore's Dilemma will tell you, in a nutshell, is this: You can't reasonably eat guilt-free. (Vegetable harvests kill animals too!) At this point in time in the Western world, the best thing you can do is find out as much as you can about where your food comes from and pick your battles accordingly, which will probably mean deciding how much you want to do to avoid industrially produced food.

To un-derail somewhat, along with Dilemma I'd also recommend What to Eat (title's a little misleading, it's more like how to decide what to eat) by Marion Nestle - she addresses food politics in a lot of detail and also talks a lot about nutrition, so that should help you make some decisions from both the moral and the nutritional standpoint.
posted by clavicle at 12:16 PM on April 27, 2007

You're probably going to miss that "5th flavor," Umami -- this is what will drive you to overeat on cheese.

This askme thread might have some useful suggestions on satisfying that hard-to-define itch.

Myself, I still eat fish, though I plan to cut this out eventually. But if you can stomach fish once in awhile, it might help with the transition.
posted by treepour at 12:45 PM on April 27, 2007

I'm sorry if it's off-topic, but just a point of disagreement with bricoleur's comment above. Pollan's point may very well stand on its own, but Peter Singer (in Practical Ethics anyway) only agrees with Pollan's point for sentient, non-self-conscious animals. This would include fish, but Singer says (doesn't really argue) that such an assumption would be dubious for chickens and ducks. It's in his discussion of the replaceability argument at the end of chapter 5.

On topic, I'm not a vegetarian because I eat fish (though I'm reevaluating that due to overfishing -- sigh). But I think a good place to start seeing a lot of the options that are out there is to stop by a Bread and Circus or Whole Foods deli counter and check out how many wonderful things there are out there without meat. Fairly simple guesswork should allow you to duplicate some of those dishes. Also, get a subscription to Cooks Illustrated or Cooks Country (which I first heard about here). They aren't vegetarian magazines, but they give excellent occasional vegetarian recipes, cooking hints, and (in my opinion the best feature) in-depth details on how to cook various vegetables in the best possible way.

Good luck. Just because you can't be totally absolved from harming animals in today's world doesn't mean you can't have a meaningful impact.
posted by ontic at 12:49 PM on April 27, 2007

Also, it's helped me to realize that everything I eat doesn't have to be cooked. The whole raw food trend is based on the notion that food is actually better for you (and often better tasting) when it isn't cooked -- and there are some amazing recipes out there than can be prepared with every little effort (all you really need is a decent blender).

It sounds odd, but the realization that I don't always have to cook my food has opened up a whole new realm of food possibilities that I wouldn't have otherwise been aware of.
posted by treepour at 12:54 PM on April 27, 2007

Mod note: a few comments removed -- please stay on the veggie topic or take snarks and asides to metatalk, thanks
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:01 PM on April 27, 2007

Response by poster: This is so helpful, askmefites! The egg thing was not a derail. I am in the middle of a soul level moral quandary. These are the kinds of questions I need to answer. And, as many of the posts have suggested, I will eventually have to decide where I want to draw the line.

Ontic, I love fish. Strangely, steak was my #1 food, but I have gradually lost my appetite for it, and fish, which I never chose over any other meat has slowly become quite delicious to me. But, I have to answer the question for myself of what kind of harm it does to the environment (like overfishing). I have to do research to understand this, unless someone here has done the research and can give me some good info.

Amy NM, replacing the meat with soup is an EXCELLENT suggestion. Soup is my #1 favorite food. I just adapted an amazing carrot ginger soup to make it vegetarian for my SO by using vegetable instead of chicken stock. Soup is one of those things that, without meat, I don't feel cheated. They can stand on their own. So, that was a great idea.

As to the happily raised animals, I don't want to kill them either. I know the world will never be all vegetarian, but I am only concerned for myself and how I feel about it. And, yes, my cats and my dog love meat, but I think God (or The Flying Spaghetti Monster), gave me a brain that is advanced enough to make distinctions and to feel anguish about killing things, so I am assuming there's a reason for that.

I'm old to be doing this. Fifty-ish. It's not like being 20. I've been a meat eater for 5 decades. So, the advice, and recipes are really useful. Thanks.
posted by joaniemcchicken at 1:28 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

But, I have to answer the question for myself of what kind of harm it does to the environment (like overfishing). I have to do research to understand this, unless someone here has done the research and can give me some good info.

Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch is an excellent resource for this sort of information. They even have a wallet-sized card you can print out and carry to aid in decision-making at restaurants.
posted by contraption at 1:34 PM on April 27, 2007

Contraption, I was just going to email a colleague who referred me to that list -- but I'd forgotten its name. Thanks. It helps me and I hope it helps joanie here.
posted by ontic at 1:37 PM on April 27, 2007

There's some awesome advice in this thread and I only popped in to suggest you check out -- it's a huge repository of recipes, plus sample menus and grocery store and restaurant guides. It is run by PETA (not sure how you feel about them) but the focus is solely on food, unlike some of their more alarmist sites. Also, it's all vegan, but there's a huge variety and in the very least it will give you ideas to get started -- especially with omitting cheese.

With regard to nutrition, you might find some of the links on Vegetarian Resource Group's page here helpful, but on a day-to-day basis I find it all it boils down to is knowing general tenets of nutrition (lots of lean protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains) and reading labels.

Eating out is not as hard as you'd think it would be -- there are tons of restaurants that have vegetarian sections on their menus or dishes that happen to be vegetarian on their own. Sometimes you have to ask for more information or for a substituion, but if you're nice about it most places will bend over backwards for you.

And family: I won mine over by cooking yummy food and bringing lots to share to every family get-together. Just be cool about it; being vegetarian is so not a big deal these days. It is just food, anyway.

Congrats and good luck!
posted by AV at 1:49 PM on April 27, 2007

If your decision to go vegetarian is based on the mistreatment of animals on factory farms, why don't you find alternatives to factory farmed meat? There are other ways to get meat and dairy products than at the grocery store. It depends a lot on where you live, but with some research you can find beef, chicken, etc. as well as eggs and milk that comes from animals raised with lots of space to roam and healthy food to eat. Ethically, I think you can make the argument that it is worse to eat eggs from hens in laying factories and milk from mistreated dairy cows than it is to eat the meat of a cow that lived out on the range its entire life, munching on grass. You will have to do a little work to find that cow, but they are out there (and, as a bonus, they tend to taste a lot better and are healthier for you then conventionally raised cattle).
posted by ssg at 1:50 PM on April 27, 2007

P.S. - if you want any specific recipe recommendations or have any questions, feel free to email me at fuzzybroccoli at yahoo dot com.
posted by AV at 1:52 PM on April 27, 2007

One caveat about Seafood Watch: they tend to list anything farmed as a good choice unless the farms pollute heavily. Personally, I like to avoid eating animals that have been fed tby humans from birth to adulthood for the purpose of slaughter, since I see this as an inefficient use of resources in general.

One notable exception is shellfish farms (clams, mussels, and other filter feeders) which are actually energy efficient and good for the surrounding environment, since they clean excess nutrients from the water. Plus, homemade cioppino is cheap, healthy, easy and really delicious.
posted by contraption at 2:01 PM on April 27, 2007

I'm a recent vegetarian and when I made the switch, I bought the book Becoming Vegetarian (the 2003 edition). Written by two dietitians, it outlines what and how to eat so you stay physically sound.

FWIW, I've been doing this for a little over a year and I'm happy at how easy it is now. I also visited my Doctor and got a complete physical & blood work. Everything is normal, nothing is deficient, so it says to me that the lessons learned are keeping me healthy.
posted by gavia at 2:10 PM on April 27, 2007

In order to not contribute to overfishing, I tend to only eat fish that is caught be me or someone I know. That way, I know that it is not caught by mass-fishing operations, and I know that it is not farmed. Of course, that requires not being squicked out by the killing/cleaning process, so YMMV.

Also, I tell people that I am not a vegetarian because I love animals, it's because I hate plants. Keep 'em guessing.
posted by kamikazegopher at 2:30 PM on April 27, 2007

A friend is the head mechanic at Lightlife and turned me onto their products years ago. Their Gimme Lean is a great breakfast sausage and meat substitute. I've used it for meatloaf and it's awesome. We both agree the BBQ product is absolutely terrific... and we're both BBQ-lovin meat eaters. It definitely stands up to the local standard.

And, of course, I can attest that the production practices are excellent. You wouldn't believe the cool machinery that goes into making Tofu Pups and Gimme Lean.
posted by jdfan at 2:35 PM on April 27, 2007

I am an omnivore but your comment about brown vegetarian food immediately made me think of the blog Vegan Lunch Box. Her creations for her kid are usually pretty and often sound tasty.
posted by phearlez at 2:43 PM on April 27, 2007

Ontic: I don't believe I misrepresented Singer's endorsement; at least, I don't think I misrepresented Pollan's representation of it. Pollan quotes personal correspondence with Singer in his book. I don't have it handy or I'd give a page reference.
posted by bricoleur at 2:52 PM on April 27, 2007

If you're an animal lover, and you have the space, you could keep chickens or ducks for the eggs (khaki campbells are amazing - ducks that produce one delicious egg a day each!)

Eat freshwater fish, it's more likely to be farmed. Find a source of farmed fish more local to you if you can.

Many dishes don't need the meat. I was having a friend and his new girlfriend around for lunch once. On the stove - chicken and mushroom soup, ready to be blended down to a thick smooth and creamy texture.

They arrived, I mentioned the meal, she said `I'm a vegetarian'. Thanks for letting me know, guys! The point being - I could have left the chicken out, and it would have made almost no difference to the final product. Sometimes you can just leave the meat out.

If you like meaty flavours, there are stock powders available which are similar in taste (beef, chicken) but are vegetarian and don't use artificial flavourings (massell brand).

I have made stews using whey protein chunks and `beef' stock, and it's just like eating a regular meat stew.
posted by tomble at 3:23 PM on April 27, 2007

Look for inspiration from cuisines where you're not missing out hugely from a meat-free diet: south Indian, eastern Mediterranean, etc. You can experiment with risottos, pastas (no, really), tagines, soups, salads: develop a repertoire of core recipes and adapt them for what's seasonal.

I stopped eating meat when I realised it was mostly driven by habit: that's to say, I'd already stopped in practice before I stopped consciously. (A French housemate at the time said he completely understood, because 'the English can't cook meat'.) My wife still eats meat, though I've encouraged her to substitute quality for quantity. That she worked a year near a chicken processing plant helped convince her.
posted by holgate at 3:27 PM on April 27, 2007

About the egg thing: you should be able to find eggs from a (reasonably) local farm that has cage-free vegetarian hens. These days even the supermarket here sells them, but if that doesn't work, the natural foods store (Whole Joe's Wild Vitamin Hut or the like) ought to have a few different brands. Read the package -- it'll describe roughly how the hens are treated and fed, and then you can use that info decide if that's OK or not. If you're still undecided, a lot of these farms are happy to receive visitors...
posted by vorfeed at 3:32 PM on April 27, 2007

When you're feeling too lazy to make a complicated dish, here is a very easy soup I make frequently, although I'm not a vegetarian. This is an extremely forgiving recipe so don't worry about getting exact amounts.
  1. Before you start, chop up your veg, it makes it easier. Or just get frozen, pre-chopped stuff, which is easier and often cheaper but not quite as toothsome.
  2. 1 small onion, diced into large pieces, sauteed in a large pot (I sautee in butter but you can use vegetable oil if you decide dairy cows are inhumanely treated)
  3. While the onion is sauteeing, stick 2 cups chopped vegetables of your choice in the microwave for half the time that would cook them all the way, so the soup doesn't have to cook as long. If you don't have a microwave, just add more liquid since more will boil off while the veg are cooking.
  4. Add 2 - 3 cups vegetable broth or a large can of chopped tomatoes, and the vegetables, and your herbs or spices, to the pot.
  5. Cover and reduce heat to simmer, stirring occasionally to keep the veg from burning to the bottom of the pot.
  6. Once the vegetables are done, remove from heat.
  7. Optional: add a small container (about a quarter cup) of evaporated skim milk (NOT sweetened condensed as I once did) for a creamy soup.
  8. Add a heaping teaspoon of dehydrated potato flakes to the soup. Stir and wait a minute or two. Add more flakes if the soup is too thin. Between each addition, wait for them to fluff out, or you end up with a tasty but unattractive vegetable paste.
  9. Serve hot with saltene crackers or dry toast or dry toasted whole wheat bagels and/or sprinkled with roasted pine nuts, shelled pumpkin seeds, raw almonds or raw cashew nuts (roasting these requires close attention - just spread in a single layer on some parchment paper on a cooking sheet and stick under the broiler, but watch them because they go from done to burned really quickly).
Suggestions for vegetable/herb/spice combinations:
  • veg broth; carrots; sweet potato; basil, or coriander and cilantro, or dry mustard and ginger
  • veg broth; broccoli; cauliflower; celery; dry mustard and a pinch of cinnamon, ginger or nutmeg (I only like this if the veg is diced very small so it kind of falls apart)
  • can tomatoes; green, red and yellow bell peppers; mushrooms (saute with onions); sweet corn; basil, lots of oregano and some black pepper; add a bay leaf or two, whole, and then remove and discard once cooked
  • can tomatoes; zucchini; yellow zucchini; a small amount of finely chopped spinach or turnip greens; anise
  • veg broth; a tablespoon of orange juice; 1 small peach or mango; 1 small peeled apple (add to onions if you like mushy, or add just before you remove from heat if you like crunchy); carrots or sweet potatoes; cinnamon and coriander, or anise; sprinkle with shelled roasted pumpkin seeds

posted by joannemerriam at 3:54 PM on April 27, 2007

The mediterranean has a lot of great cuisine that is meatless. Italian cooking has a lot of vegetarian options and middle eastern and African cuisine has a whole host of vegetable-based dishes. Hummus, moussaka, falafel, pilaf, risotto, veggie tagine.... like tasty, dude!
posted by Foam Pants at 4:03 PM on April 27, 2007

bricoleur: Weird. It's certainly possible that Singer's views may have changed since Practical Ethics. He does move closer to accepting the replaceability argument in the second edition. Maybe he totally accepts it now. Personal correspondance would certainly show that. (I don't have Pollan's book.) I'm not sure how he'd draw the line between the replaceability of animals with self-consciousness and humans with the same feature. Singer's a lot smarter than I am (and more of a utilitarian), but it would worry me if Singer takes it as far as Pollan does.
posted by ontic at 4:12 PM on April 27, 2007

As a former vegetarian for 8 years, I thought I'd throw my thoughts into the ring.

First, are you sure? You realize that the vegetarian lifestyle isn't just "no eating meat", it's also no leather shoes and belts, no leather seats, etc. Sounds conscientious and cool, but in reality it makes a big dent in your style factor.

Second, do you like eating out? Most places do NOT have a vegetarian menu. Even if they can make you a vegetarian dish, they will most likely cook the food on the same grills as the meat, thus having some meat transfer. There's only 2 ways to eat out a lot as a vegetarian: 1) Find a vegetarian restaurant that you like, and frequent it, or 2) Concede that you're not truly a complete vegetarian, and have some "mix" in things. Chicken stock is REALLY common.

Third, are you into creating menus for health? After 8 years, me and my wife found, even with careful meal planning, that our doctor recommended we mix in some meat with our meals. My wife had an iron count that was too high (too many green leafy vegetables and was going to rust), and the protein I was taking in just wasn't doing it for me, as I was working out a lot, and started to get some injuries.

Net Net, it's a real, hard, commitment. If I were going to "go back", I'd consider being a "non mammalian carnivore", meaning I just wouldn't eat mammals. They are genetically similar to us. I'd stick with fish and chicken.

Just my thoughts. Good luck.

posted by wflanagan at 8:29 PM on April 27, 2007

Re. curry: "curry powder," or, well, curries? If the former, throw it out, and buy some of the spices that go into it and experiment. And see if you can't find zahtar.

You realize that the vegetarian lifestyle isn't just "no eating meat", it's also no leather shoes and belts, no leather seats, etc.

Oh, hogwash.

You can't EAT leather, but I'm not aware of any definition of "vegetarian," nor any vegetarian society, claiming that vegetarianism requires any "lifestyle" above and beyond no eating meat/poultry/seafood. I'm not even aware of any other vegetarian claiming that to be so. "Vegetarian" =! "animal rights concern."

Veganism is another story, yes.

Most places do NOT have a vegetarian menu. Even if they can make you a vegetarian dish, they will most likely cook the food on the same grills as the meat, thus having some meat transfer.

Yeah, there're cross-contamination issues, but what vegetarian items are grilled anyway? It's not difficult to eat out at all in a N American city in 2007.

our doctor recommended we mix in some meat with our meals

In the three-plus decades I've been vegetarian, this is the first I've ever heard of any doctor recommending against vegetarian diets. Even when I was a wee tot in less enlightened days. Perhaps more useful to keep in mind is that doctors are not, on a whole, educated about nutrition.
posted by kmennie at 2:36 AM on April 28, 2007

I'm going to jump back to the recipe side and offer you some of my favorite easy things to make. (I've been a vegetarian for about 13 years. Feel free to email me.)
Sushi salad: cook short-grain sushi rice and mix in some rice vinegar and a few pinches of salt and sugar. Stir in chopped raw veggies - i like red pepper, cucumber, avocado, maybe some carrot. Sautee thinly julienned tofu until golden brown, then throw some soy sauce over it and watch it sizzle. Toss tofu over the salad.
Chickpea stew. Chickpeas, carrots, chopped tomatoes, vegetable broth, raisins, anything else that sounds tempting... I kind of make it up as I go along, season to taste, and it's never gone wrong.
Variations on a lasagna:
a. Polenta lasagna. It's easiest to slice the pre-cooked polenta, or prep your own; layer the polenta, tomato sauce, some spinach and zucchini cooked in garlic; and a bit of parmesan cheese.
b. Mexican lasagna. Layer corn tortillas, chopped tomatoes, black beans, corn, bell peppers, etc., seasoned to taste. And again, just a bit of cheese, cheddar this time.
Also, seconding the "anything in a tortilla." Especially black beans in various burrito-like configurations. Or for a double protein hit, make a scramble with eggs, black beans, red peppers, and salsa.
posted by bassjump at 6:31 AM on April 28, 2007

I went vegetarian 9 years ago and eventually converted to veganism. Then I married a vegan. My experience was very similar to yours and I am still extremely passionate about it, but I am also very passionate about my health and eating right.

There are a lot of good responses here already but if you have any questions about recipes, curbing meat cravings, how to deal with family or just feel like you need some general support to help you get started after you are finished devouring the information in this thread feel free to drop me a line at
posted by trishthedish at 7:56 AM on April 28, 2007

Oh also, where you live can change everything. There are a lot of fabulous healthy veg restaurants out there. There are also some wonderful not healthy, fast food, grease in your face veg restaurants out there too for when you are feeling like being bad.
posted by trishthedish at 7:58 AM on April 28, 2007

I've used a cookbook called The Gradual Vegetarian: the Step by Step Way to Start Eating the Right Stuff Today, by Lisa Tracy for years. Good recipes, and she takes you along at the pace you want to go--you can jump right in to vegan, or start out by just cutting out red meat.

A co-worker of mine started using the book, and he lost 20 pounds almost overnight.
posted by frosty_hut at 10:32 AM on April 28, 2007

Ok, let me just jump back in for a moment to say that there are almost as many ways of being a "vegetarian" as there are people who practice it. There are people who just don't eat red meat, but they almost universally don't call themselves vegetarian (stage one of Gradual Vegetarian which I see someone else has mentioned). There are Buddhists who feel that fish aren't really animals, although the technical way of refering to such a diet is "pescatarian" (stage two of Gradual Vegetarian). There are people who eat dairy and eggs but no meat, called "lacto-ovo" vegetarians. There are people who eat a macrobiotic vegetarian diet (stage 3 of Gradual Vegetarian). There are people who consume nothing that involves animal products, called Vegans.

Find a spot on the continuum where you are comfortable. Feel free to experiment, and for example declare that "this week will be pescatarian and maybe next week I'll try being vegan." If you give up things like leather shoes and down comforters, let it be because it is what you feel is right, not because some guy on the internet says "you aren't a real vegetarian if you wear cow-skins on your feet, murderer!"

My final words on nutrition are as follows: variety is good; nuts are your friends; there is probably a variation on "rice and beans" in every cuisine.
posted by ilsa at 10:50 AM on April 28, 2007

Two suggestions - some of the best vegetarian food I've ever eaten was served to me in Buddhist temples. Try Vietnamese vegatarian cookbooks and Japanese ones. Also try: Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking. Its a wonderful cookbook.
posted by zia at 11:50 AM on April 28, 2007

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