22 year old vegetarian convert needs help
January 22, 2008 8:40 PM   Subscribe

I’ve been pondering becoming a vegetarian for quite sometime. This is more or less for ethical reasons but I suppose converting may also have an added health benefit. I’m in college and my diet is horrible. At 6 foot 180 pounds I’m not over weight, but I’m most certainly not very healthy with this type of diet. My current diet consists of mostly processed foods like hotdogs, chicken patties with fast food thrown into the mix 1-2 times a week. I’m ready for a change though and I’m looking for suggestions.

• I’m not looking to become a vegan. One step at a time guys!
• I need to be able to have these meals ready to eat in 25 minutes.
• I don’t have much counter space and I’m an inexperienced cook
• I don’t have a huge amount of money to blow on expensive foods. My current diet costs me roughly $100 a month.
• I'm not looking to lose weight in any way

Can you fine people please give me some easy to make vegetarian meal ideas so that I can get a balanced diet while maintaining my ethical stance.

posted by my_impermanence to Food & Drink (41 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
When I was in college I also cooked and ate vegetarian for much the same reason, plus it was a lot cheaper than buying meat. Rice and beans, or pasta with veggies were big staples. Pasta can take you a while to make, mostly to get the water boiling in your pot.

I'm less of a veggie myself these days but my college-age son has been his whole life. He eats a lot of cereal (not just for breakfast) and pasta and cheese, with salads and veggies and fruit on the side (and not as much as I would think he should).

I'm sure someone will be along soon with links to actual recipes ... go for it
posted by Rain Man at 8:54 PM on January 22, 2008

I recommend buying a small and inexpensive rice cooker, and a sack of rice and / or quinoa. Buy some vegetarian stock cubes or powder, some assorted vegetables (frozen peas, some beans, broccoli, mushrooms, potato etc). You can chop these up, throw them in the cooker with the grain, maybe crack an egg on top, and let it cook. The great thing about a rice cooker is it turns off when it's done, so if you forget it's cooking you won't burn it.

Total preparation time should be a couple of minutes, very little cleaning to be done. You can eat very cheaply and well like this.
posted by tomble at 8:54 PM on January 22, 2008

Does your school have a campus vegetarian society or club? Mine has one and they have these awesome potlucks. Since I used to not be able to cook, I'd just bring nuts or tortillas or something from the store. I'd eat tons of great food and get good ideas for things I could make at home.

I actually have like .0004 of a counter, so I make a lot of simple dishes. Sweet potatoes with honey and nuts, zucchini with peppers, egg drop soup, simple salads, yogurt, wild rice, simple curries with vegetables and coconut milk, etc. I'm not a fan of meat subs and I do still eat some meat, so my focus is on actual vegetables. Invest in basics like a good knife, a salad washer, and veggie peelers.

I get most of my recipes from blogs, though I love the Vegenomicon cookbook and Mark Bittman's new vegetarian tome. Some good blogs include
Veggie Venture
Vegan Yum Yum
Vegan Menu
posted by melissam at 8:57 PM on January 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

I've been vegetarian a long time. I do eat eggs and milk and a few other things that some vegetarians do not eat. I'm not vegan, though I was for 3 years. My main reason to do the vegan thing was cramps. It did not help. Nothing does. :) Since I missed brownies and ice cream, I went back to garden variety vegetarian.

Here are things I eat, processed and not. Lots of them are things I make on the weekend and freeze or store in the fridge to eat later in the week. I am married, but he's a vegetarian and our schedules are different so we eat independently. (We also work from home, for those worried about when we spend time together if we are not eating together.) I usually freeze or fridge the things in single-serving portions, and microwave. Takes me about 10 minutes to each lunch each day. Dinner usually takes longer, if I have time to boil water. :)

-Those cups with instant potatoes in them, you just add hot water.
-Pasta with sauce, or pasta tossed with Parmesan cheese & pepper.
-Homemade pizza (with just cheese, or sometimes I put on black olives).
-Lots of boxed pastas, mostly with cheese--I like Annie's.
-I also like Annie's frozen stuff--enchiladas, burritos, etc.
-Trail mix
-Homemade granola bars. I got the recipe & revisions for the recipe from Alton Brown's Good Eats.
-Banana bread
-Bread, cinnamon rolls, etc. from my bread machine
-Split pea soup made from a mix
-Black bean chili, made in the crock pot. I LOVE my crock pot. Of course chili can be made on the stove as well. :)
-Carrots, celery, bell pepper cut up and dipped in some kind of ranch-like dip (I use the mix and then mix with fat-free cottage cheese).
-Fruit. I love apples, oranges, bananas, pears, etc.
-Those super juice things, like Odwalla. Odwala?
-Smoothies. I get bananas and cut them up. Then I put them in single-size bags with pineapple. I vacuum seal the bags and freeze them. Then I can mix with orange juice or whatever.
-Potatoes. I LOVE potatoes. I microwave them and then top them with cheese, pepper, salsa, margarine or butter, etc.
-Frozen grapes. I love grapes but don't eat them fast enough so I freeze them. Mini grapesicles!

Mostly I take things I like and make 2-3 things on the weekend. Then I divide it all up and I'm set for the week. I don't like to do things a month in advance, a week is enough for me. I also get a fair amount of prepared stuff, like soups in a can, pastas in a box, etc. My diet is far more varied than this, but there are a LOT of things you can cook quickly. If there is a microwave and a fridge available, you should have no problem with lunches, etc. For breakfast I have cereal or instant oatmeal or english muffins or leftover pizza.

Just take what you like and try to make it portable in some way.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 9:03 PM on January 22, 2008

I meant to say that my husband is NOT a vegetarian. :)
posted by AllieTessKipp at 9:04 PM on January 22, 2008

I suspect what may happen will be you'll just end up eating similar junk that just happens to be vegetarian - loads of corn-related and other carb-heavy products - and you may not lose weight or feel any healthier. Actually, you may gain weight. This is especially likely since you've got a 25-minute time limit on prep and a frenzied college lifestyle.

What I would do would be to first cut back on the "bad" meats you eat; when you do eat meat, eat less processed meats like chicken breast, turkey and low-fat beef. Get something like a George Forman grill that will allow you to cook this stuff with no oil (just some seasoning or something.) And stick some vegetables on there too - you'd be surprised how well many do. Eats lots more vegetables and fruits - make sure you've got them in the house. Ease off anything with high fructose corn syrup (like soft drinks.) I drink lots of water, but it's tough to adjust too. A lot of people rave about the Lipton White Tea with raspberry flavor - it's an unusual product in the sense that the diet version tastes better than the HFCS version, and not at all "diety." It's much better to make your own ice tea, but for convenience it's a sort of low impact drink. I make lots of tea too, and part of changing one's diet is just forcing those rituals (like making hot tea in the evening) to become, well, rituals.

Go to the bookstore and grab some cheapy cookbooks on cuisines that are a bit less meat-friendly than America's. I found several great little cookbooks for $1.99 each, of Moroccan, Arabic, Indian and Thai cuisines, with mouthwatering pictures and simple recipes. A lot of great vegetarian or low-meat recipes can be made in large batches and frozen. So instead of 25 minutes a day every day, take six hours and make food for 10 or 12 days. You can teach yourself to cook by following recipes and using common sense. I did!

To really eat right, it helps to work out meals in the morning and pick up the ingredients during the day - if you grocery shop for a week, you'll end up with a lot of crap; it's inevitable. So do it like we Europeans do!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:06 PM on January 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

1. whole grains! rice is good, brown rice is better, quinoa is even bestest. it cooks superfast, and is full of nutritious stuff.

2. beans. chop some garlic and onion and throw it into a pan with a can of beans. spice it with chilli powder, or cumin and coriander. or add some tomato. or peppers and mushrooms. or tofu. endless variations.

3. pasta and sauce. there are a thousand quick ways to make sauce. i start with garlic and onions, add a can of crushed red peppers and a can of tomato paste, and flavor with herbs. tofu, mushrooms, peppers, and spinach are all possible additives.

4. leafy greens sauteed in garlic. amazing.

5. ramen, but without those poisonous little packets. instead, a hearty dollop of soy sauce, some onions, peppers, garlic, mushrooms, hot sauce, and a dash of lemon juice. add leafy greens to the mix (frozen spinach works so well).

6. cookbooks. go for ones oriented toward easy meals. buy some groceries and teach yourself. there are endless variations on pasta and sauce, rice and beans, and quick and delicious veggie dishes.

good luck! and happy eating.
posted by entropone at 9:26 PM on January 22, 2008

One thing that's really easy to make vegetarian is mexican food (especially the somewhat americanized versions), so if you're a fan already that should be a pretty easy switch; just replace the meat with beans, black beans being the best. You get a complete meal, and a lot of it is pretty easy to prepare if you're willing to stay simple.

Also, invest in good tofu, which can usually to be found at co-ops and expensive grocery stores. It really makes a big difference in terms of taste, and if you learn to deal with tofu you can get a lot of different textures out of it. Frozen, defrosted, and crumbled has the approximate texture of ground turkey; deep-fried tofu is something completely different.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:28 PM on January 22, 2008

Make sure you get enough protein... its tougher for a vegetarian.
posted by pwally at 9:32 PM on January 22, 2008

Vegetarian chili is awesome, freezes easily, and can be rolled up in a tortilla and eaten with salsa for instant burritos. I usually use the recipe from the Joy of Cooking, which should probably be googleable, but you can look around on line for various versions. One good, cheap way to freeze chili and soup is to scoop out a single portion into a ziplock bag. Push as much air out of the bag as you can, seal it up, and stack 'em up in your freezer. Pop the bag in the mircowave on 50% for a minute, then you should be able to stick the chili in a bowl and finish reheating it. Making chili takes a bit of effort, so make a big batch and freeze most of it.
posted by craichead at 9:39 PM on January 22, 2008

Learn to love curries and get into Indian cuisine.
posted by meehawl at 9:43 PM on January 22, 2008

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman is a great one-stop cookbook. Starts from absolute basics, very approachable.

Learn to make three or four staple dishes to start with. These are very basic techniques that will let you improvise with whatever ingredients you like best/have around. Here are some of the ones I use, pick whichever ones suit you.

1. pasta and sauce (red sauce or cheese sauce from jars, add broccoli or whatever veg you like)
2. beans and rice (beans from a can)
3. omelet with fillings (cheese, veg, fake sausage, whatever you like)
4. stir fry and rice (again, commercially prepared sauce + whatever veggies you like)
5. chili with beans and/or fake ground beef (easy to find in most supermarkets)
6. other hearty veggie soup with wheat bread for dunking (soup is very easy to make and cheap; make more than you need and freeze it for a quick meal later)
7. curry and rice (sauce from a jar plus whatever veggies you like)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:47 PM on January 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

And a lot of vegetables can be done in the microwave. Eg there's a line of frozen peas that you can microwave in their bag (check the label). So don't give yourself the excuse that healthy food can't be fast.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:51 PM on January 22, 2008


Scrambled eggs (add cheese, tomatoes, green onions, chillis to taste)
Any kind of stir fry
Tuna melt (if you eat fish)

There are about a gazillion bajillion kojillion momillion fofillion books on this exact subject.
posted by unSane at 9:52 PM on January 22, 2008

2nd on the protein and also iron and b-vitamins. I went veggie in college and got, I'm guessing, a bit anemic. Some multi-vitamins fixed my 16-hour-a-day sleep habit. The vitamins don't have to be $50 a jar to work.

Many vegetarians become bread- and cheese-atarians as first step. Not a bad move, but you'll put on weight. Try a salad now and again.

I find yogurt or eggs for breakfast is a good start and quick. The morning protein will keep you going.

Recipe 1 egg-a-dilla - lightly butter pan. crack and insert egg. mush egg with tortilla. fry. add cheese (optional). Time: 3 minutes.

Recipe 2 Orange Lassi - whisk some (1/4 cup) yogurt into orange juice. Time: 1 minute. Add a slice of toast to round it out.

Burritos are key. Anyone I know that successfully has become veggie has mastered the burrito. The BRC (beans, rice, cheese) is a staple. Sour cream and/or salsa improves the flavor a good bit. Rice cooker for the win.

Pasta drops in cost significantly if you make your own sauce.

Stir fry makes a good dinner and can be upgraded from rice and veggies with an egg or tofu.
posted by sisquoc15 at 9:55 PM on January 22, 2008

After reading The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, I'm no longer so worried about eating strictly vegetarian, if that helps, because I have found cooking vegetarian an immense challenge. The Cliff's Notes of the second book is this: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Meaning, eat mostly vegetarian with just a little meat or whatever else you want, and avoid anything processed. I now also try to buy humanely raised meat -- I don't like eating pain and suffering. I can do that where I live. If it had a happy life and a quick death much of my ethical concerns are erased, YMMV of course.

My dinners are usually a small portion of meat and tons of salad and steamed veggies, and if you were raised eating out of the Betty Crocker cookbook like I was you may find this approach more realistic. I have zero concerns about eating meat in moderation -- in fact, I'd be more concerned about getting all you need from just veggies.

Good luck!
posted by Camofrog at 10:03 PM on January 22, 2008

Why not just stop eating so much processed food? Vegetarians have to worry about how much protein they get and not eating too much bread and pasta all the time, so if you're just doing it for the health benefits, why not just start cooking for yourself more often using whole foods from scratch?

I did the non-processed thing several years ago too and I found that just including more vegetables, fruits and whole grains, but not necessarily cutting out meat products, gave me a huge boost in energy and helped me lose a lot of weight (although you mentioned you don't need this).

I started off slowly, cheese and crackers, salads, fruits, stir-fry vegis, home-made spaghetti sauce, soups, sometimes paired with wine, juice, or carbonated water. It was like I was learning what food really was for the first time. Processed food is awful; just ditch that alone and you'll be better off.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 10:39 PM on January 22, 2008

There are several very cheap things you can make quickly, easily, and in bulk:
beans (I just bought a bag of small red beans for $1.15 that includes 10% recommended daily value of protein and 62%! of RDV of fiber), lentils, split peas. Make a big batch of chile or lentil soup.

Amaranth is a great rice substitute because it has a hell of a lot more fiber than rice, which makes you feel full longer. Also try quinoa, brown rice, barley, buckwheat, wheat berries, and whole grains. Grains are very cheap and have a good fat-carbs-fiber content which will keep you feeling full and healthy.
posted by HotPatatta at 10:47 PM on January 22, 2008

Many vegetarians don't get enough protein. Have a protein shake everyday as insurance. Start taking vitamins, as well.
posted by HotPatatta at 10:51 PM on January 22, 2008

This may be helpful.
posted by HotPatatta at 11:03 PM on January 22, 2008

The "vegetarians don't get enough protein" thing is mostly a myth. The problem is that a lot of new vegetarians end up eating nothing but french fries, spaghetti, and ramen. So from the start you're coming from the right attitude. You want to eat better, not simply avoid meat. Just remember to eat mostly vegetables, beans and rice. You'll be absolutely fine.

I was surprised when I went vegetarian that some friends would say "But it's so expensive!" It's really not. Most of the world is mostly vegetarian, because it's the cheapest way to eat. You don't have to buy a lot of crazy fake meats. Dry beans and rice are cheaper than dirt, but canned beans are still cheaper than meat.

I won't go into specific recipes, but you can look at most Mexican, Indian, and Japanese meals, leaving out the meat, and have a lot of variety. Burritos really are the perfect food.
posted by team lowkey at 12:03 AM on January 23, 2008

Stir fry! I lived on these as a student (I am a vegetarian).

Fast? Check.
Forgiving of inexperience? Check.
Cheap? Check.
As simple or as complex, fatty or lean as you want them? Check.
Can be made from (almost) anything? Check.
Goes with anything? Yeah, pretty much.

As an added bonus, you can add eggs or meat replacements if you want the protein and do a little meat on the side to throw on top if a non-veggie friend is visiting.
posted by methylsalicylate at 3:12 AM on January 23, 2008

You absolutely do not have to worry about getting enough protein as a vegetarian.

Making lentil-based indian-style dishes can be rather fast and easy. The general algorithm is: chop onion, garlic, fry, add spices, fry. add lentils, fry, add tomato/water, cook for a while, add vegetables, cook until tender. Serve over basmati rice. Google "dhal recipe" and you'll come up with a bunch of options. Stick with red lentils and you've satisfied the "fast" part more readily than with other types of lentils.

Lentils, rice, onions, garlic, etc are all very very cheap. You can mix it up with more expensive/fun vegetables when you are feeling extravagant. These kind of dishes are vegan by default, but you can serve them with yogurt or something if you want some dairy. Also, buy some chutnies or (mango|lime) pickle to make it more exciting.
posted by beerbajay at 4:02 AM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

if you are willing to splurge every once in a while, you can buy ethically, humanely raised meat. you might have to go through your local farmer's market to get it, or order it online. then use it sparingly in a dish that's filled out with veggies. for example, make stir-fry with only one chicken breast sliced thin, but lots of broccoli, carrots, etc.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:27 AM on January 23, 2008

My best investment was a two-quart crock pot. Just add dried beans and water and let it simmer for a few hours while you do something else.

Stir fry, canned beans with curry or fried onions or cajun seasoning.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:33 AM on January 23, 2008

My wife and I are not vegetarians but we have found ourselves on a largely veggie diet after making some changes years ago. My simple suggestion is to get a couple of items to help you cook quickly without sacrificing your health. George Foreman grill + rice cooker + decent meat alternatives = you're set.

Rather than cutting out elements of your cuirrent diet completely, try switching your current junk for healthier versions. Instead of frozen chicken patties, substitute some frozen veggie patties. Be sure to watch the sodium content in them, as it can be quite high, but otherwise you can just switch them for what you are already eating. Switch white breads for whole wheat (check for HFCS! It's in damn near everything except for the German dark rye breads, for some reason!). Switch to whole grain pasta. Switch to brown rice. Substitute canola or olive oil for margarine, and use real actual butter when you really need butter (margarine is not good for you, the fats in butter are actually better for you than the vegetable-oil based "healthy" margarine!). Try some of the organic alternatives to name-brand products - Annie's whole-wheat pasta instead of Kraft, for example - or the organic / natural versions of things, like natural unsweetened applesauce or peanut butter. Be aware that some seemingly healthy stuff is really not healthy at all - fat-free often means "full of added HFCS or other sugars"! You'll quickly learn to identify which brands are essentially safe to grab without needing to read the labels - Newman's Own salad dressings are generally going to be good for you, while many other varieties are going to be hit-and-miss in terms of added sugars, etc.

We like lentils and rice, dirty rice made with fake meat crumbles, fake meat patties on buns (with some extra-stinky blue cheese!), whole-wheat spaghetti with fake meatballs or crumbles in the sauce once in a while, and so on. As a college student you are limited by both time and budget, so choosing quick meals that are not bad for you can really help kickstart your move to a healthier you!

Some suggestions: Morningstar Farms are made by Kellogg's, they aren't especially expensive and are not bad - can be found basically anywhere, even WalMart if it's your only option for shopping. My wife really likes their black bean patties, and we like to have the breakfast fake sausages on toast with an egg once a week or so. Quorn (where you can find it) is really damn good, if a bit more expensive. Better texture than most fake meats, and not soy-based if that is an issue. Both Morningstar and Quorn have crumbles you can use in dishes that call for ground meat, too. Field Roast makes grain-based sausages, haven't had them often but they have been good. Otherwise, just look for what you have locally, try the well-known brands like Boca, Amy's Organic, etc. and see what you like best that fits into your budget.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:40 AM on January 23, 2008

Vegetarians have to worry about how much protein they get
This is not true. Most people who eat meat get too much protein (and iron - another commonly mentioned but nonexistant problem of vegetarian diets) these days. Protein is not at all a problem in a vegetarian diet, and all expert organizations (like the ADA) agree on this. The only way protein can become problematic is if you either eat a starvation diet or eat only processed junk food.

I agree with the people who recommend you get a good cookbook. I like Veganomicon and read many positive reviews from people who are not vegetarians. That's usually a good sign. Don't let the vegan thing put you off, there is no law that says you have to be vegan to have a vegan cookbook. The Bittman books looks interesting too.

I also agree that it is really easy to be a junk food vegetarian. I went through a phase when I was younger when I basically lived on potato chips and soft drinks. Don't let that happen to you. What I was missing when I became vegetarian were beans. I thought that I really did not like them and could not eat them, but I just had not learned ways to prepare them that I liked. That's were the cookbooks came in.
posted by davar at 12:43 PM on January 23, 2008

Also, if you are concerned about nutrients, the best way to preserve the highest nutritional value of vegetables in terms of vitamins and minerals is microwaving. Steaming comes a close second. Microwaving is basically in-situ steaming, but instead of conveying steam past the vegetable particles you are using microwaves to convert the water trapped within the vegetables (and there's a lot of it) to steam and then relying on that escaping to cook the vegetables. Most of the other methods of cooking will leech or destroy a higher fraction of the nutrients.
posted by meehawl at 12:49 PM on January 23, 2008

Looks like you're getting some good advice. What I can say is that I've been vegetarian all my life, and that what I eat pretty much breaks down like this:

15% Mexican— Beans and cheese and a tortilla and some fresh produce (tomatoes, onions, lettuce).
15% Indian— Especially boil-in-a-bag stuff from Trader Joe's. Twenty minutes of prep for the rice.
15% Italian— Pizza or pasta. You can make fast dough with PBR. That and some sauce, mix in some fresh veggies…mmm.
15% Sandwiches— Cheese or PB&J, mostly. What can I say? I love sandwiches. They're awesome. I'll never get sick of them.
15% "Asian"— I can knock out a stir fry in minutes, and Phad Thai's pretty damn easy. That, or tofu curries, are easy to make a fair amount of pretty quickly. Oh, and if you get a rolling pad, vegetarian sushi's a snap.
25% Other— Random bits and bobs from Trader Joe's (like their riblets), or longer prep stuff like quiche or boiled salt potatoes.

The two biggest things that help me are that I buy a LOT of fresh veggies and I use a lot of fresh spices. A lot of people think that veggie food either is or has to be bland, and it really doesn't. It just requires you to be pretty aggressive in your spicing and herbing. As for fresh veggies, I know it's a bit of a luxury to be able to shop for 'em a couple times a week, and in the winter it's harder, but it keeps me eating so much better and I'm so much happier for it, and it doesn't end up costing me all that much more. Vegetarian food is cheaper than meat in most cases, so having a bit of nice cheese or exotic veggies doesn't break the bank.
posted by klangklangston at 1:18 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a life-long vegetarian (a lifelong chubby vegetarian), be careful of the carbs. It's so easy to end up eating mostly carb-based food or sodium-heavy processed foods that just happen to be meatless. Watch what you're eating and make sure that vegetables and protein are the core elements of your meals. I'm absolute crap at doing this, I wish you luck.

keep this in mind: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

from In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
I haven't read it and I probably don't need to, but this motto has stuck with me and I'm slowly trying to make some changes.
posted by rhinny at 2:46 PM on January 23, 2008

Most of the world is mostly vegetarian, because it's the cheapest way to eat.

Really? Actually I think this is a completely inaccurate statement.

The correct answer would be "Most of the world doesn't eat BEEF, because it's the cheapest way to eat."

There are lots of vegetarians who get over here to Japan and are completely shocked and appalled to find out that absolutely everything has fish in it. Like you said, take the meat out and it's vegetarian. That means it's not normal for most countries and cultures.

Likewise, the Japanese are generally shocked and appalled to see Americans come over and claim they won't eat animal products.

I work for a multinational company and over half of my colleagues are from different countries. The vegetarians are always American.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 4:36 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Really? Actually I think this is a completely inaccurate statement. "

It's not completely inaccurate. It's inaccurate to argue that most of the world is voluntarily vegetarian, or that they don't eat meat when they have the opportunity. It's the "mostly vegetarian" bit that makes it accurate—most of the world gets very little of their total calories from meat. But that's kind of ironic—the shift to meat-based diets in Europe was mostly because of high transportation costs for fresh vegetables. You can move live meat, you can't move live vegetables (easily).
posted by klangklangston at 5:26 PM on January 23, 2008

When I said most of the world is mostly vegetarian because it's cheap, I didn't mean that most people proclaim vegetarianism or refuse meat. By "mostly vegetarian", I mean that the foundation of the meal is plants, usually rice and beans and bread, with meat as a supplement (if you can get it). Modern farming practices have made meat cheaper and more readily available in a lot of places, but it's still the case that in most of the world you're eating a lot more grains and vegetables because that's cheaper. Even in Japan, your basic meal is a bowl of rice or noodles, with something on top or in a broth. Not a steak or a bucket of chicken.
posted by team lowkey at 5:58 PM on January 23, 2008

klangklangston, I agree. But that's why I specified beef rather than meat.

The poster was referring to not eating meat being cheaper and that is inaccurate. Beef is expensive, meat, in this case fish, is not expensive when compared to other foods available.

In fact, fruit is one of the most expensive foods in Japan.

Also, using the argument that "the world is mostly vegetarian" as backing for completely cutting meat from your diet doesn't really make sense. Using "the world" as an example supports "eating meat in moderation", not abstaining from it entirely.

If you're doing it to save the animals, all the power to you.

But there is very little evidence that completely cutting meat from ones diet, as opposed to eating meat in moderation, has huge health benefits. Quite the contrary, particularly when one looks to the world for examples. Japan's longevity rate speaks for itself.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 6:01 PM on January 23, 2008

No, in Japan the basic meal is rice, miso soup with fish stock base, a plate of fish, vinegared vegetables or seaweed, and pickled vegetables.

And they do eat chicken a lot, in soups, grilled or fried.

The Japanese diet is not vegetarian
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 6:04 PM on January 23, 2008

The only case I was making was that vegetarianism isn't expensive, because the OP mentioned that he didn't have money to blow on an expensive diet. I'd say more, but I gotta run.
posted by team lowkey at 6:05 PM on January 23, 2008

Japan is not "most of the world." Japan has the advantage of being an island nation. So, it has lots of fish. China, away from the coasts, does not. India, away from the coasts, does not. Japan is also a first-world nation, so its food prices reflect that.
posted by klangklangston at 6:09 PM on January 23, 2008

I know this may come as an enormous shock, but Japan =/= the world outside the U.S. Japan is, as I understand it, actually pretty weird when it comes to food and how much it costs. Fish is cheaper than fruit there because there's not much space to grow stuff in Japan, but the whole country is surrounded by ocean. Fruit has to be shipped in from overseas, but fish comes right off the boat. That's not true in many parts of the world. It's certainly not true in the U.S., where the OP lives. Here, fish is quite expensive and fruit is pretty affordable, especially if you buy it in season.

So here's the deal. There are, in fact, many people in the world who get by just fine on a vegetarian diet. Pretty much all nutritionists agree that it's perfectly easy for most people to get the nutrients they need without eating meat of any sort. The OP has made it clear that he's interested in being a vegetarian primarily for ethical, not health reasons. So the awesomeness of various non-vegetarian diets doesn't seem to me to really be the point.

My recommendations to the OP would be as follows:

1. Learn to cook. It's really not that hard, and it's a good skill to have. You'll eat better, spend less money, and have more deliciousness in your life if you learn to do basic cooking. One reason that new cooks find cooking a pain in the ass is because they don't know how to use a knife properly. I know that sounds nutty, but it's true. Once you know the right way to cut up an onion, it's much faster. Maybe someone can point you in the direction of some good knife skills instructions?

2. Check out vegetarian recipe websites for recipes. Ultimately, you should buy a good all-purpose vegetarian cookbook, but websites are cheaper. Vegweb has a lot of easy recipes.

3. Find a grocery store with a bulk bin. Spices are vastly cheaper if you buy them in bulk, and you'll probably be going through a lot of cumin and chili powder. You might also buy dried beans and pasta in bulk. (Dollar stores can be a good, cheap source of containers to put your bulk stuff in.)

4. Make big batches of things and then freeze them. That way you'll have things in the freezer to reheat when you don't feel like cooking.

Good luck! This should be totally doable.
posted by craichead at 6:31 PM on January 23, 2008

I know that Japan is not the rest of the world, but the rest of the world does not cut meat from the diet.

I misread the OP; I thought he wasn't doing it for ethical reasons, only for health. In that case, go for it; there's some great advice here. I still stand by my argument questioning the health benefits however.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 6:50 PM on January 23, 2008

These are some things I ate a lot of when I was in college and poorer and worse at cooking. I also did not like vegetables very much, which was tricky. There are many excellent suggestions above involving real cooking (and, you know, vegetables), and you should definitely investigate them, but these foods will not require much of anything beyond knowledge of how to heat things in a pot.

For your rice and beans fix: Zatarains' red beans and rice and black beans and rice mixes are fairly cheap, very easy (put box's contents with x cups water in a pot, simmer for y minutes, eat), and relatively quick (20-30 minutes). They don't have the arbitrary pork and chicken fat found in most similar boil-this-box foods (e.g. the San Francisco treat). They have all the salt, though.

1 can black beans + 1 can corn + some salsa. Heat, and eat in tortillas.

1 can chickpeas, 1 can corn, 2 cans vegetable stock, a couple carrots and some onion or whatever you've got = soup in about 20 minutes.

Smart Dogs, Yves Good Dogs, and Morningstar hot dogs (in order of my preference) are pretty widely-available replacements. Morningstar even makes corn dogs, as does Trader Joe's. You want to buy some of these.

You also want to buy some Gardenburger Riblets, if you can find them.

Morningstar's "chicken" patties seem the best to me and most people I've talked to about these things (I don't talk to a lot of people about their preferred vegetarian chicken-substitute patty, however, so you should experiment). The ranch kind are tastiest.

Take one of the afore-mentioned chicken patties and put it on top of some spaghetti with some extra sauce. Instant chicken parmesan. (-ish)

Bush's and Heinz both have vegetarian canned baked beans. Hormel makes a vegetarian chili.

Fast food: Subway's veggie delight with extra cheese. Burger King's veggie patty, the one time I had it several years ago, was almost totally devoid of flavor, but it did fill my stomach. The majority of Chinese restaurants have tofu something on their menu. Egg salad sandwiches. Baked potato and a salad.

Since you're in college, I'll mention that IHOP, Denny's, etc. will usually substitute extra hash browns for bacon or sausage in their combo meals if you ask nicely.

Where you are will affect this a lot. In less-veg-friendly areas you may have to hunt for a bit for the best store to find things. If there's a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's near you, you should be fine, though Whole Foods seems to charge more for the same products than regular grocery stores will.

Not specific to vegetarianism, but buy a pepper grinder and whole peppercorns instead of pre-ground pepper. It can make a huge difference. The same thing applies to parmesan cheese.

Some general advice about being a new vegetarian.

You will probably miss bacon. This is normal, and there's not much you can do about it but wait. Eventually you will forget what it really tasted like, think the Morningstar bacon is OK, and be disgusted by the fact that people eat pig's bellies. Eventually.

You might get fed up and snap and have a hamburger. You might find that you're perfectly happy being a vegetarian all the time except Sunday mornings, when you just want to goddamned pieces of bacon with your scrambled eggs. You might not think about the chicken stock in the soup until after you've eaten it. That's ok. Don't feel like you've failed as a vegetarian. Even though, yes, you ate some meat, you are eating less meat. Your new vegetarianism (whatever your reason for it) is not some fragile vase that is going to shatter the second you have a bite of meat. It is as strong as you decide it is, and the boundaries are where you set them. Remember that what's important here is net benefit. A single hot dog does not erase all the benefits from not eating meat for the previous weeks, months, or years. If you were only 100% vegetarian for a single day that would be better than never.
posted by fidelity at 8:40 AM on January 24, 2008 [9 favorites]

Your new vegetarianism (whatever your reason for it) is not some fragile vase that is going to shatter the second you have a bite of meat. It is as strong as you decide it is, and the boundaries are where you set them.
This is incidentally a powerful statement about religious belief, sexual identity, and social relationships - along with creative pursuits and (BTW) vegetarianism or any other kind of behaviour-modification. Well put.
posted by waxbanks at 1:18 PM on May 7, 2008

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