Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Fussy Meat-Lover Embraces Vegetarianism

The below was written by guest blogger Eric Cheung

Yesterday, July 7th, was the six month anniversary of my last meal with meat in it.  I ate a heaping take out container of teriyaki chicken in the food court of The Corner Mall in Downtown Crossing, Boston.  I intended to fill up because I was going straight from work, upstairs at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, to a theatre gig in South Boston, as a sound tech for Actors Shakespeare Project's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.  And just like that I said goodbye to meat.

One of the most common assumptions about my decision is that it was somehow Mary Beth's decision, or at least that there was some undue cajoling on her part to coerce me away from my rightful place atop the food chain.  No, this decision was mine alone.  I say this as someone who likes the taste of meat, yet does not miss it.

Though I've been cold turkey since January 7th, it hardly feels like such an immediate transition.  I've never been one to buy meat in grocery stores very often, so most of my meat-eating centered around going out to eat or just grabbing a quick bit of take out--my last meaty meal seems all the more appropriate.  I would usually have a favorite hot dog (which must show some signs of charring, and stuck in a New England-style bun, which has been toasted and buttered), I'd have a favorite cheeseburger (medium-well and should not taste like a big corporate chain), and many other kinds of meats.  But my family has a history of high-cholesterol, I have a heart condition, and I really do believe that animals in most commercial facilities are treated in an absolutely abhorrent manner.  It was time to put my vegetables where my mouth was.

So let me first tackle the first of these points, which leads to the next question I get about my new-found vegetarianism: You're doing this for your health?  Won't you be deficient in protein, iron, Vitamin B-12, et cetera?

Protein is certainly not a problem for me.  Since at least early last  year, I've been big fan of some of the meat analogues available, primarily Morningstar's fake chicken and sausages (when you think about it, a sausage is primarily texture and spices; you're not tasting meat per se, so it's not much of a leap to start with meat-free sausages).  In addition to that, I've recently tried their beef analogue, and it's virtually indistinguishable from real hamburgers.  These products are fascinating to me because they remind me of how much more mainstream vegetarianism has become in the past several years, and because if we can manufacture food this realistic, then perhaps the Star Trek food replicators are not far behind.

But aside from trying to hold onto my meaty tastes, I've found that I like eating lots of beans, tofu or bean curd, and nuts.  I also enjoy spinach and drink milk and orange juice.

As for the second point, the welfare of the animals, I must concede some points here.  The precise type of vegetarianism to which I currently subscribe is pescatarian ovo-lacto vegetarianism, I do eat eggs, fish, and dairy.  Before January 7th, I did not eat fish, but I've found that when dining in some restaurants that aren't vegetarian friendly the compromise has become an etiquettal necessity (Ironically, vegetarianism has helped me broaden my palette, as I've always been quite fussy).

Dining out has changed only slightly.  I now find my favorite restaurant type to be Indian.  I describe it to the skeptical as "beef stew without the beef."  Though I've eaten Indian food for years, this phrase to me evokes the hearty and filling nature of the food.  There are a lot of potatoes, basmati rice, spinach, and delicious gravies and sauces.  I've also eaten more Thai and Chinese food, even an attempt at seeing what meat-free delights awaited me at China Pearl's Sunday dim sum!

The plan is to stick with this for the foreseeable future.  I see no reason to stop.  In this time, perhaps I'll try to challenge my taste buds, and maybe eventually discard fish, eggs, and dairy and go vegan (assuming I can find appropriate substitutes).  Whatever anyone can do to reduce or eliminate meat intake will do wonders for their cholesterol and their conscience.

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