By way of background, this isn't the first time that I have lived a vegetarian lifestyle. When I was 18, I decided that meat was just gross. I think that this was somewhat related to going on the birth control pill, because of the hormone changes. I didn't necessarily want to stop eating meat, but it just made me feel so nauseated. I remember finally deciding that I really would quit on Thanksgiving. The meal was long done, and we were sitting in our kitchen playing a game, eating leftover turkey out of a storage bag, and I just looked down and thought, "This is disgusting." I didn't eat meat again for nearly five years, at least not on purpose. Since I was in college, my mother didn't realize what was going on until over the Christmas break. When she did, she told me, "You have to eat meat again sometime." I just told her that no, I didn't. This was not a popular decision.
I actually loved being a vegetarian. I learned to cook, because eating out was so boring. This was the late 80's, early 90's, when there were a lot less options for vegetarians eating out. I went to college in a small town, so there were no health food stores or vegetarian cafes. I ate a lot of salads, and I ate a lot of dairy, especially cheese. It was just so much easier to be able to order cheese pizza, or fettucine alfredo, so that I could have warm food when eating out. Still, the choices were all boring, so I bought some vegetarian cookbooks and began experimenting. I tried a lot of different fruits and vegetables, and I was generally pretty healthy.
Almost 5 years after I stopped eating meat, I started again. I don't really know why, but I expect it was just easier. My mother was overjoyed. However, after about 6 years, I started having more health problems. I hadn't gained a huge amount of weight immediately after I started eating meat, probably in part due to my terrible smoking habit. Cigarette smoking is terrible for one's health, yes, but it is also an appetite suppressant that raises the metabolism. When I got pregnant with my daughter at the end of 1996, however, I quit smoking. Combined with the pregnancy and some bad eating habits (I developed an addiction to fast food after my daughter was born), I put on a lot of weight. I also started having a lot of intestinal troubles, and I generally felt run-down and just yucky. I decided to try a meatless fast and do some nutrition research to see if that would help. After a couple of days of cutting out meat, I also cut out the dairy. I couldn't believe how much better I felt! I didn't know I had that much better to feel. As an interesting side note, I had been visiting a doctor to get to the bottom (ha, ha) of my intestinal issues. When I told her that I felt a lot better since adopting a low-fat strict vegetarian diet, she pretty much dismissed that as a potential cure. I would think that it is pretty obvious that what you eat affects your bowels, but she didn't seem to think so at all.
My parents were not happy about this turn of events. It was bad enough when I did it by myself as a young college student, but they were intensely hostile to me bringing my daughter into this. My mother gloried in feeding my daughter meat whenever we were at her house, and laughed delightedly when I was upset by it. It was a really low point of our relationship.
All of this happened when I was about 30 years old. I kept up my vegetarian diet for about a year and a half, although the quality suffered when I started working full-time. I started eating a lot more processed food, and less fruits and vegetables. I separated from my husband, and found out that I was pregnant. Then I developed gestational diabetes. Trying to follow the diet that they gave me with the limited carbohydrates was tough. I was hungry and I started losing weight. I started eating meat again, because I wanted something a bit more substantial, and it is hard to find protein sources that are low in carbohydrates. And it was just easier. I was on my own with a four-year-old daughter, a full-time job and I was finishing my college degree at a school almost 200 miles away from where we were living. It was so much easier to be able to buy a chicken sandwich, or eat dinner at my parents' house. After my son was born, one of the main reasons I continued to eat meat was that it was easier to eat at other people's houses.
After I had my son, I put on a lot of weight again. I didn't want to get diabetes again, because I hated it when I was pregnant. I had been on insulin and I hated testing my sugars four times a day and giving myself shots three times a day. So, I started exercising more and became more careful about what I ate. I lost nearly 40 pounds, but then I became careless about my diet again, so I gained it all back. To be honest, part of that had to do with the male attention I got when I lost the weight--I wasn't ready for that, so I ate to sabotage myself. I didn't even realize I was doing that until I had gained back most of the weight that I lost.
My parents' have been a little more supportive this time. My dad has gone out of his way to make food that I like when we go over for dinner. He made salmon once, and shrimp stir-fry another time. Last week he even got portobello mushroom caps and threw them on the grill for me. My mother is slowly figuring out that I am really going back to vegetarianism, but she hasn't said anything negative yet. It probably helps that I am a bit relaxed this time. My 88 year old grandmother made beans and ham for New Year's Day today, and I just picked the ham out of my bowl and told her it was delicious. I am not striving for perfection here, just good health and relatively harmonious relations with my family.
At this point, I am going almost vegan mostly for health reasons, although the ethical stuff is a definite plus for me. I am particularly excited about how good this style of eating is for the environment. Like I said, this is a process and a journey, and I expect to learn more, even though this isn't the first time I have been here.
As a final note, although I love The Vegan Lunch Box, I am not trying to mimic that blog. I just couldn't find a template on blogger that I liked more than this one, so we look a bit alike. I am not trying to be nearly as cool as Jennifer is, though. For one thing, I am not so good with the pictures!