My husband and I spent about ten years living on a strict vegetarian diet. No meat, no fish, no poultry, no animal products or by products like rennet in cheese, we were serious vegetarians. For example, we would ask if there was "chicken stock" in the soup at a restaurant or if a vege burger was going to be cooked on the grill with other meat or even if they would slice our cheese on a meat slicer. Believe me it was hard work. Avoiding the seemingly unavoidable, meat and meat products.
What's funny about my decision to become vegetarian was that I wasn't trying to make a political statement, I didn't attack people with People For The Ethical Treament Of Animals facts, simply enough I didn't care for meat. I was burnt out on meat and really wasn't that big on it. Sort of later on, I went through a hippy phase (once again Boulder to be credited for that) and being a vegetarian fit in wonderfully, even if I wore leather sandals. I think my mantra was they were killing the cows for meat, we best utilize the entire slaughtered animal.
Now, when I sit back and recall my life as a vegetarian, I realize how easy it was to still eat unhealthy as a vegetarian. I was young and discovering cooking, likes and dislikes. Luckily I had J along with me for this journey, but I can recall many nights especially when we lived on our own for the first time in the Adirondacks eating Lipton Noodles and grilled cheese for dinner. Super healthy. We even were fans of Burger King Whoppers sans the meat, we'd pile it up with french fries instead of ground beef burgers. What else do you do starving on a lonely highway traveling across the country, doomed by being a vegetarian?
Then we eased our way into things like ratatouille and slow cooked vege chili. Obviously when we moved to Boulder and there were vegetarian grocery stores (Wild Oats Vege Market on Pearl and 19th for those of you that are curious), vegetarian restaurants (call out to the Creative Cafe), then we started to gain balance in living as a healthy vegetarian.
Oddly enough after years and years of all the towing the line, avoiding meat, I ate a tuna sandwich. Not sure what came over me, or what the craving was, but it happened. I even have a photo sitting with a tuna sandwich in front of me, that first moment I crossed over. We joked how fish is the gateway meat. Once you try the soft stuff (fish) then you find your way at a Thanksgiving meal being passed the plate of white meat, and in the blink of an eye your opening your mouth as wide as possible to insert a juicy well done beef burger. Just like that, ten years down the drain.
My digestive system never skipped a beat when I started eating meat again. The most wonderful part of being a former vegetarian is that I don't snub my nose at alternatives to beef and potatoes. We eat meatless a couple times a week. We buy only organic and free range meats and wild caught fish. Actually I am more of a meat snob then ever. Now, when I eat out, I ask if the fish is farm raised. I'm not huge on overprocessed soy products as they are potentially just as unhealthy as a big ol' slab of factory farmed meat. Of course we try to make local food choices when they are available to us.
Aah, the beauty of being older and wiser, gives us the opportunity to make better informed decisions. Officially I believe our family's eating habits would be considered, Flexitarian. If you'd like a good read on the American Food System, pick up Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle from your local library, it may just change your life.