I’m that type of vegetarian — the one that hard-core meat-eaters make fun of. My heart breaks for the 10 billion animals that get slaughtered each year for human consumption. Just as I cannot abide a dog being neglected or abused, I can’t tolerate the idea of chickens and pigs being crammed into too-small enclosures together or countless farm animals being downright abused. My vocabulary betrays me as a vegetarian, too, because I think it’s “barbaric” and I refer to their fate as “torture” where others may think, “that’s just the way it is.”
And yet the process of becoming a vegetarian was still long and drawn out for me. Even knowing what I know and feeling what I feel about animals, I like how beef, chicken and fish taste. Growing up in a culture where beef and pork are so very important was also a challenge. They feature heavily in Colombian cuisine (unless you are from the Coast, in which case, fish features prominently). Nowadays, my mom still has small anxiety attacks when I go visit. She frets about what she could possibly cook for me. I started being a pain in her ass early on, too. I gave up veal at the age of 9, after reading about how a baby calf ends up on a dinner plate. Other stuff was easier because I didn’t like it. Mama Gomez made oxtail soup? Yuck. Liver and onions? Gross. Tripe stew? Hide me.
Even red meat was easy to give up. I only really liked it grilled, but I always hated how I felt afterward. The digestive woes made it very easy to bid it farewell, eventually for good. Chicken was a challenge because I loved chicken so much my dad would tease me about growing feathers. But then a co-worker and friend introduced me to Quorn, and it absolutely changed my life. I’ve not missed it since and my freezer is always stocked with the “cutlets.” Even all these years later, I still falter. This year, I’ve had tuna four times and salmon twice. No, it wasn’t worth it, and I felt horribly guilty afterward.
It really is different for everyone. Some of us do it because we care about animals. Others may care more about the environment or reducing famine. Still others — and I know you may find this shocking so sit down — might just not like how the flesh of any animal tastes. So what’s my deal? Am I trying to convert you? Well, maybe a little. But I’m not going to tell you how to feel about animals or the planet or any of the stuff that made me become a vegetarian for good. I’m a fan of the “bees with honey” approach, so instead I suggest you try a vegetarian meal now and again strictly for your own benefit — no one or nothing else’s. Controversial!
Start with Meatless Mondays. Test the vegetarian waters and if you like it, stay a while. We won't bite. Embrace a diet that may be much more varied than you think. We've come a long way from the days when the only vegetarian options on a menu were either eggplant or something slathered in mushroom sauce. Vegetarian dishes can be just as tasty, if not more so (fighting words?) than your bacon-wrapped bacon.
We get it. Some of you love bacon so much you write sonnets about it and rush to point out the lack of it in any vegetarian recipe. “Is that a stuffed mushroom recipe? But where’s the bacon? Butternut squash lasagna? I’m confused because there’s no bacon.” But surely even the staunchest bacon lovers don’t eat it all day every day, right? Well, we certainly hope not — if not for the poor pig’s sake, then surely for your heart’s sake. It's okay to be a little selfish.
Come to the dark side a little. Try the acorn squash fondue. It’s delicious. We won’t tell anyone.