A plant-based diet came simply and gradually—and with many rewards.
IT WASN'T ANYTHING SPECIFIC that led me to becoming a vegetarian many years ago; in fact, I never consciously “became” a vegetarian. There was no pivotal deciding moment, no fervent, “from-this-day-forward” declaration. Those were the days when food choices were still pretty straightforward, when they had not yet been conscripted into moral, political and health-related tug-of-wars. In my case, meat just slowly faded off the plate.
Growing up on a dairy farm probably had an influence. Our farm was well run and we were blessed to have wholesome, home-grown food security—all the milk we could drink, rows of ripening vegetables in the garden, and meat from an occasional cow selected for culling.
The butchering of that cow, wide-eyed with primeval fear as she was led behind the barn on a tight halter, was a hard reality, including for my dad, who always hired someone else to get the job done. For a while afterwards, we felt a heaviness, a vague culpability in the heavy-handedness of it all, but those agitations were easily enough reconciled over plates of meatballs with gravy and mashed potatoes.
I never was a big meat-eater, and over the years I came to realize I’d never much cared for its unadorned taste, nor look. The seasonings and sauces were what made it flavoursome; the butter that braised it and enhanced the gravy; the garlic, onions and red wine that perfected stews and roasts.
It was when my own kids were blossoming into adolescents with iron-clad opinions that I proposed a non-meat dinner one day a week. I was getting dreadfully tired and uninspired in the kitchen. Meat is perishable—it can go bad in a really bad way. It’s a lot of work (including clean-up) and expensive for the household on a budget. Over the years, I’d boiled our meat choices down to ground beef, chicken breasts and, on Fridays, chicken nuggets. Nobody liked ham anymore, and we’d already ditched the wieners: Even back then, there was no good reason to feed them to anyone.
It will be fun, I told them brightly. Everyone, my husband included, looked at me as if I’d suddenly sprouted a tuft of chin hairs. (I hadn’t, although I’m rather familiar with them now.)
Our youngest lived at home until she’d finished university, and by then we three were mostly done with meat, having discovered the elegance and simplicity of a plant-based diet. Who knew that almost any type of winter squash, which is locally grown and storable for months, would make such a hearty and delicious pasta sauce? Who knew that lentils—grown right here on the peninsula—could be transformed into a full-bodied tourtiere? And that grilled vegetables could taste so sweet and delectable?
There are many good reasons for becoming vegetarian. The health benefits have been well established. The land-use and carbon footprints are substantially smaller. Food security is enhanced, since grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and legumes (dried lentils, beans and peas) can be stored for months, years even. Add fruit and vegetables from the garden or local markets, and you’re all set.
Food factories have jumped on the vegetarian bandwagon, but it’s worth knowing that not every new product is necessarily good food. Avoid anything that’s overly processed, salted, packaged, and expensive. Many offerings try to mimic meat. You don’t need them, unless you have strong cravings. Just keep using your most loved seasonings, and apply them to everything.
Recipes abound, and many have been adapted from meat-based cuisine. Once I figured that out, I started modifying my own simple recipes. If I can do it, anyone can.
A plant-based diet generates very little waste. Very little to wheel to the curb for barging over to Richmond for processing. Surely that counts for something.
Slightly off topic, but then again not, I’ve recently started scrutinizing and reducing our energy use in the kitchen. Now we often make two meals at once, the second one requiring just a quick reheat. If we must use the oven, we’ll load it up with extras to bake and roast for later. We never have all four elements going at once—no recipe is that important.
One last thing. My food evolution did end up being about animals after all. As kids are apt to do, I filed away everything I saw back then for inevitable processing much later in life. Today I’m content that no farm animal has to die for my dinner.
I believe that eating vegetarian is eating more humbly. A little humility in the diet is never a bad thing.
And on another front, Trudy can’t help wondering where we could be now if our $12.6 billion investment in the Trans Mountain pipeline project had been directed towards alternate energy solutions.