Sitting down for dinner with colleagues who haven’t been briefed on my plant-based preferences usually begins a little something like this…
“Wow, you’re a vegetarian? I could never give up meat! Yeah… I could never be a vegetarian… I love bacon. Don’t you like bacon??? What about chicken, will you eat chicken? Fish? No? But fish isn’t meat! So you… really?! Not at all? Wow! Good for you. I could never… Where do you get your protein? You aren’t vegan are you?…”
Eventually, we all settle on the common ground found in a glass of wine and a few shared tales of our life’s adventures. It’s all part of the fun.
My ten-year anniversary as an omni veggieavore recently came and passed. It gave me pause to reflect on what advice I wished I had received as I started my journey of plant-based eating.
Here’s what I wish I knew then, in no particular order:
Top 10 Tips after 10 Years as a Vegetarian
1. The question is inevitable… relish it!
Despite that he may have just asked, Fred the construction worker really isn’t interested in hearing all of the reasons why you don’t eat steak, moments before he eats one himself. Even so, a couple Why? ’s, Wow! ’s, and Really?! ’s are headed your direction anyway. Consider this your moment to respond in brief with poise, grace, and comedy. This is not the moment for evangelism.
2. Vegetarianism is not a diet by omission.
Being a vegetarian or vegan is about infinitely more than what you do not eat. Early on, I focused on what ingredients I needed to avoid or remove. If you’re used to grilled chicken with rice and a veggie, simply cutting out the chicken isn’t going to get you very far. Ditto for your plate of steak, starch, and veg. Great plant-based meals are constructed for their own merit, not deconstructed from a meaty meal in haste.
3. Where DO you get your protein?
Black beans, lentils, peas, kale, tempeh, broccoli, quinoa, peanuts, mushrooms, avocados, edamame, artichokes, cashews, spinach, tofu, brown rice, collard greens, chickpeas, squash, spelt, chia seeds, adzuki beans, almond butter, asparagus, millet, corn, pumpkin seeds, cauliflower, peanut butter, wild rice, cannellini beans, hazelnuts, flax seeds, steel-cut oatmeal, potatoes, hemp seeds, pinto beans, rye berries, pine nuts, and whole wheat anything… to name a few.
4. It’s a big wide world out there!
While data varies by the definitions used, a 2016 collection[i] estimating the vegetarian population by country puts the number at nearly half a billion people (~470 million) worldwide. Around 8.2 million, or less than 2%, resides in North America! What’s the takeaway? Open up your culinary borders to experience the best in what plant-based eating has to offer. Your new favorite recipe may not be from your backyard, so why not explore Thai, Indian, Israeli, Malaysian, or Taiwanese cuisines?
When abroad, of course, a little research will go a long way. Even if you’re a free spirit who prefers to wing it, having a few vegan or vegetarian spots scoped out in advance will help you enjoy the best of the local ethnic cuisine, so you don’t end up like I did… Seoul Searching.
5. It’s time to try something new (to you).
According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Administration of the United Nations), the world has over 50,000 edible plants, yet just fifteen crops provide 90% of the world’s food energy[i]. Some crops that were considered “poor people’s food” fell out of favor, yet are now undergoing a resurgence as we better understand them and their super-hero nutritional value. Quinoa, farro, or purple potatoes anybody?
6. It’s all Economics
Want options? Demand them. Got options? Support them! Restaurant and grocery store selections are just a manager’s perception of what will sell, with a little history and inertia sprinkled in. Change requires an inflection point, and sustained change requires support.
Never hesitate to ask your grocery store’s GM about a product you would love to see on the shelf. Or, reach out to the owner of your local café to request a veggie sandwich make its way onto the lunch menu. They may not have understood the market size and income potential! Once it’s there, spread the word about the tasty delight you’ve just ‘discovered’ and support the cause.
7. A quick call-ahead goes a long way.
Business has taken me all sorts of places, and more times than I can count that means a restaurant with not a single vegetarian option in sight. The good news? Often those options are hidden just out of sight.
At even the staunchest of seafood bistros or steakhouses, a quick call ahead has unearthed an entire vegan menu (awesome!), or a chef who loves the chance to cook off-menu (great!), or a hidden pasta primavera (we can live with that). So, despite what the website menu says, give the restaurant a call and let them know you’re dining as a group and one of them is a vegan or vegetarian. The great chefs and servers will be thrilled to accommodate… and the amateurs? Well, they will seat the table and begin service with a bold “We understand there is a vegetarian in the group….” (refer to tip #1).
8. People believe what the see, not what they hear.
You’re fired up, excited, feeling great! Convinced a plant-based diet is the way to go for your body? For the planet? For your health? For your pocketbook? For the animals? For your happiness? For your energy levels?
Honestly, there’s not much sense telling anyone about it more than once. No amount of unsolicited advice will convert your pals. Walk the walk, and you’ll be surprised how many ask you about your ‘secret’ and join you along the way.
9. Your choices make a difference. Sometimes. Don’t stress yourself out.
Fun fact… according to a UC Davis study, it takes 441 gallons (1,670 liters) of water to produce one pound (450 grams) of boneless beef[i]. Don’t think you’re contributing to the water shortage in California while chomping down at Mastro’s Steakhouse in Beverly Hills? Think again.
Your choices matter.
As a new vegetarian, I was perpetually stressed by the realities of the food industry that I was uncovering. Even so, it’s helpful to keep perspective. Vegan or vegetarian living brings benefits to your health and the planet’s much like a penny in a piggy bank helps your retirement security. It’s the sum of your efforts over time that matter.
Thinking of implementing meat-free Mondays? Please do, it matters! Missed a meat-free Monday for reasons out of your control? Don’t stress too long about it. Dichotomy. It’s ok.
10. Older and wiser voices can help you find the right path (Jimmy Buffet).
If you’re overwhelmed with where to begin, lean on those who’ve gone before. A wealth of online resources is at your fingertips! Sails & Spices is putting the finishing touches on our “first week as a vegetarian” meal plan… so stay tuned! In the mean time, here are a couple great meal ideas to get you started:
- The Very Best Vegan BLT Sandwich
- Baked Hazelnut Falafels
- Easy Paneer Makhani
- Spicy Buffalo Tempeh Caesar Salad
- Healthy Super Greens Spanakopita
Explore all of our vegan and vegetarian recipes here: Vegetarian Recipes
Let us know if you are just getting started on your journey, have been a vegetarian for a long time, or just upped the ante and made the switch to vegan. We’d love to hear your questions and tips!
Beckett, J. L., and J. W. Oltjen. 1993. Estimation of the water requirement for beef production in the United States. J. Anim. Sci. 71: 818-826.