Thanksgiving is associated with spending time with family, appreciating blessings in our lives and, most of all, eating. We gorge ourselves on turkey, stuffing, ham, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole and a plethora of other dishes specifically designed to make everyone eat until they’re miserable and ready to sleep for the rest of the afternoon.
Last Thanksgiving, however, I passed up most of these goodies because of a lifestyle choice I had made in May of 2011. I had decided to become a vegetarian, partially for the health benefits of giving up meat and focusing on fruits and vegetables and partially because I love animals.
However, most of what compelled me stemmed from a need to simply prove that I could do it. I hardly ate red meat, and I felt that I could give up chicken and tuna without much of a fuss.
I chose not to forgo dairy and eggs since animals aren’t harmed in the making of them (disregarding the idea that an egg is alive; I’m not here to argue about rights) and to simply live as a lacto-ovo vegetarian.
This proved more difficult than I had planned. At the time, I lived in Hays, which made it difficult to find vegetarian protein supplements. Because I had cut meat out of my diet, I tried to eat more peanut butter, eggs and protein shakes, but my diet still needed more sustenance. One store carried vegetarian imitation chicken breasts, so that made up the bulk of my protein. I dubbed this magical substance “fake chicken.”
My family didn’t agree with my lifestyle change. They constantly asked me when I was going to “get past this phase” and “start eating with the family again.” I grew up in a meat-and-potatoes household, so my mother had no idea how to feed me when I came home and simply substituted all the meat in our meals with cheese.
Needless to say, I either ate a lot of salad or consumed the entirety of my calorie content via Velveeta.
Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner proved to be the biggest challenges. My grandma forgot that I didn’t eat meat and made beef stew for lunch. I ended up scouring the fridge and throwing together a salad.
At Thanksgiving dinner, I loaded my plate with the vegetables and fruits at the table, finishing my meal with a piece of chocolate pie. Just as I was taking my last bite, my brother asked how I could eat something with pudding.
This was when I learned about the sneaky foods that don’t follow vegetarian diet guidelines. Foods like pudding, gelatin, marshmallows and ramen noodles seasoning are made of animal byproducts such as hooves and bone marrow. Even certain kinds of processed cheeses are cultured with animal byproducts.
He explained this to me as I guiltily pushed my empty plate away, vowing never again to ingest pudding.
I had aimed to continue this lifestyle for a full year, but because of a rigorous exercise schedule, I began to lose too much weight and my hair started to thin. I ended my vegetarianism last March to allay my family’s concerns over my health, but I learned a lot in the process.
For those of you considering giving up meat for an extended period of time, I offer a few suggestions. Taking a vitamin supplement can give you anything your body may be lacking during this period. You can also eat other foods rich in protein such as quinoa, beans, nuts, tofu or supplements.
Watch for unexpected hair loss or weight loss and, most of all, take care of yourself. By cutting meat out of my diet, I became more energized and less lethargic, but if done the wrong way a vegetarian diet can have the opposite effects.
For those of you making the brave attempt during the heartiest of holidays, allrecipes.com features a vegetarian Thanksgiving page that shows various ways for vegetarians to enjoy sweet potatoes, salads, cranberry sauces and other delightful dishes. Turkey and gravy will just make your family sleepy.