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vegetarian and vegan information

A plant based diet — how did I get here?

Kathy's sister's awakening to a healthier diet

My first flirtation with vegetarianism was many years ago. A good girl throughout my youth, I flew into a rebellion at the age of 19, dropped out of college, married, and decided to do everything differently from the way I was raised. I decided I was going to learn to be a vegetarian.

But back in 1979, there were few resources for learning to be a vegetarian if you didn't have a hippie social network to mentor you along. Al Gore hadn't invented the internet yet, there were few vegetarian cookbooks, and those I could find always seemed to use ingredients you couldn't get in Milwaukee in those days. (Want tofu? Here's how to make it from scratch...) My husband was patient with my feeble attempts, until the day I made my world famous (infamous?) lentil loaf, and that was the end of it for both of us.

Fast forward about 15 years, and my brother Andy married a vegetarian. Dalva is a wonderful cook, and we all enjoyed her meals and even incorporated a couple of her recipes into our regular repertoire. By then, a wider variety of analogue meats were hitting the market, and we'd occasionally have Boca Burgers and the like. But really, I'm a very lazy cook and these were easy substitutes (sometimes even easier than the meats they replaced), and also somehow made me feel "holier" than my counterparts who ate beef burgers (though I still cooked and consumed these as well).

Skip ahead another 10 years. By now, Andy and Dalva were vegans (oh no, what in the world am I going to cook for them?) and Kathy and Scott vegetarians (that's okay; I can still cook lasagna for them). Soon Kathy and Scott had stopped eating dairy as well, and I still didn't know what to cook. I enjoyed everything Kathy or Dalva cooked for me; I just didn't know how to reciprocate.

Then about two months ago, I had a revelation. We had gone out to dinner for my younger son's birthday. We had two cheese dip appetizers and I had a bazillion cheese pizza for my entree. The next day I was so sick I couldn't eat a thing and it finally sunk in that perhaps I was lactose intolerant, just on such a low level that a normal level of dairy intake just made me a little rumbly in my tumbly and I never made the association until I had totally pigged out on it.

Within a week, I had made up my mind. No meat, no dairy. Kathy had supplied me with numerous recipes, as well as her favorite vegan cookbook, and the limitless resource of the Internet was easily at hand. I'm learning a new recipe or two every week, and my family is loving it. I've lost a few pounds without even trying, I have more energy, need less sleep, and my digestive system is very happy. Do I miss anything? No, I really don't. No meat cravings and I can watch the others eat pizza and ice cream and have no temptation to sneak a bite. I've backed off on the "no dairy" just a tad — I will use cheese as a condiment, but not as a main ingredient. I don't think that little sprinkling of parmesan cheese on my spaghetti will throw me into stomach cramps, but that slice of cheese pizza just might.

I think Michael Pollan really nailed it with "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." My problem was I was not eating food, but prepared food products I could pull out of the freezer, throw in the microwave, and pretending it was nutritious. Now that I've made up my mind to actually cook, it's an easy choice to cook nutritious, plant-based foods.

By Barb Paegelow, February 2007.