Monday, August 5, 2013

Day 85 - Being a Vegetarian (for a week)

I have never been a vegetarian. Now, this is something I never wanted to do, but it kept coming up as a challenge from friends and family members when I first began discussing my “I have never...” idea. Knowing there was no chance I would ever give up my omnivorous ways for a full year, I decided would take on the challenge of being a vegetarian for a full week at some point during my “I have never...” journey. While I would continue daily “I have never...” events during the challenge, my life without meat would persist for a full seven days. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I knew I would learn a lot from the experience. As a result, I decided to start my “I have never...” vegetarian sub-challenge today and start keeping track of my daily efforts. Over the next week I will update this blog entry daily to discuss my ongoing vegetarian efforts.

Meat... I will miss you.

Day 1: It begins. I woke up today and took a quick stock of our pantry to gauge the likelihood of me making it through the week as a vegetarian. The results didn’t look good. Nearly every food in our house that could serve as a main course I would eat contains some kind of meat product. Obviously, I had to do something about it. So, this morning I got by with what we had at the house, grabbing a quick bit of fruit for breakfast and preparing myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some pretzels, a peach, and some grapes for lunch. Midway through the day the meal made due, but I was very hungry by the end of my workday.

Day 1 - Lunch: Peanut Butter and Jelly

On my way home, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up some veggies, juice, fruit, and other goods to make quesadillas and some other vegetable dishes in the coming days. While at the store I had to remind myself several times the deli was off limits and that certain prepared food items contained meat products. Baked beans? Yeah, most of them contain bacon... Tonight’s green pepper, jalapeno, mushroom, and corn quesadilla with a side of vegetarian baked beans definitely hit the spot, but I’m already missing meat... Chicken would have made that quesadilla incredible, and finding a bacon treasure in my baked beans would have made me a happy camper.

Preparing for the week...
Day 1 - Dinner: Veggie Quesadilla

Day 2: I was in a hurry this morning, and I made a big rookie mistake. After skipping breakfast, I grabbed a few items for my lunch including some pretzels, some yogurt, and a package of beef ramen... BEEF. I didn’t realize my mistake until I was preparing the food at work this afternoon. Just as I was about to pour the seasoning packet into the ramen my eye caught the bright white letters on the wrapper. I immediately put the packet down and flipped the wrapper over to read the ingredients. There in fine print under the seasoning packet list of ingredients were the words “beef fat.” Go figure, they call it beef ramen because it has beef in the seasoning... As a result, my lunch consisted of unseasoned ramen, yogurt, and pretzels. If anyone has ever experience unseasoned ramen before, they will nod their head in agreement when I say, “it sucks.” It is nothing more than a briny mix of soft noodles... Sounds delicious!

Day 2 - Lunch: Rookie mistake... Unseasoned Ramen

Despite my rookie mistake, the meal got me through the workday. Then on the way home tonight I saw someone at a bus stop eating a burger. As if to taunt me, the man annihilated the beef patty as if he hadn’t eaten in days while I sat at a red light little more than 15 feet away. That stated, I was ok. I didn’t feel the need to bust out of my car door, wrestle the beef from his hands, and shove it into my face. Not yet, anyway, but then again, it’s only day two. Upon arriving home, Rachael was in the process of making me what I would call a veggie paella. She referred to it as “an experiment.” Regardless, I happily nibbled away at some of the paella and some Tostitos after tonight’s “I have never...” experience with Absinthe. I went to bed with a full stomach, and I felt OK. Two days down... Five to go.

Day 2 - Dinner: Veggies and Rice

Day 3: Today was the first day I really started to miss meat. After a few grapes for breakfast and a lunch of quesadilla and beans leftovers, I started feeling like something was missing. Perhaps it was because a team near my desk had a potluck with BBQ pork and sloppy Joe meat cooking most of the day, or perhaps it is my body starting to ask, “Hey, um, what’s up with this?” Whatever the reason, thoughts of brats and burgers have danced in my head today. In fact, they are inducing a Pavlovian response as I type this. However, I’m going to keep focused and stay on course. I can make it through Sunday. I know that.

Wednesday's Lunch

Tonight I went out with some work friends, and, of all places, we decided to grab a bite at A.J. Bombers burger restaurant. Much to my surprise, the restaurant had a variety of vegetarian options, which made it relatively easy for me to a make a choice for tonight's meal. That stated, I found if hard to eat my black bean burger as those around me demolished cheeseburgers, mushroom burgers, and deep fried pickle burgers. I wanted to take a bite of their meals so badly, it made it hard to concentrate on my burger, which was actually quite decent. Regardless, my work friends did more than enough to make me know how delightful their meals were. With that, I can say I miss eating meat A LOT. I guess I only have eight to eleven meals left before I complete my goal. Needless to say, I can't wait until Monday.

A.J. Bombers Black Bean Burger
Day 4: Today my body started to retaliate in response to my vegetarian efforts. After eating a decent amount of vegetable paella for lunch my stomach slowly started to ache and I felt hungry little more than one hour later. It wasn't a sick feeling and it wasn't a food poisoning kind of ache, it was something different. Also, everything I had to eat was relatively fresh, which made the likelihood of food borne illness even less likely. As I tried to figure out the source, the muted, consistent pain in my gut held on for some time, even as I started to feel hungry again. It was clear something was up, and the only change I could attribute it to was the lack of meat in my diet. I could be wrong, but that was my first inclination. Whatever the reason, I knew the aching wasn't going derail my ongoing vegetarian challenge. So, I pushed through it and geared up for dinner tonight, which was an "I have never..." event of its own, eating from a food cart.

Paella leftovers

By the end of my workday the ache in my stomach had all but subsided, which made me look forward to tonight's meal. When we arrived at the Meat and Eat Food Cart festival I was actually surprised at the number of vegetarian choices that were available at the food carts throughout the park. The variety actually made it a challenge to make a final selection for dinner, but I eventually settled on some creamed corn, mozzarella, and thyme empanadas from the Caracas Empanadas food cart. After one bite of the stuffed pastry, I knew I made a wise choice. The empanadas were delicious enough that I didn't care whether they were vegetarian or not. They were just good. While I'm already starting to feel a little hungry again about two hours after taking down the empanadas, I'm glad I was able to experience them. In all likelihood I wouldn't have picked the vegetarian empanadas if I wasn't in the middle of my week long vegetarian challenge, which means I would have missed out on a delicious treat. I'm sure the meat empanadas offered by Caracas are probably delicious as well, but the veggie choice was something special. Tonight's meal gave me a boost. Only three days left... I can do this.

Another day... more paella.

Day 5: Today was a challenge. For lunch I had more veggie paella leftovers, which did well enough to keep me full throughout the workday. Sure, my mind periodically moved to the idea of cheating on my vegetarian objective throughout the day, but I held to tight to my goal. It wasn’t that big of a challenge until later in the evening when tonight’s “I have never...” event led me to a rodeo in a small town in Southern Wisconsin. I don’t know why I didn’t think ahead, but it was obvious to me the vegetarian options at an event like a rodeo were likely to be next to non-existent. As a result, I sat through the event nibbling on some French fries and nothing else. By the time I got home tonight, my stomach felt like it was ready to start eating itself. A quick late night snack of carrots and pretzels was enough to tide me over, but today proved difficult from the vegetarian perspective. I’m so close to being finished with this sub-challenge I know I can’t give up... but it’s getting damn tempting.

Day 6: With The Great Taste of the Midwest occupying the majority of my day, I stayed focused on getting a decent meal in my stomach before the event. Unfortunately, I was in a hurry late this morning, which resulted in me taking a pit stop at the Coliseum bar and grill across from the festival grounds. Given I have never been to the Coliseum before, I welcomed a bonus new experience, but my options for a vegetarian meal were very limited. After reviewing my choices of fried cheese curds, a veggie burger, or a veggie wrap, I settled on a veggie burger. Although the veggie burger was slightly overcooked, it hit the spot and sustained me through The Great Taste. That stated, the presence of beef jerky, sausage, and other meats seemed nearly constant at the event. It took a lot of event to pass on the multiple offers of meat snacks that were put before throughout the day, but I made it through the afternoon.

The Coliseum Veggie burger

With a few beers in me after the event, I wanted nothing more than a greasy slab of beef for dinner. Rachael was kind enough to redirect me back to my sub-challenge and help me get my hands on the next best thing, a couple slices of Ian’s macaroni and cheese pizza. The pizza was such a delicious treat my mind moved away from my meat cravings and helped me get through the night. With one day left in the challenge, Ian’s saved me from tripping up on my vegetarian objectives, and for that I’m grateful.

Ian's to the rescue!

Day 7: The final day! With our trip to Starved Rock State Park planned for this afternoon, today’s lunch included some carbs and vitamins by way of pasta, carrots, and grapes. The meal actually helped me get through our entire trip to the park and our complete hike. To my surprise, I wasn’t as hungry as I thought I would be following the meal, and I wasn’t going to stir crazy over the thought of regaining my omnivorous ways tomorrow. Once our hike was finished, I had a quick meal consisting of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some carrots, and some Honey Bear lemonade before we headed back to Wisconsin. The meal got me through the trip home, but I was incredibly hungry by the time we arrived home. With hours left before the end of my “I have never...” vegetarian sub-challenge, I was tempted to cave, but luckily exhaustion set it and sent me to bed before I could act on my desires. I made it... and I was ready for a burger.

The last lunch of my challenge!

Ending where I started... PB&J

After a week of being a vegetarian I can say, without question, I’m better built to be an omnivore. I found the variety for a vegetarian diet to be suitable enough, but the flavors became bland and unexciting after a few days without meat. Additionally, having to work to find a suitable meal when eating out took a lot of the pleasure out of enjoying meals at restaurants. While the week long challenge did help me lose a total of four pounds, I must say I found little other benefits to being a vegetarian. My body certainly didn’t like the change (although I’m sure it would have gotten used to it after a while), and I found myself distracted by the diet much more often than I found myself recognizing the benefits. Sure, I learned a lot from the experience, but I’ll be much happier going back to my regular diet. I know my body will thank me for it.

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