Confessions of an Asian closet vegetarian

A few years ago I mapped my carbon footprint. I discovered that my diet, or more specifically, my meat eating habits, was the largest contributor. To do my part I decided that I would go vegetarian. But like many people, I like the taste of meat too much to completely give it up. After swinging between regiments of veggie days and enduring boring restaurant salads, I finally settled on becoming a closet vegetarian. That is, I would be vegetarian at home, but allow myself to eat meat when I'm dining out. This plan allowed me to continue hanging with my omnivorous friends at regular restaurants; it also came with some surprising benefits. Eating vegetarian is less expensive. I spend less time shopping by focusing on the produce section, which is conveniently located near the front at most supermarkets. The packaging on vegetables is also much lower duty than on meat, and I no longer have to deal with greasy styrofoam trays, plastic wrap and plastic bags. With no meat handling I do not have to worry about contamination in the kitchen, and spend less time cooking the quickly done vegetables.

The major downside is a more persistent 'peckish' feeling. A high protein meal satisfies for six hours, a veggie meal satisfies for only four. This means I have to keep nacho chip and dip, fruit and crackers on hand for snacking. The need to snack was a downside at first, but now I am set up with tasty snacks that I look forward to. And since I eating healthy vegetables for meals, I allow myself to indulge on cheese for snacks. Another downside is the difficulty of keeping meals interesting and tasty. Cutting meat means fewer flavor tones to choose from when cooking, and the spices that work well with meat do not always work well with veggies. This problem was intensified by my allergy to spinach and eggplant, key veggie staples, and my husband's allergy to soy. So I turn to Asian flavors for support. Indian and Thai flavors, even at reduced chili levels, are intensely flavorful enough that I don't miss the meat. Curries work extremely well with any vegetables, store very well in the fridge, and are often more tasty the next day. For a 5 minute vegetable dish I turn to Chinese vegetables of over 25 different varieties and textures, which all cook well with my mother's trusty recipe of garlic, oil and salt. For flavor variety I switch to Italian red and white sauces. With cheese for flavor who needs meat?

Most aspiring vegetarians found themselves lacking in essential nutrients when they stop eating meat. But a closet vegetarian still eats meat when dining out, which is about once per week for me, so I do not have to worry about supplements. In addition, meat has become special again, as it is associated with a dining out experience.

If you are thinking about becoming a closet vegetarian here is what I would recommend.
1. Plan to make veggie meals at home, since eating vegetarian at restaurants may mean salad after salad unless you stick to ethnic foods.
2. Add the following veggie-friendly spices to your pantry: cumin, fresh or dried chili (thai, japaleno, serrano, anything), dried mushrooms of any variety, oregano, thyme, sage, soya sauce, fresh garlic and ginger, sesame oil, olive oil. Have a few cans of coconut milk on hand for making curries. Pre-made Having grated parmesan and cheddar cheeses on hand are also useful.
3. Explore Asian supermarkets and cook books. Frozen dumplings come in veggie versions and are excellent fast food at home. There are many more fresh veggies to be explored and tried.
4. You will be hungry more often, so keep snacks on hand. Try lots of fruits, crackers and cheese, chips and dip. But remember to snack in moderation.
5. Prepare to stick to the new plan for at least 4 weeks before making an evaluation. It will take a while for your cooking style and eating habits to settle into the new routine.

If you do it right, you will enjoy good health while eating to your heart's content, and you will love not having to handle raw meat again. Of course, you'll also incidentally be keeping tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere.