The Rules of Being a Vegetarian Becoming a vegetarian is not like joining a club or enlisting in an army. There is a lot of freedom and leverage to how "deep" you go into the vegetarian lifestyle and how intense and limiting you make your diet. So while there really are no "rules" for becoming a vegetarian, there are some scales of severity to be aware of so you know where you wish to enter the vegetarian world and how much you want to limit your diet. And there are some guidelines for how to be successful in your quest for a healthier and more ethical way of life. The first thing to be aware of is that the extremes of vegetarian diets have a lot of variety to them. You can considered a vegetarian by eliminating only beef, chicken and animal meats from your diet. This approach to vegetarianism is the easiest place to start because you can still get your protein from eating fish, cheese, eggs and other dairy products so you don't feel so deprived at first. Then if you are successful in eliminating animal meats, you can then consider going further into the vegetarian lifestyle. Its good to be educated about the varieties of vegetarianism because you may be talking to an enthusiast in the lifestyle that is of a "camp" that is not right for you. The cultures or genres of vegetarianism include: * Lacto vegetarianism -- this is a nice next step from just eliminating animal meats from your diet because you add eggs and dairy to your list of things to avoid. Many people who are interested in vegetarianism for ethical reasons because of their desire not to cause suffering to animals like this approach because eating eggs and dairy encourages those industries to continue to victimize chickens and cows. * Lacto-ovo vegetarianism is the formal name for the very basic kind of vegetarianism we started our discussion with where you can continue to enjoy diary and egg products. Most vegetarians can be comfortable with this approach because you get many of the health benefits from eliminating animal meat from your diet and you are doing something to help the animal rights cause without going extreme. * Ovo-vegetarianism is another variety of vegetarians that eliminates meat and dairy but allows you to have eggs as a staple of your diet to continue to get protein from your morning omelet. Its another compromise but a nice step to a next step if you want to move on to more restrictive diets as you get used to each step along the way * Veganism is not a religion but it is the most restrictive form of vegetarianism because you eliminate meat, all dairy and even honey and become a pure vegetarian. For many this is too extreme or maybe a goal for the future. If you were to attend a class on "how to become a vegetarian", the rules for being successful would be the same most of the time. Those rules call for you to resist the urge to get radical about your diet and to start day one at the Vegan level after eating meat for most of your life. The impact on your body can be extreme and you do not give yourself time to learn how to eat in a healthy way to replace the nutrients and vitamins in meat with natural vegetarian substitutes. It is highly advised you take it slow and ease into your vegetarian program. If you are too extreme, vitamin deficiencies can leave you open to disease. And if you get sick from a too aggressive approach to vegetarianism, you may give up and miss out on the many benefits the vegetarian lifestyle has for you. And that would be a tremendous tragedy. The Passion and the Hobby of Vegetarianism It is going to take some effort to make the transition to a meat free lifestyle and to be able to proudly say "I am a vegetarian." But instead of feeling intimidated by that prospect, what is called for is for you to not only make living healthy and without meat your passion in life, make it your hobby. The distinction between a passion and a hobby is important. Your passion in life is what drives you to learn all you can about your new lifestyle of vegetarianism. When you first make the transition or are preparing for the transition, it is natural to become obsessed with not only the reasons for becoming a vegetarian but the lifestyle you will enjoy when you finish making the change. You should allow yourself to let being a vegetarian a true passion of yours. Its also easy to let your vegetarian lifestyle be a passion when you start to spend time with "die hard" vegetarians. Their enthusiasm is contagious and their devotion to what they are doing is apparent. Not only are the health reasons for making this change enough to make a zealot out of any of us, the ethics of not eating animals and the morality and even religious rationales for eliminating meat from your system can make your vegetarian lifestyle as important to you as love of family and devotion to God. Now everybody who becomes a vegetarian gets to the zealot stage. But it is a lifestyle that is so full of rich culture and the fun of exploring that culture as well as learning to cook and eat the vegetarian way can become something that you want to think about all the time. When you get to that stage that you are living and breathing vegetarianism and that you are actually having a lot of fun learning about your new culture and lifestyle, then you will have gained the momentum to make the leap into a vegetarian life that will carry you to success. A hobby is like a passion and many of us get very passionate about our hobbies. But along with allowing your new meat free life to be your passion, make it a hobby. The difference is that over time you can sustain your devotion to a hobby but at a more steady and measured pace. Think of other hobbies like model building or bowling. Devotees genuinely enjoy the time they spend in their hobby. And for the most part that hobby is something they probably will be involved in for life. But it isn't all they live and breathe. It is part of life not all of life. Over time, your vegetarian lifestyle will move from a passion to a hobby. But it should be such a integral part of your life that it can be a great hobby and one you go back to weekly if not daily to enjoy partaking in your lifestyle. There is a lot of diversity in the vegetarian lifestyle that will keep you fascinated for months and years. Between the shopping for great ingredients for your next dish to the cooking, preparing, presentation and dining experience to the quest for the next great recipe to the time you spend with other vegetarians, it really is a lifestyle as well as a diet choice. So let it be a great hobby as well as your passion in life because the life of vegetarianism will make such a huge contribution to your quality of life that it will be worth your devotion to it. The Lifestyle of a Vegetarian One of the biggest injustices that the vegetarian movement has endured is that in popular culture, the image of a vegetarian is that of a fanatic hippy or cult member who is "off the deep end" and cannot think about anything else besides "saving a cow" and pushing vegetarianism on everyone he meets. The truth is that the lifestyle of a vegetarian is not that different than everyone else in the culture. In fact, the odds are that somewhere in your social circle at work, school, church or in your family and friends network, you already know several people who are quietly enjoying the lifestyle of a vegetarian. So to help us get over the negative stereotypes to understand how a vegetarian actually lives, lets examine what is different about a vegetarians life. The most significant difference in how a vegetarian lives is obvious because it is in how he or she eats. You will not find any meat in a vegetarian's kitchen. Now this doesn't mean that a vegetarian cannot live in a family and be at peace with meat eaters. If the home has one vegetarian but others who are not, you will be able to tell from the presence of soy and perhaps more fruit and fresh vegetables in the refrigerator. But the idea that vegetarians cannot be around meat eaters is false. If anything vegetarians are peace loving and can live their lifestyle around others who are not of their belief system very well. Grocery shopping with a vegetarian is an eye opening experience and one that is quite different in more ways than you would suspect. Being a vegetarian isn't just about what you don't eat in that you don't eat meat. It is also about a completely different approach to diet and foods. So you will not see a vegetarian buying food in the same way most people do. There will be much more time spent in the fresh produce section of the grocery store. The checkout basket of a vegetarian will give him or her away every time because it will be overflowing with fresh foods. But shopping for food with a vegetarian means shopping in other places than the local grocery store. It means buying grains and beans in bulk at a warehouse store because that is one way that a vegetarian maintains health by replacing the protein and other nutrients that the rest of the world gets from meat and replacing it with proteins from beans and other natural foods. It also means shopping in farmer's markets and even shopping in a vegetarian specialty store for some high nutrition meat substitutes like tofu. The vegetarian movement is in harmony with many of the earth first movements such as the organic movement and the green movement. So a vegetarian kitchen will have more organic foods on hand to reduce the presence of harmful pesticides and other substances in the diet. Also vegetarianism affects the lifestyle beyond just the refrigerator and the pantry. You will not find leather clothing in a vegetarian's closet and you wont find fur there either. That is became for the most part vegetarians are sensitive to animal rights and they don't want to see the skin of animals used in their clothing. The house of a vegetarian will also be a recycling house to do all that is possible to cut down on waste and to be earth friendly. Along with recycling bottles and cans as you might expect, a vegetarian recycles a lot right at home. A recycling home will often have a compost pile in the yard for food waste and it will also support a good sized garden to use that compost to grow at home organic foods to supplement a healthy diet. For obvious reasons, a vegetarian will have vegetarian friends and belong to social groups and attend functions that support the vegetarian lifestyle. Eating out with a vegetarian will mean going to more ethnic food restaurants and you will see a lot of creativity in how to order foods in a restaurant. But contrary to popular opinion, vegetarian eating is more flavorful and diverse than the normal diet. Just spending a day with a vegetarian will reveal to you a more harmonious lifestyle that is sensitive to the environment and at peace with itself. It is a healthy and happy lifestyle and one that should be attractive to all of us. The "How" of Vegetarianism Sometimes the real obstacle of making that big change in your life to becoming a vegetarian is not the "why" of making this big change in your lifestyle but the how. Its not hard to find good reasons to eliminate meat from your diet. There are moral reasons, spiritual reasons and above all health reasons that make the change a perfect fit for where you are in life right now. But what really stops a lot of people from making this very positive change in their personal lives is not knowing exactly how to make the transition. So its a good idea to think through what it will mean to become a vegetarian so we can remove the mystery from what you are about to do. There is no sugar coating the fact that a significant change in diet such as you will experience switching to a vegetarian lifestyle is going to take some getting used to. It is also going to call for some self discipline on your part to make the transition. Yes, you will be more healthy and probably feel better ethically when you can honestly tell the world, "I am a vegetarian". But the transition can be a challenge. That is why one of the big steps in making the change is to be well in touch with your priorities and reasons for becoming a vegetarian. This is the most important in the first weeks of your new lifestyle as you get used to the diet and the health effects on your system. And since most vegetarian diets go through an adjustment period as you assure you are going to get enough protein and vitamins, you will have a lot of new sensations and things going on inside that will take some patience to get through. So be sure of your motivations and go back to that "mantra" of why you decided to make this change in your life in the first place. And like any great goal, if you truly believe in what you are doing, you will push through the rough patches because you want to live right and enjoy the benefits of eating and living in a way that is harmonious with the environment and with your own bodily needs. Sometimes the reason we hold back from taking the plunge on becoming vegetarians comes from a fear that is grounded in lack of information. So the obvious solution is to learn all you can about your diet and what to expect as you begin living the life of a vegetarian. The top priority in your new education program is how to create a diet that meets your nutritional needs as well as provides you with sufficient variety to be satisfying without the presence of meat. The good news is that there are a huge variety of web sites and books you can use to learn how to supplements your diet so you get what you need nutritionally to begin your life as a vegetarian. A big decision to make and one you should think through before you start your path to the life of a vegetarian is how you will make the transition. You may be enthusiastic and want to go "cold turkey" or a very harsh vegetarian regimen. But is not advised as it will increase the chances you will experience more severe reactions to cutting out so much of your diet. Remember your body is used to a certain level of eating. So make changes slowly one at a time and ease into your new vegetarian lifestyle. If there is any question about whether a vegetarian diet is right for you, seek medical advice before starting to make such a big change to what you eat each day. Your doctor can help you make sure you are getting enough vitamins for ongoing health and that you are planning meals that give you sufficient protein and nutrients so your active lifestyle is not hurt by your new eating discipline. By begin smart, consulting with your doctor and being aware of your nutritional and vitamin needs as you start to change your diet and lifestyle, you will gently ease into a vegetarian life. And as you do so, you can celebrate that you are not just moving away from a bad diet but moving toward one you will enjoy and one that will benefit your health for a long time to come. The Good of Vegetarianism Sometimes the only thing really holding you back from making the big step of becoming a vegetarian is to come to a firm grasp of what good you will get from it. Too often we see eating right and cutting meat from our diet as a drudgery and something we "should do" but we don't want to. But becoming a vegetarian is a big life change and one that you should make with every intent of remaining a vegetarian for life. The only way to make that kind of life change "stick" is to have some concrete and desirable positive outcomes that you will realize from the change. If there is "something in it for you" besides being seen as a good person because you "should" do it, you will embrace the change more enthusiastically. One big advantage that a vegetarian lifestyle can bring you is that it is a lot less fuss to life as a vegetarian and it is far less expensive. It doesn't take a very extensive trip to the grocery store to realize that even a small slab of steak or a pound of hamburger is far more expensive than a head of cabbage or a bunch of carrots. Your food costs can plummet if you simplify your life and eat only meatless dishes. And your food will last longer in storage. One advantage that many new converts to vegetarianism notice but that don't get much coverage is how much better their digestive systems will work without the heavy load that meat places on your insides. Not only will you digest your food more easily, you will not feel that "heavy and sluggish" sensation and you will sleep better and even have better sex. That is because the negative impact of animal muscle on your intestines will disappear. You will also notice it in your lower intestines and your elimination. In every way, the functioning of your internal mechanisms will be much smoother when you only give it meatless meals to live on. The health benefits are probably the motivation that convinces most people to adopt a meat free diet. The simple fact is that science has proven that humans are not natural meat eaters. Yes we can live on meat but our systems are not well suited to digest the heavy food that meat represents in your digestive system. Many of the most chronic national health problems can be traced to meat consumption. Everything from obesity to cancer to heart disease to aging seems to be linked to the consumption of meat. Because meat is so much more difficult on our internal systems to digest, utilize and eliminate, the impact on your insides is devastating. Vegetarians do not suffer with as high an incidence of colon cancer, heart disease or obesity. As many high priced weight loss programs as there are, there may be no more effective one and one that can be done for virtually no cost is to just stop eating meat. You rarely meet a fat vegetarian because there is just not very much in a nonfat meal to become fat. Vegetables quickly convert to energy, deliver vitamins to your systems and the remnant leave your system without difficulty so your metabolism will naturally speed up so you lose weight. The moral, ethical and spiritual reasons for becoming a vegetarian are also well known. Many religions call for a diet of no meat and frequent fasting. A vegetarian diet gives you much greater control over your appetite so you can observe religious disciplines that call for physical denial for a short time and get all of the spiritual good from them. Besides the spiritual values, more and more people are becoming aware that eating meat is unethical or immoral. It is not "kooky" or crazy to see that the raising of animals for us to kill and eat seems barbaric for an evolved culture such as ours. It is easy to find horror stories of the gruesome ways that animals are slaughtered to become our food. To become part of the solution rather part of the problem is appealing to many people who have a conscience. And vegetarianism is part of the solution that if all of us embraced vegetarianism, it would be a better world for everyone. Getting Restaurants in on the Act Its one thing to move into a vegetarian discipline when it comes to preparing your meals at home. But things get more complicated when you go out to eat because you must be prepared to order appropriately at a restaurant so you get good foods but foods that are in line with your vegetarian way of life. The first order of business that should rank high on your priorities early in your vegetarian career is to find and try all of the vegetarian restaurants in town. This list will come in handy when enjoying some social time with like minded vegetarians or to eat on the run or from work. Also these will be the kinds of restaurants where you can learn what kinds of recipes to look for and what you like in a vegetarian order. But you won't take all your meals with other vegetarians. If you are like most of us, you share your life with friends, loved ones and coworkers who are not part of the vegetarian lifestyle. So learning to find good vegetarian alternatives in all of the restaurants is one of the skills you will become adept at the longer you remain a vegetarian which is hopefully for life. One trick is that if you have a vote in the kind of restaurant to choose, go for Chinese or Italian. Chinese restaurants often have some great meatless offerings already on their menu so you can order vegetarian and not even raise anyone suspicions. Similarly because you find so many dishes in an Italian restaurant that are pasta only, you can order a veggie pizza or just pasta with a nice sauce or maybe some broccoli and enjoy a fine dinner that is totally in step with your vegetarian rules. Any restaurant that already has a good selection of meatless dishes that are not set apart as vegetarian are a good choice because you can dine with your non-vegetarian friends and family members and not call attention to the differences between you and them. And since most restaurants have a good salad menu, that is always a fall back in any restaurant situation. If your vegetarian regimen is vegan so you must also avoid milk, eggs, cheese or anything cooked in chicken or meat stock, you will have to kick your vigilance up a notch. The good news is that the vegetarian movement has become so large and wide spread that many restaurants want to accommodate their vegetarian customers. By letting your waiter know of your diet restrictions, he or she can guide you to the items on the menu that fit your requirements. It is not uncommon to see the manager or chef of the restaurant come to the table to help you make a choice. Restaurants are in the business of satisfying customers so they want to make sure you are happy with their menu offerings. And by enlisting the aid of your restaurant staff in a cooperative and friendly way, you send a positive message to your dining companions that you can live a vegetarian lifestyle and still be a happy member of the community in which you live. Most of us have a short list of restaurants that we frequent often. But every restaurant you go to wants to be on that short list and make you a valued customer. So network with your vegetarian friends and do your homework up front to find out which restaurants do well at accommodating the lifestyle of their vegetarian or vegan customers. Then develop your strategy for handling any situation where you find yourself eating out so you can come out of that experience with a good meal that fits your lifestyle and not miss out on the great social times that we associate with the eating out experience. But What if Your Sweetheart Loves Meat? The vegetarian culture is one that fosters a certain "snootiness" because of our insistence on pure foods. It is also easy to get a superior attitude because vegetarian living is clearly a superior way to live from a health perspective and because so often our reasons for becoming a vegetarian is grounded in moral, ethical or religious values. And this is all well and good as long as you are functioning within the vegetarian community exclusively. But what if your sweetheart is a meat eater? If the one you are dating, engaged to or even married to is not a vegetarian, that can lead to some pretty delicate moments. The last thing the vegetarian movement is about is hostility. So we have to have some guidelines on how to live in peace and harmony if your romantic partner has not joined you in your the vegetarian lifestyle. Of course, one resolution is for your sweetheart to become a vegetarian with you. You could go with the argument of, "well if you loved me you would give up meat." But forcing someone to join the vegetarian community out of guilt is a terrible reason to make that change of life. Your sweetheart will just resent giving up a food he or she loves and will probably cheat and eat meat when not around you. That kind of tension, resentment and deception is no grounds for a long term love affair. A better way is to come to terms with your differences, find ways to live with them and then see if down the road, your sweetheart might convert of his own free will. The first step, as is true of any conflict in an intimate relationship, is to talk about your differences openly. Sit down and talk about where each of you is on this issue. Agree to disagree. But also agree to find compromises and not to hold the other in contempt or to mock the other for the life choices he or she has made. By reaching a loving agreement, each of you can allow the other to be who he or she is and the romance can continue as the dietary dispute is resolved peacefully. Together you can look for restaurants that offer both vegetarian dishes and meat dishes so each of you can get what you want. Now you don't have to go to a restaurant that shouts in its advertising "We Serve Vegetarians!" All a good restaurant needs is a few good menu entries that are meatless and you can find what you want while your sweetheart enjoys a meat dish. Most good restaurants offer a tempting salad offering that you can customize so any meat, bacon bits, boiled eggs or even cheese are left out. By working together to build a good list of restaurants both of you can enjoy, you have a compromise for date nights that will last a long time. Finding ways for both of you to enjoy your diet of choice is a good long term step. But your loved one may have a misconception that vegetarian food can't taste good. So make a deal that he or she might try it one night. Then you can put your best foot forward by preparing a sumptuous vegetarian meal that nobody can resist. But be aware that if you do try to make such a deal, you might have to agree to let your sweetheart try to convert you back to the meat eating world with a sumptuous home made meat based meal. If that is not ok with you, don't make the deal. Above all, don't mock or look upon your sweetheart's choice of diet with distain or disgust. Don't make the "eww" face each time your date has a hamburger or a hot dog. Come to the point that you can live with meat eaters and not feel repulsed when others eat the foods you don't approve of. After all, you would not your date to make the "eww" face when you had a tofu burger or a big plate of steaming vegetables instead of meat. So treat each other with respect and love. Over time that approach will result in the best long term love affair and maybe even see you come to a time when he or she sees the light and joins you in the joys of vegetarianism. Be a Good House Guest and a Good Vegetarian When you are learning the ropes of your new lifestyle of being a vegetarian, every aspect of life will be affected. From work to home life to eating out, you have to have a strategy for how to maintain your vegetarian discipline and still enjoy these different situations of life that are important to you. One of the situations we all find ourselves in, albeit perhaps infrequently, is when you are a house guest of a friend or relative. In that situation, you are going to find yourself under the hospitality perhaps of a person who is not a vegetarian. So you have to find a way to keep your diet healthy and proper and still be a good house guest. While your desire to live a life free of the eating of meat and perhaps a meat byproducts like eggs and milk is not a eating disability, it is an eating limitation. If you had a food allergy, perhaps to shell fish and you were going to stay as a house guest with someone, you would not feel any guilt letting them know your problem. If you can put your vegetarian lifestyle in that context and prepare for your visit accordingly, there doesn't have to be any "stigma" or guilt or problems bringing up your dietary needs with your host. Your host, after all, naturally wants you to enjoy your stay in their home. Anyone who is hosting has a natural instinct to make your stay comfortable and perfect. You can capitalize on that instinct and be polite about the desire your host has to make your stay go well but working with your host to let him or her know about your vegetarian diet and how it might impact food planning. When you get the invitation to come for a stay, that is the time to discuss what you can and cannot eat in your vegetarian discipline. If you just avoid meat and not dairy and meat byproducts, it is very likely your host or hostess can prepare their regular meals but also put together a small main dish that fits your diet needs. And you can enjoy the vegetable side dishes all you want so by working with your hosts, you can easily integrate how you eat into their meal planning and not disrupt the visit. But also be aware that there are items that your host may not supply that you may wish to bring with you or go get after your arrival. If you need soy milk because cows milk is not part of your diet regimen, by all means bring that in so your hosts are aware you are taking care of your own needs. Just let them know what you are providing for yourself and if the communication goes well, you can be accommodated and your hosts will be grateful that you did not see it as their job to provide for every aspect of your vegetarian program. The other side of being a good house guest and not letting your vegetarian way of life be a problem is to be both open about your discipline and not judgmental or "preachy" to others about the fact that they have not made the same diet decisions you have made. In fact, you might even offer to prepare an entirely vegetarian meal for the host family and your own one night just to demonstrate to them just how delightful and tasty meat free eating can be. You may be surprised just how interested and fascinated your friends and family are about your diet and why you are a vegetarian. And by being friendly, open, loving and easy to talk to, you make the visit more interesting, fun and warm and you may even be able to educate your hosts and maybe your own family about why your vegetarian way of life is a good one. Your Vegetarian Baby Most of us have to make a transition from a meat eating diet to a vegetarian one. And while the outcome is one you are happy about, that transition is sometimes difficult. And once you have made the conversion, its easy to regret the years you were a meat eater. So if you were able to maintain a good vegetarian diet throughout pregnancy, you are in the position to start your child off in life as a pure vegetarian with no previous exposure to meat at all. What a wonderful gift. Now whether you decide to breast feed is very much an individual choice and may be driven by your ability physically. If you do go that route, you can continue the higher vitamin levels that your pregnancy in your diet. By keeping your diet pure and of a high vitamin content, you are continuing to pass that good quality vegetarian diet on to your baby each week he or she depends on you for breast milk. Your vegetarian grocery or market will be a huge benefit to you in finding formulas and baby foods to turn to when the time to wean the baby comes along. Soy formulas are a great way to keep the protein and vitamin quality high in baby's first foods and still stay away from anything animal related. In addition to your vegetarian market, the internet is full of great information about how to supply your baby with great vegetarian formulas early in life. Combine that with the advice you can get from other vegetarian mothers who have gone down this path before you and you have great resources to draw on to give your baby just what she needs in these first months. You may get some advice from those who are not in touch with the vegetarian lifestyle to put the child on cows milk as a next step from breast milk. But be sure you hold your ground because this transition is a critical one and your plans to raise your children in a pure vegetarian or vegan house depend on keeping to your plans and not going to cows milk in the little one's infancy. Also do not allow too much iron in your babies diet. The higher iron in your system helped your infant be born with a surplus so you can ease off on that level of vitamin content during the first months of life. This is why soy formula is a good choice because the vitamin content is a good fit to what your baby needs. However do not give the baby soy milk but stick with customized baby products for the first year. Soy milk is not designed for newborns. Around six months of age, you can start to give your baby vegetable based cereals. Rice cereal is a great choice as it is the right consistency for a little one to digest. Again, you can find good nutritious baby foods to use for the first year in your vegetarian market or you can get good with your food processor and create your own baby foods for her from fresh produce. That is the best way because all of the nutrition is there right out of the food processor. You already have a good feel for the best combinations of foods from your own vegetarian diet and the diet you have your children on if they too are vegetarians so you can adapt those recipes to fit what you prepare for baby. But don't neglect to continue your education by finding vegetarian based baby books about introducing all natural foods to your child as each month goes by. By being careful, there is no reason you cannot take your baby from birth through toddlerhood using all natural, vegetarian recipes all the way. The little one will develop a natural love of vegetable flavors and he or she will be off and running on lifelong love of foods that are not from the meat food groups at all. Vegetarians are NOT Crazy One of the things that often holds up a lot of people from considering a lifestyle of vegetarianism is a negative stereotype of vegetarians that is really not at all accurate. Of course there are extremists in any discipline and the same is true of vegetarians or vegans. Its good to dig a bit deeper and put any preconceptions on hold that might be holding you back from what would be a wonderful lifestyle choice. It is true that the vegetarian way of life can be part of a larger spiritual discipline as well. But you can get a lot of good from a life of vegetarian eating even if it is not part of your religious or moral life. So if you are hesitant to explore making a switch to a vegetarian diet, you don't have to also join a new religious or social community to get just as much out of it as anyone. When you begin to explore the work of vegetarian disciplines, you will find a wide variety of types of people who enjoy the lifestyle. The vegetarian "community" is a diverse population with cultures of people who are at various levels of commitment to the vegetarian lifestyle. There is not reason to have guilt or fear that if you wish to start out slowly. In fact, starting out just easing into a vegetarian way of life is a good way to find out where in the discipline you feel comfortable. The first myth about becoming a vegetarian to overcome then is the idea that as soon as you make a commitment to start cutting meat from your diet, you will necessarily become part of some strange eastern cult that will change your beliefs and your way of life. The huge majority of people who make a vegetarian lifestyle their own are normal people just like you. It might surprise you if you found out that its very likely that many of your neighbors and coworkers are quietly enjoying a lifestyle of vegetarian living. And becoming a vegetarian does NOT "turn you into" some kind of obnoxious wild eyed religious fanatic. In fact, you can enjoy all the benefits of being a vegetarian and live happily among others who are not following your diet choices. And you can be a vegetarian and develop a reasonable diet that still allows you to get your protein from cheese, fish and other traditional sources as you cut out the more conspicuous sources of protein such as beef and chicken. Just as it's a good thing for you to get over the idea that becoming a vegetarian is some kind of strange or "bizarre" idea, you should discard quickly any fears that you will be seen as odd or peculiar when you inform your friends and loved ones you have made this lifestyle choice. There is no "coming out of the closet" to becoming a vegetarian. As long as it is as natural as switching to low fat milk from whole milk to you, it will be natural to your friends and loved ones. The people you know well will watch your behavior closely to see if there is any reason to worry about you in making this change. If they detect you are going to be angry at them for not following you into vegetarianism or that you are going to become "an evangelist" for living without meat, then they will become nervous and avoid you, especially at meal time. But if your vegetarian lifestyle is a choice you can make without disrupting the lives of others and one you can live in harmony with others who are not vegetarians, you will demonstrate to them that it is no problem that you just eat different things than they do and that above all vegetarians are NOT crazy. Vegetarianism the Easy Way "Make it easy on yourself." I like that phrase. And it's a good motto for learning a new skill or going through a big life transition. When you decide to explore becoming a vegetarian, it is very easy to get scared off by what appears to be a difficult road ahead. But the truth is, there is an easy way and a hard way to become a vegetarian. So in keeping with our motto of the day of "make it easy on yourself", lets discuss vegetarianism the easy way. First of all along with learning a new way to eat, you are also giving up something you probably have loved to eat for years. So to reduce the difficulty in going through this transition, don't try to accomplish the entire transition in one day. We have a mistaken concept about vegetarians that the conversion is instantaneous as though one day the person was eating all the meat he or she could find and in a flash they became a robe wearing, mantra singing vegetarian. But that is complete myth. Most successful vegetarians found there way into the discipline in stages and gave up meat slowly. You might take on your vegetarian transition one meal at a time. First give up eggs and bacon for breakfast and switch to grain cereals or pancakes. Don't try to give up cheese and milk at first. Select specific items you will eliminate from specific meals and just accomplish that for a week or so. Then once you have conquered that step, add lunch and then much later add dinner. And don't throw your hands up and give up if you have a moment of weakness and have a hamburger one day. You wont be drummed out of the vegetarian society for one mistake in your program. Just get back with it and keep on keeping on. Find ways to see some success by being reasonable and sensible about how you approach your meal planning. If one of your goals for switching to a meatless diet is to lose weight, don't substitute sugars and sweats for the meat. If you find yourself eating without meat but each day you have a big bowl of fruit drowned in sugary additives, you won't lose the weight and you might mistakenly think your program failed you. Think about what you eat so you don't sabotage your own diet. One of the things that scares a lot of people away from trying vegetarianism is the idea of having to learn to eat exotic and expensive new foods such as tofu, and tempeh. So make it easy on yourself and eat the foods you know. By doing your shopping in your own grocery store and buying more food from the produce section than the meat section, you will be working with foods like carrots, onions, garlic, broccoli, celery and cabbage and that familiarity will make the transition to becoming a vegetarian easier to take. Also by shopping where you are comfortable and eating "normal" foods, you eliminate the sensation that you are joining some bizarre cult. Now make it fun. Yes it can be fun to be a vegetarian. You can start shopping at farmer's markets instead at the boring grocery store and select very fresh produce and vegetables for your next cooking experiment. Not only are outdoor markets more fun, you will find them cheaper so instead of seeing your food budget go up because of becoming a vegetarian, it goes down. Then by working as a family to find fun vegetarian recipes and working together to make them, everybody gets in on the act discovering how delicious vegetarian meals can be. And when you are having fun, you may forget entirely that you dreaded this transition. Before long, you are a vegetarian and it didn't hurt a bit! Vegetarian on a Budget In many family budgets, one of the biggest food expenses is often meat. So in theory at least becoming a vegetarian should be an outstanding financial maneuver. In theory, if all you ate was rice and vegetables, you should be able to live for very little. But theory and reality are often far apart from each other. Because the culture of vegetarian living has developed so many high quality foods to fill the gap left behind by a good steak or a plate of barbeque ribs, you can spend as much or more on your vegetarian lifestyle as you did when you were a meat eater. The high cost of living as a vegetarian is not entire attributable to gourmet foods however. The truth is if you are going to live in day in day out and month in month out on a vegetarian diet, not only do you need some high quality foods to substitute for taking a whole food group out of your diet, you need variety. The quality is needed because its your health on the line if you don't get the proper nutrients. The diversity is needed because if you get bored with the vegetarian lifestyle, you may quit and give up. And nobody wants that. Another reason that the cost of vegetarian eating is often higher than a "normal" diet comes from the fact that vegetarians are still in the minority. So prepared vegetarian foods and vegetarian only restaurants are rare. And to be able to make a profit, these specialty stores must charge a lot because they are specialty stores. Unfortunately, even though we see the vegetarian community as a supportive one, if you are going to be able to afford the vegetarian lifestyle, you are going to have to learn to cut costs. Cutting costs means eliminating shopping at "boutique" vegetarian markets and no more eating out. Or at least it means cutting down on the eating out significantly. You can buy fresh vegetables and fruits at farmers markets or grocery stores that are just as valid as vegetarian options as any you get as a specialty store. Using a good food processor and other means, you can chop, dice, boil and puree just about any kind of vegetarian meal that you might be able to imagine getting in a restaurant. And at a much lower cost. Not only that but the leftovers can go into a compost pile to make fertilizer for your garden when you can grow your own vegetables next spring. That "grower to consumer" market that often surfaces as a farmer's market is a great way to save lots of money also because you are buying your produce directly from the farmer and you cut the grocery store out of the loop entirely. One way to make sure you capitalize on every opportunity to buy inexpensive produce is to work as a community. Get about a dozen vegetarian families working together to always be on the lookout for a great buy. One might find a small farmer's market or roadside stand that is selling produce far below grocery store prices. Another might find a farmer who will basically give his food away just to clear the field. With some coordination, you could field an army of vegetarians to grab those bargains while they are fresh and stock everybody's kitchen with low cost fresh produce. These are just a few of many ways you can find to save money on your vegetarian groceries and still have just as much quality but without as much cost. By shopping smart and shopping for bargains, you can live the vegetarian life and feel good about it because you are not only healthy, you are smart.
The Vegetarian Quality of Life It is unfortunate that many people are not very understanding of why it is difficult for people who are not exposed to the vegetarian philosophy cannot understand why living without meat in your diet is not only a better way to live, it is a better way to eat as well. but unless you were born a vegetarian and raised that way, there was some point when you went through that transition. You may be able to remember thinking that vegetarians were nutty and when you could not imagine a meal that did not have a meat as its core ingredient. Society doesn't help us evolve toward a meat free world. For one thing, there is an entire industry devoted to keeping us hooked on meats. While that may not be as sinister and frightening as industries keeping us hooked on cigarettes, it does mean that these industries must thrive on raising and selling meat so there is no "understanding" coming from these powerful lobbies. Restaurants often are also not helpful when 90% of their menu offerings are meat based and when they do serve the meals, they are such large portions that their guests naturally eat too much and the wrong things at that. Fortunately the vegetarian way of life is becoming more common and more understood every year. As more and more people see the value of becoming a vegetarian and how much their quality of life will improve, the vegetarian culture continues to grow. And as the population moves in this direction, business will follow and we will see more and more businesses and restaurants wanting to serve a growing vegetarian population. When you see McDonalds offering salads and vegetable alternatives as they have done in the last few years, you know that the vegetarian quality of life is getting to be more well known. Its good for those of us that can plainly see that the difference in quality of life as a vegetarian compared to before the transition is as different as night and day to be able to have some understanding for our cultural bias toward meat eating. After all, civilization has been meat based for a long time. Perhaps as far back as the caveman days, the male urge to hunt meat for food is deeply ingrained in us as a species. So to switch to becoming a culture that hunts for vegetables rather than meats is going to be a difficult transition at a cultural level and it is going to take some time. We should take heart from other large scale changes to how culture works because as a people, we can change. The migration away from smoking is a great example. Just a scant 20 or so years ago, smoking was considered a natural way of life and almost everybody smoked. As the dangers of smoking became more evident and as the quality of life nonsmokers enjoyed became more clear, slowly society responded. This is not to say the change came easy. Giving up meat may be as difficult for some as giving up cigarettes is. But we now live in a world where public smoking is rare and the percentage of smokers to nonsmokers in society is small. That is progress and we can use that movement as inspiration that we too can bring society around to understand that giving up meat as the heart of our national diet will result in a higher quality of life for everyone. The Vegetarian Mom to Be Whether you are already a vegetarian and have learned you were pregnant or you are adopting the vegetarian lifestyle along with your pregnancy, its important to be aware of the special needs of your body and the body of that infant inside you so you supplement your diet appropriately for a healthy pregnancy. For obvious reasons, calcium is one of the biggest concerns for your diet if you are taking meat out of your meal planning. If you have not already eliminated milk and cheese from your diet but are at the level of vegetarian meal planning of just eliminating meat, it might be wise to leave those other items in your diet for the course of your pregnancy so you have a natural and abundant source of calcium and protein in those diary products. But there are other sources of calcium you can draw on from your diet including tofu, broccoli, green leafy vegetables and others. Next to Calcium, Vitamin D is a big need for the development of your pregnancy. Rather than resort to pills, there is a natural source of plenty of vitamin D - sunlight. By getting about twenty minutes of good sunshine each day, you will natural absorb the vitamin D you need. But be sure you go out in a weak sunlight without sun block so you get the good of your time outdoors but don't get a sunburn. If you cannot get direct sunlight one day due to weather or other hindrances, you can get some Vitamin D from cereals and milk if that is allowed in your diet. B12 can be a problem on a vegetable diet because it is not abundant just in plants. You can get B12 from soy milk or using vitamin enhanced cereals that will give you the levels you need. Just remember when reading the vitamin ingredient panel on cereals that the minimum daily requirements listed there are not for pregnant women. You will have to dig a bit deeper to know what the actual values of B12 requirements are and how much you need to supplement your diet to continue a healthy pregnancy. So consult with your doctor to know exactly what to do to keep your nutrition levels up. Your doctor can also help you modify your vegetarian diet plan to accommodate the extra vitamin needs of a growing baby inside you. Iron is a big requirement for women in any stage of life because of the increased demand during menstruation. But during pregnancy, that need is even more critical and the levels of iron your body needs are much greater, especially in the later stages of pregnancy. Good sources of iron include beans, molasses, seeds, leafy vegetables and nuts. Some cereals and breads are also iron supplemented but as before, make sure the levels are what you need nutritionally. And if you are not getting a full compliment of iron each day, don't be shy about turning to vitamin supplements. Any vegetarian diet must be balanced so you get enough protein in your system because for most of us, meat, cheese and milk are our primary sources of protein. But because that little one is growing rapidly inside you, your need for protein is even more important. You can get plenty of protein if your vegetarian meal plans are well rounded and includes soy milk and other natural sources of protein. But be aware of the need and organize your daily diet accordingly. Zink is another vitamin that often gets overlooked and the need for it in vegetarian diet supporting pregnancy is great. So put some thought into making sure you get your Zink from whole grains and other forms of natural foods. You may become a bit of a nutritional expert during your pregnancy but if you do, that's a worthwhile area of knowledge. Early in your pregnancy, consult your doctor about vitamin supplements to keep on hand. While it is preferable to get your nutrition from your foods and you want to enjoy as natural a pregnancy as possible, don't hesitate to turn to these supplements if the need comes up. The Teenage Vegetarian Because the younger generation is often more in touch with world culture than adults, teenagers are in general more attuned to the environmental movement, to issues involving organic farming and with the reasons for becoming a vegetarian. So as more and more teenagers experiment with vegetarianism, the better informed they are about what it really means to live meat free, the better. Then even if they do not continue their lifestyle as a vegetarian, their experience was an educational one and they will be well informed should be chose to continue as a vegetarian in later life. For parents of teenagers who wish to explore the vegetarian lifestyle, there are more reasons to celebrate than worry. There are numerous health benefits to developing a vegetarian diet and if their new passion reduces the amount of fast food and junk food they eat, that's a good thing. You will naturally worry if your teenager is getting enough protein if they forgo the eating of meat. By helping them learn about a well rounded vegan or vegetarian diet, they can derive all of their nutritional needs from natural foods and realize the many benefits of a vegetarian life along the way. A basic level of knowledge your teen should become educated about early on is the various scales of severity that they can "go for" in their move into a vegetarian lifestyle. Many times a teenager just wants to be able to stake the claim to being a vegetarian. In that case, simply giving up meat may be sufficient. It is possible to design a program like that and still enjoy cheese, eggs, fish and diary and the transition to such a diet is not as extreme. Another word of caution that your teen may take to heart if they seek adult counsel about trying a vegetarian lifestyle is the difficulty of making the transition. Teenagers are naturally impulsive and extreme so they may just "go vegetarian" in one day so they can go to school and lay claim to the title. But they can still have that reward and plan to ease into a vegetarian discipline and avoid the problems that an extreme change of diet can cause, especially for active teen bodies. For example, even if the new teen vegetarian just excludes meat from one meal, that still counts as starting their path toward a meat free life. And if that is not sufficient for your youngster, just cutting meat out of lunch and dinner may be enough. One of the biggest concerns that you should help your teen be ware of is their vitamin needs in any new diet program. While a switch to a total vegetable diet will have many positive influences, you should make sure they are getting enough protein and other essential vitamins that they used to get from meat in their diet. Calcium, B12, zinc and iron are all essential vitamins especially to young people that must be found elsewhere if they decide to stop eating meat. You can help your teenager enjoy a successful exploration of the vegetarian lifestyle and not face health risks by just being aware of their vitamin needs and making sure they get those vitamins in pill form until their food replacement program gets them way they need. It's a tricky walk to guide a teenager through an interest in a vegetarian life because it is possible that many of the new foods they will have to get used to may not have the right tastes which will tempt them to give up the program. While as a parent you can have an influence over making their home life vegetarian diet a success, you may need to help them understand that their choices are limited when eating out so they are prepared to make the sacrifice for the sake of staying within their vegetarian guidelines. Even though teenagers are compulsive and extreme, deep down they do not want to get sick or eat the wrong things. It's a balancing act to allow they to try things like becoming a vegetarian and for us as parents to both do all we can to make it a good experience but also to bring the wisdom they count on their elders for so they can explore the vegetarian lifestyle fully and then walk away form it if they wish and have learned a little bit about vegetarians along the way. The Social Vegetarian Whenever you make a major change in your lifestyle, having a strong support group around you is crucial. And the decision to become a vegetarian is definitely a major change of lifestyle. So one of the best ways you can ensure your success in making this transition is to build a strong support structure around you for support, friendship and advice. This does not mean you are not going to continue to maintain your existing friendships and relationships. But our friendship network is always going to reflect our values. And when you make the change to a vegetarian way of life, your values to reflect the new priorities in your life. So you will want to be able to spend time with people who not only understand your reasons for becoming a vegetarian but know the ins and out of the lifestyle you are learning. So making it an ambition to find new friendships in the vegetarian community makes good sense. The vegetarian movement is closely tied to the "green" and organic movements so you can find "haunts" around town where these kinds of people gather. Natural food stores or even clothing stores that focus on organic materials will also have a clientele that are no doubt vegetarian. Vegetarianism is also popular on college campuses and in the bohemian parts of society so you may find a good resource of new friends in those cafe's and coffee houses. And these populations will provide you with very colorful and fascinating people as to build a support group around as well. While you are visiting these local "hang outs" where the vegetarian community shops or dines, keep an eye on the public bulletin boards or other announcement resources. There you will find lecture series, clubs, vegetarian cooking classes and schools and other social events where the vegetarian community will gather. Any costs associated with being involved with these kinds of organizations and taking classes that further your knowledge of the vegetarian lifestyle will pay off. Not only will you learn a lot, you will come out of such events with plenty of new friends you can use to build your new vegetarian social world around. The larger vegetarian world is a rich source of information for you about your new lifestyle. By subscribing to newsletters and researching vegetarian issues at the library or your local public library, you are going to be drawn to the local vegetarian subculture as well. By being proactive in finding new social contacts, your support group will grow quickly. The internet is another rich source of new friendships and vegetarian social contacts that you can explore entirely online but might open up new contacts for you locally as well. Message boards, newsletters, email lists and chat rooms that are devoted to the vegetarian lifestyle. These online sources will also point you to local events and new groups forming up based on the vegetarian way of life. But you can take the initiative and build an online community that you then sponsor social gatherings. By having your new vegetarian friends over to share recipes, enjoy a dinner and talk about vegetarian, green and healthy living issues, you not only make new friends that understand you, you are making the vegetarian community stronger for the next person who might come along after you who will also need the support and friendship of you and others in your local setting to encourage their big step into this lifestyle. Soup Skills of Vegetarians If anything could be considered the heart of great vegetarian cooking it would be the soup. Because soup gives the cook so much freedom to combine various vegetables and herbs, the variety of tastes and consistencies is virtually endless. And because soups capture almost all of the nutrients of the cooking process in the soups stock, it is a dish that meets the highest of nutritional standards will being delicious, hearty and satisfying at the same time. Another great thing about basing your vegetarian diet plan on soups and stews is that it fits so well with a busy modern lifestyle. Just because you are a vegetarian, you still are busy with work, family and social responsibilities. But with a big crock pot, you can put together a soup for the family that is just as good as if you had labored over it for hours. And when everyone has had their fill of soup, there is no waste because every drop of the excess can be refrigerated for another meal later or frozen be on hand down the road. All of these aspects of soups fill perfectly with the vegetarian way of life. Creativity should become the guiding principle of your soup planning particularly if you are going to make soups every week for your vegetarian family. Naturally you will have your favorite recopies that everybody will clamor for each week. But every so often, start with a basic soup stock and then get creative from there. You can use as a foundation for y our soup the basics of onions, garlic and the base vegetables such as carrots or celery. But many vegetables will serve well as "surprise guests" in your soup of the week that will not show up every week. Such vegetables as potatoes, cabbage, peppers, cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes and many more can add tremendous variety to your soup tastes and keep the soup concept constantly new and fresh as a staple of your vegetarian family meal planning. One cooking skill you should invest some time in to become a top notch vegetarian soup cook is to know your spices. A soup can get pretty bland even with the best of ingredients but the wise and clever use of spices can make a soup come alive with flavor. Each soup ingredient interacts with spices differently. And you can change the very nature of a soup with nothing more than the addition of a few spices. With the addition of cumin and chili powder, a routine tomato soup becomes vegetarian chili. With the addition of Mexican spices, a run of the mill bean soup becomes vegetarian taco soup that can be as spicy as you want it to be. So learn to experiment with spices and get to know what kind of personality different spices like oregano, thyme, rosemary, lemon extract, cilantro and parsley can add to your soup. Soups are also a wonderful way to blend in lots of different ingredients that your family might not otherwise eat. And since a big priority in vegetarian meal planning is to assure that your family gets the proper nutrition from each meal, you can add beans, rice, tofu and other staples from the vegetarian pantry to expand the nutritional value of your soup so it not only is delicious, it is filling and very healthy as well. It is possible that at times your family may grow tired of soup after soup. So you might want to experiment with thickening the soup so that by the end of the preparation process, you have a stew that is just as good as soup but has much less liquid broth to present to your hungry vegetarians. Many cooks use cornstarch or flour to turn the broth into more of a paste before serving. Another clever device is to use instant potatoes that are sold in packages of flakes. By sprinkling a package into your soup, the flakes will soak up the soup and add that rich potato flavor to your stew. Have fun with your soup creations and always be on the lookout for new and interesting soup recipes. The vegetarian web sites and blogs are a constant source of new innovations on the standard soup idea. But by being creative and vigilant in keeping your soups always new and fun, you can use the basic concept as the cornerstone of your vegetarian cooking for many years. Low Fuss Vegetarian Cooking "I can't become a vegetarian because I don't have the time to work up complicated vegetarian meals." That is a common misconception about what it means to life the lifestyle of a vegetarian. Oh yes, it is possible to become a fanatic about exotic vegetarian meals or to become so extreme about limiting not only meat but anything but vegetables from your diet that meal planning and preparation has to become the only other thing in your life other than work, school or taking care of your family. But as is true in any area of life, there are the extremes and the fanatics and then there is how the rest of us live. Most vegetarians are not full time devotees to their desire to live meat free. So these hard working friends and coworkers of yours who have "gone vegetarian" have found ways to prepare good wholesome meals with little fuss so they can work a healthy diet into an already busy lifestyle. We can learn a lot from how they do it so we don't let the alleged "fuss" of being vegetarian stop us from enjoying all the benefits this lifestyle can bring. In truth, vegetarian eating should by its very nature be easier than preparing meals with meats because few of us eat raw meat but most of us can eat raw vegetables and enjoy them. So with some well thought out grocery shopping, you can keep the basics on hand so the vegetarians in your household can come home and put together a fast vegetarian meal with very little difficulty. Many vegetarian families take a weekend afternoon and go to the store together to stock up on things they know they will turn to for meals throughout the week. By making sure you keep wholesome breads, fresh fruit and vegetables and cereals around all the time, your family can grab a quick breakfast of toast and cereal which will serve them well all day long. That night, anyone in the family can combine fresh vegetables and lettuce or spinach into a salad quickly and dine like a gourmet in a matter of moments. Remember to keep the little extras that make a salad special on hand such as nuts, shredded carrots, cheese if your diet permits it and a good variety of low fat salad dressings so you always have a salad to fall back on for a quick and easy evening meal. The crock pot is the savior of many a working family and the same is true for vegetarians. Few vegetables do not go together well in a soup or a stew. So with a little planning, you can put together a delicious blend of vegetables, beans and spices in the crock pot in the morning and have a steamy and delicious meal waiting for you when you walk in the door after work. And with a couple cups of water, you create a rich and nutritious stock that goes well with the meal or can be used afterwards as the base for rice or another dish and that carries all the nutrients of the original crock pot soup with it with each new meal. The microwave oven can also do a lot to help your vegetarian cooking be easy to do. With a little low fat cooking spray, you can saute onions, peppers, potatoes, garlic and many other ingredients that can come out of the crock pot ready to be used in a simple dinner recipe. A fall back for easy dinner cooking is to prepare a good sized bowl of freshly warmed or sauteed vegetables and combine that with two cups of brown rice cooked in vegetable broth (from a previous soup) and a can of low far soup. The result is a fast stew that will be gobbled up by your family. There is no reason to avoid the vegetarian lifestyle because you are a busy family. If anything by embracing vegetarianism, you are embracing a more simple way of life that works very well with an active work and family life. And you will be eating healthier as well which benefits everyone along the way. Living With Meat Eaters Sometimes the biggest obstacle you face when you make a decision to become a vegetarian is not adapting to your new diet. It could be that an even bigger challenge is how to deal with your relationship with friends, family and coworkers as you make your new devotion to a vegetarian lifestyle known to them. So it's a good idea to think through the issues you may encounter so you can smoothly integrate your new passion for vegetarian living with your lifestyle in general. When someone who is not a vegetarian learns of your decision, their first reaction may be shock and confusion. You may remember when you first learned of the vegetarian way of life, there are a lot of misperceptions that becoming a vegetarian means you are converting to a strange religion and that you are no longer the same person you used to be. You may see that reaction in the eyes of your family, friends or coworkers and mixed in with a concern that you have "gone off the deep end" is a worry that you will no longer be able to enjoy meals with them or, worst case, you will become pushy that they too join you in your new diet and belief system. The best way to make sure your relationships with others is not adversely changed by your new lifestyle is to think out how you will tell others and how to manage their reactions. Much of how you craft the way you present your feelings about becoming a vegetarian will reflect your reasons for adopting this new lifestyle. If you are interested in vegetarian eating primarily for diet purposes, its natural we all have our own diet preferences. A diet driven vegetarian regime is something that should not cause any uneasiness in those you are close with. The key then is to present your decision to become a vegetarian so they know it is primarily a health and diet choice. If they know that there are not large ethical or religious issues in your decision, that will take much of the "stigma" of becoming a vegetarian out of your time together, even during meal time. Your openness about your diet decisions will be very important to the ones in your life who buy the food and prepare it. If you can find recipes that can be integrated with the meat eaters recipes so the cook (even if that is you) doesn't have to prepare two full meals, that takes a lot of the overhead out of living in a house of meat lovers and still maintaining your vegetarian standards. If your reasons for becoming a vegetarian are ethical or religious, then the more you foster open communication will make all the difference. First of all, decide where you stand on being with others who do not share your views. After all, deciding to become a vegetarian out of your desire for ethical treatment of animals is a noble cause. But we all have to deal with the fact that not everybody shares our views. So if you are avoiding meat for that reason and a close friend or relative orders the steak at a restaurant, it really is more your responsibility to deal with that than it is for the meat lover. Naturally you want to share your ethical or religious values with those you are close to. But you cannot do that if you make them uncomfortable or make them feel like that want to distance themselves from you. So be patient. First help them accept your new lifestyle. Then as they come to accept this part of you and they relax knowing you that you accept them in the same way you want to be accepted, they can express curiosity and you can share your feelings and values. That is the best way to share your feelings and to help others understand what being a vegetarian is all about. And who knows, you might even win some converts is you use an open and patient approach to showing others how you feel. Little Secrets Vegetarians Know Most people who don't know anything about the vegetarian lifestyle think that is must be pure drudgery being a vegetarian and giving up meat. That is a misconception because even though meat is not a part of a vegetarian diet, it isn't about what you are going without, it is what is in your diet and in your life that makes a vegetarian lifestyle work so well. If you actually interviewed a vegetarian, the last thing they would say is that they are all about not eating meat. Instead they are about living in healthy way in a way that is at peace with the environment and with their own bodies. The body of knowledge about vegetarians that most people don't know is pretty astounding. Most people do understand the basic three reasons someone becomes a vegetarian which are health, animal rights and spiritual or moral reasons. But there are a number of side benefits and little secrets only vegetarians know that if they became popularized, the flood of converts to vegetarianism would be overwhelming. Some of those little secrets include: * Vegetarians are not depressed as much as others because they know some secrets to overcoming depression naturally. * Vegetarians do not struggle with weight issues as much as others. * Vegetarians are better informed about nutrition and know how to make the most of what they eat. * Vegetarians sleep better, are more energetic and need less sleep than meat eaters. * Vegetarians have a much reduced incidence of cancer, heart disease and digestive disorders. * Vegetarians live longer than meat eaters. One secret vegetarians know that gets almost no press is the power of walnuts. There is a little known chemical in walnuts called serotonin that is a powerful antidepressant. Now you can get your doctor to prescribe an artificial anti depressant which can cost you a lot of money and put you at risk for chemical dependency. Or you can make a nice hot cup of tea with walnut as part of the mix. About half a walnut shell mixed in with your regular tea brew fills the drink with serotonin. Taken regularly, you will feel the effects of a chemical pick me up that can combat depression very effectively. Another little secret of vegetarians runs against the normal rules of dieting to get the full value of nutrients you might expect from eating a salad. Diet theory would have you use no salad dressing or at very least a zero fat or low fat salad dressing. Vegetarians who are more in touch with the effects of foods in their bodies know that the real value of eating salad are the natural nutrients in leafy vegetables called carotenoids. But science has shown us that the best way to pull cerotenoids from green vegetables is to use a higher fat salad dressing. So enjoy that fatty dressing because your vegetarian lifestyle will deliver plenty of weight loss value to you even with this small indulgence that can do you so much good. Speaking of tea, green tea is often a staple of a vegetarians diet because of the little health secrets buried in this amazing drink. Green tea has powers to help your digestive system, help combat depression and to accelerate weight loss that ancient cultures like the Chinese and India have known for centuries. Vegetarians have caught up on this secret of health knowledge ahead of us so its time well learned from their wisdom. These are just a few of the wisdom of the ancients that have been rediscovered by the modern vegetarian "craze". But it really isn't a craze because once you start living a healthy life cashing in on these many benefits a vegetarian lifestyle will give you, you will never want to go back. Life Without Meat Becoming a vegetarian is about a lot more than just a change to your diet. It is a lifestyle choice that influences many aspects of your life separate from just what you put into your body for food. This is why the path from when you first considered taking on the life of a vegetarian to when you are finally ready to make that transition may be several weeks or months. The journey to that moment when you are ready must not be rushed. Because not only is it a physical journey toward a physical change of diet, it is a spiritual, ethical and emotional journey as well. Life without meat will mean a new approach to meal preparation that means new recipes and new ways to shop for the foods you need. This becomes additionally complex if you are living with those who have not made the choice to become vegetarians. If you are charged with meal preparation, that means two menus per night. If someone else is the primary cook of the house, that means you will need some accommodation so you can have a vegetarian meal while others are eating meat. That is going to take some relationship building and some tolerance by you and by the meat lovers in your home so everybody can dine in peace. Being a vegetarian in a world of meat eaters may be one of the biggest adjustments you may have to make. But be prepared for some cravings for meat as well. At first, it might be wise to ease into vegetarianism so you still get some protein from meat while your body gets used to a lowered intake of that food group. This is also important because it will take a few weeks or longer to find a diet that has adequate substitutes for the nutrients and vitamins you are taking out of your body because of your new diet. By leaving meat in your eating schedule for a short time, you are less prone to feel run down or endure vitamin deficiencies during the transition to a full vegetarian eating regimen. Many times a vegetarian lifestyle is part of a larger change of life which may also incorporate yoga, meditation or other spiritual activities. If your sole reason for becoming a vegetarian is related to health, this may not be as much of an issue. But if you are feeling drawn to a vegetarian life without meat because of ethical, moral or spiritual reasons, your desire to embrace vegetarianism is no doubt part of a larger spiritual quest or renewal that you are going though. This is healthy and the more you fully embrace your new interest in this side of your personality and soul, the more your desire to be a vegetarian will fit a total change of life. But one of the most delightful surprises you will enjoy when you embrace the lifestyle of a vegetarian will be the number of others who will join you in your quest for a cleaner and more spiritual way to treat your body. The vegetarian community is a large one and it will welcome you warmly with community, support and all the help they can provide. But even from the community of those who are not vegetarians, you will often find friends and loved ones very supportive of the change of life you are going through and they will seek to help you all they can. Is It Time for an Intervention? "Guess what mom and dad, I'm a vegetarian!" If those words would strike terror in your heart if it came from your child, this article is for you. While we all are aware that vegetarians walk amongst us, when someone we love becomes a vegetarian, its easy to fear they have fallen in with some strange eastern cult and that we should start looking into organizing an intervention before they go off the deep end and go to South America to disappear forever into a commune or follow some cult leader to doom because. But before mom goes into hysterics or dad puts the kid in a padded room, lets have a reasonable discussion about what it means when your loved one becomes a vegetarian and what you can do to make sure they are safe and still the same person you always have known and loved. And the heart of being able to cope with the conversion of a child or a loved one to vegetarianism is knowledge and understanding. The truth is you have not lost your child to a cult or to another religion if they become a vegetarian. In fact, you can still take them to church and they can be the same religion they always were and also be a devout vegetarian at the same time. That is because their decision to not eat meat is primarily a dietary decision and it doesn't have to mean anything severe or odd about the one you love. More and more normal and healthy people you already know have made the move to a vegetarian lifestyle and it doesn't change who they are. There are primarily three reasons the one you love may have decided to become a vegetarian or a vegan. 1. For health reasons. Eliminating meat from your diet is good for you and it is an outstanding way to diet. If your loved one just wants to eat more healthy, there is no reason to organize an intervention to put a stop to that. 2. For ethical reasons because your loved one is upset about the cruel and unethical treatment of animals who are raised for slaughter to provide the meat industry with food to feed us. Even if you disagree with this ethical position, eliminating meat from the diet is not a radical thing to do. It is just a different lifestyle and a healthy one at that. 3. for spiritual reasons. Most religions encourage some form of fasting or limitation of excess in eating. Perhaps your loved one is going through a time of greater religious devotion and not eating meat helps with times of contemplation and prayer. Anyone would see that as a good thing to be encouraged and supported. Notice before the list we used the word "vegan". Don't be afraid of that word. If your child calls from college to say, "Guess what mom and dad, I'm a vegan", that just means your child has become a vegetarian but is following a culture of vegetarianism that is more extreme than others. Instead of overreacting and putting your loved one into an intervention, the best response to learning he or she has become a vegetarian is to learn more about it and encourage the move. Your loved one can be a life long vegetarian and have nothing bad come of it. If fact, he or she will live better and longer because of the decision. Do some reading about what it means to live a vegetarian lifestyle and be supportive in how you prepare meals or in what restaurants you chose when spending time with your loved one. Then be open to hear why your friend or family member made this change in their life. Will they try to "convert" you to become a vegetarian also. Perhaps. But by engaging in an open discussion of what it means to be a vegetarian, you can express support for your loved one without becoming a vegetarian yourself. And when you make their decision normal and approved of as part of your family life, it can enrich your loved ones life and yours too. Because becoming a vegetarian is a very healthy step for anyone. How to Not Miss Meat Even if your reasons for turning toward a vegetarian lifestyle are moral, ethical or religious, it is common to miss the taste of meat especially when you first start your walk as a vegetarian. The first rule to enforce is not to feel guilty about that. Just loving meat doesn't make you a bad thing. After all, most of us are raised eating pork, chicken, beef and other meats and if our parents did not have scruples about meat consumption, you have that as part of your upbringing. The good news is there are lots of substitutes for meat and wonderful recipes you can use so you can eliminate meat from your diet and not feel like you are "going without". The added benefit is that vegetarian eating is much healthier for your body than a diet where meat is a common ingredient. Meat carries such a higher incidence of calories and fats that are harder for your body to digest and assimilate that you are doing your body a big favor switching to a meatless lifestyle. One way to still enjoy some of the aspects of meat but eliminate the actual animal part is to go with meat substitutes in traditional meat meals. Many restaurants serve veggie burgers where you get the good taste and familiar meal that we all like about hamburgers but you are still staying totally vegetarian. By shopping at markets and groceries that are supportive of the vegetarian lifestyle, you can often find other traditional meat meals prepared entirely without actual meat to help you get past missing that source of protein. A staple of vegetarian diet planning is Tofu. Tofu is made from Soya beans so it is totally natural and a good fit to your vegetarian meal planning. But it is full of proteins and it is a very flexible ingredient for vegetarian recipes because it reflects the flavors of other foods and herbs and it works well in dishes that use sauces so it can almost be mistaken for a meat dish. As you set about building your library of vegetarian recipes that are designed to take meat out of the equation, you will often find Tofu as one of the ingredients. That is because it works so well in lots of different recipes and responds well to grilling, baking or any other preparation method. Just be sure you take the time to dry your Tofu by putting it on a towel and removing the excess moisture before using it. If your commitment to vegetarian living also meals the elimination of animal products such as milk and cheese, soy milk has become increasingly popular in the last few years with vegetarians and meat eaters alike because if its health and diet benefits. Not only is it delicious to drink as a beverage, it can replace milk in recipes just as successfully. To eliminate animal based cheese from your diet, you might try a product called Tofutti. They offer many varieties of vegan chesses including cheddar and mozzarella so you can enjoy that flavor with a clear conscience. You can even find good substitutes for yogurt that is made from tofu or soy milk so you don't have to cut popular tastes from your diet entirely. Tofu is such a great meat substitute and an outstanding nutritional source that you can even use it in traditional egg dishes such as quiches, custard, omelets or any other meals that would emphasize an egg taste. If you mix pureed tofu with your recipe, you could virtually serve an egg dish even to a meat lover and they would not be able to tell that you had them eating vegetarian. As you continue to explore vegetarian cooking, there are a number of other meat replacements that do well in various cooking contexts. Tempah comes from a soy bean that has been fermented. Tempah works well once you braise it in a sauce for about an hour. Once prepared it can be fried in flower and served with a sauce for flavor and be very satisfying. One of the big projects of making the change to a vegetarian lifestyle is learning ways to substitute healthy alternatives such as we have discussed to take meat and meat products out of your diet. It will take some learning but that learning can be fun as you reinvent cooking and shopping to fit your new passion for vegetarian eating. Will Vegetarianism Change the World? We all fear change. And when we see a "movement" start to get momentum in society, its easy to fear it is being imposed on us by some sinister force out to ruin our way of life. That instinct to fear change at a social level goes way back. But the truth is that society does change and evolve and often for the better. The anti smoking movement of the last three decades is a good example of positive social change. When the move to eliminate smoking from our national life first started, many people feared it was the work of radical left wingers who wanted to take away our rights. But as more and more discussion of the good of eliminating smoking from peoples lives occurred, it became obvious that smoking was not something good people should have a right to engage in any more than getting a dread disease is a right and a natural part of culture. So smoking has slowly been eliminated from public life and we are a healthier people as a result. As the move toward more healthy ways to live has continued to be part of our cultural discussion and in the last decade or so, vegetarianism has taken center stage. As before, many fear the natural evolution of society away from meat consumption and toward a natural way of eating as vegetarians is a sinister plot of the radical left to deprive us our right to eat meat and so take away one of our freedoms. This is far from the truth. But that doesn't mean that vegetarianism is not going to change the world and become more the norm than the unusual. That is because becoming a vegetarian is a natural step for many of us who are concerned about weight loss, long life and health. The national obsession with weight loss and avoiding sickness is so strong that its impossible to ignore. Part of the reason for that is that a lot of companies are making a lot of money selling us ways to live healthy and lose weight. What these companies don't want you to know is that you don't need pills or expensive programs. You can live a healthier life and lose weight naturally by simply becoming a vegetarian. But as that truth becomes more well known, the movement will pick up momentum and more and more people will see the good in eliminating meat and meat byproducts from their diets. If that happens the answer is yes, vegetarianism may very well take over the world. What should be our response to the rapidly growing social momentum toward vegetarianism? Should we buy guns and retreat to the hills to fight a final battle with the vegetarian zombies who want to rob us of our lifestyle? Not at all. Putting the vegetarian movement into context with the move to reduce the negative impacts of smoking on our lives helps give us perspective of what to expect. If you once smoked and have quit because it has become so socially unacceptable to smoke, you no doubt are glad by now that you did so. Why? Because you are more healthy, happier, more energetic and you will live longer. That good change may have been imposed on you by society but you benefited from the change. If society moves more toward vegetarian living because of the common sense of living a healthy way that is in concert with ethical treatment of animals, organic living and living green, it will change the way we work as a society. It is easy to look down the road to a time when eating meat is unusual and there are more vegetarian restaurants and markets than any other kind. But this is not a social change to be feared. Yes, when you join the vegetarian revolution, just as it was when you quit smoking, it may be difficult and you may resent it. But when you have made the change, you will find yourself healthier, happier, slimmer and living longer as a result. And even if you hated seeing vegetarianism change the world, in the final analysis, we all will be better people if it does.
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