What does it mean to be a vegetarian for TEN YEARS?

fruit salad for breakfast

Fruit salad was a typical vegetarian breakfast during my travels in Peru. 

Lately I’ve been rewarding myself with perfume, but for milestone it seemed like fragrance wasn’t the right choice.

No, I didn’t finish my graduate degree (but I’m close!).  No, I didn’t get married (you can still call me, Sebastian Koch!).  No, I didn’t squeeze back into my size zero pants (though I’m sticking to my fitness schedule like a boss!).  I am celebrating being a vegetarian for ten years!

The decision to become a vegetarian was not an easy one.  Growing up, I was a picky eater.  My mom tried to put balanced meals on the table, but I think she lacked confidence in the kitchen.  I remember a lot of nights with Shake and Bake chicken, Knorr Sidekicks pre-packaged, pre-seasoned noodles, and a solitary steamed or boiled vegetable (peas, carrots and broccoli made up my entire comfort zone).  If we ate our Shake and Bake chicken, styrofoamy noodles and vegetable then we’d get dessert, which was usually two Oreo cookies.  We didn’t eat salads, we were never asked to eat fresh fruit (really!), grains were pretty much limited to packaged, seasoned options with the occasional white rice throw into the mix, and I gave up milk around the age of eight.  To me, cheese was a Kraft Single, pasta sauce always came from a glass jar and bread came from a box in the freezer and got heated up- with extra butter on top- in the oven.

shopska salata skopje

Lunches have often been salad with a touch of cheese (or perhaps I should say cheese with a touch of salad) and beautiful fresh bread. 

When I left home at the age of eighteen I also lacked confidence in the kitchen.  I literally did not know how to slice a tomato, and for the first three years I masterfully avoided actually having to eat salad.  It was only when I moved overseas that my limited diet no longer passed muster; it’s impossible to live in a beautiful European city, pass through its markets each day, and socialize with its locals while eating what I’d been eating.

The process of becoming vegetarian was immediate and not intentional.  I might not have been raised to eat well, but I was raised with good manners, and I felt obliged to eat a bowl of game stew that I was served during my first few weeks abroad.  Looking into that bowl, which I believe contained a few organs mixed in there, I realized that there was, fundamentally, no difference between that bowl of soup and a six-pack of Chicken McNuggets.  If some meat was gross (to me), why wasn’t others?  Looking into that bowl of soup I knew that I could never eat meat again.

This was going to be problematic, as I didn’t eat salad, fruit, whole grains or legumes.

I decided that from that day forward, if it wasn’t meat, I would eat it.

I remember my first salad.  I ate it here.  I had my first artichoke here.  I had eggplant (on top of foccacia) for the first time here.  The first time I tried lentils it was here.  I don’t think that the first time I ate fennel (here!) I could have imagined that one day I would be writing a blog post about being a vegetarian for ten years!

vegetarian dinner in tallinn estonia

I love when a restaurant offers a vegetarian plate with lots of little samples of local meatless delicacies, like this one in Tallinn, Estonia

I don’t remember the exact day that I gave up meat, but I know that it was in the fall of 2004.  That means that my ten-year anniversary (veggiversary?) is fast approaching.  As I mentioned, I have been celebrating with perfume lately, but this time I opted for something else.  I decided to buy two new cookbooks: The VB6 Cookbook by Mark Bittman, and the Leon Fast Vegetarian Cookbook.  I already have a substantial cookbook  collection, and we live in the age of food blogs, but I find there’s something really invigorating and inspiring about holding a beautiful new cookbook in your hands, in the kitchen, and planning out some great meals.

As an avid traveler I have, rarely, struggled to feed myself in a nutritious, balanced way.  However, most of the time I have found amazing local dishes and ingredients, along with restaurant and shop staff who are happy to help me eat well.  As someone whose interest in health has grown over the past half-decade, I can also say that eating a vegetarian diet improved the way I looked and felt.

I am not bothered by people who eat meat, and I have never tried to convert someone else to a vegetarian diet. At the same time, I know how much better my life is today than ten years ago, and choosing to eat a healthy, balanced vegetarian diet is a big part of that.  If you’re the kind of person who keeps looking at healthy cooking blogs saying, “One day…”, or if you’ve been thinking about incorporating more meat-free dishes into your diet, start today and let me know how it goes!

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