Accidental Vegetarian

Several people have heard the story of how I “accidentally” became a vegetarian and I’ve talked with a few people about why I’m vegan. During the Loving-Kindness sesshin in April I had a lot of time to deeply look at how important my veganism is to my life. I commented on this during the sharing time at the end of the sesshin with my fellow retreatants, but it really seems like something worth sharing with a much larger audience. This is a part one of two posts that cover over 8 years of my changing my diet from the Standard American Diet to a very healthy, vegan diet.

How does one “accidentally” become a vegetarian?

Back in 2001 my cholesterol was 290. On top of that the “bad” cholesterol was really bad, the “good” wasn’t anywhere close to good, and those pesky triglycerides were just as sad. Yep, those levels where the doctor starts to use words like “statins” at visits. My blood pressure and blood sugar levels were OK, but when you added those bad numbers to my weight and a family history of women having heart problems — well, it wasn’t good.

I’d lost some weight, about 30 pounds, but was still obese and those numbers weren’t budging. Yes, “obese”, I’m not going to say “large” or “heavy” or any other of the nice words that take the sting out of it. At not quite 5’5″ I weighed about 260 pounds even having lost 30 pounds.

Facing all of this and the knowledge that statins can often have a side-effect of joint pain (since I already have chronic pain in my back I didn’t want that added to the list) I decided to stop eating as much meat. Meat is loaded in cholesterol and the foodie in my just saw trying vegetarian options as sampling a type of new cuisine. I was still eating sushi. This was back in 2001.

In 2002 the sushi fell by the wayside one afternoon over a spicy tuna roll and some seared salmon. These were two of my favorite things and sushi was the only flesh I was still eating. I was happy when I was presented my little plate of fish, took a bite, and while chewing my mouth reacted strongly. Chew, chew, chew…. “Ick, what is this!? We don’t want this in our mouth! EEEEW!”

A few weeks later friends were over for dinner. Some lovely smoked salmon ravioli had been picked out for the evening and I was looking forward to it. Great conversation, nice wine, yummy veggies… The ravioli? Same mouth reaction, only more insistent. Chew, chew, chew…. “Ick, what is this!? We don’t want this in our mouth! EEEEW!”

I honestly thought the ravioli were rancid. Something seriously wrong with the meal. I looked around the table and realized everyone else was happily munching away. I was the only one fighting the urge to gag as I spit out my second bite into a napkin. At that point it seemed obvious that I’d become vegetarian without even trying. My body just found meat gross.

In 2003, while answering a craving for scrambled eggs, my body reacted the same way to eating eggs. I knew the signs immediately. Chew, chew, chew…. “Ick, what is this!? We don’t want this in our mouth! EEEEW!”

By now I’d lost nearly 100 pounds. People were amazed. In a way it didn’t really feel amazing to me at all, I was there just eating differently, exercising more. It wasn’t until my shoes were too big that I really was able to acknowledge how dramatically my body had changed with the weight I’d gained. I certainly was feeling better, so I didn’t feel inclined to return back to the way I had been eating.

Cheese was the last great hold out. Particularly Gorgonzola, brie, Stilton, and strong Cheddars. I loved cheese and would happily have entire meals of nothing but an assortment of cheese with some bread. Yep, still vegetarian. Made sure everything I got was not made with animal rennet.

The side effect of this cheese love? Well, my cholesterol had started to inch down a little when I first switched to a vegetarian diet, however, the increase in all that high dairy-fat cheese in my diet sent it right back up again! Once that had happened my doctor was really wanting me to see a nutritionist and go on drugs. I asked him for one more year.

Two Restaurants Today

Today was long. Woke up at 6:15 went into the office, had lunch at Chaat House with CK. This is one of my favorite places to get Indian food in all of Portland. Quite often the two of us order the daily “Big, big, big lunch special” which is rice, dal tarka (most often), a veg curry, and another dish (like aloo saag, aloo channa, etc.) served with naan. It is easily lunch for two and always delicious. Their aloo gobi is wonderful. The channa bhatura is fantastic but I only indulge in that particular fried bread goodness once in a while. I used to say their samosa chaat was second best in town, but since Kumar doesn’t make it commercially anymore at India-4-U it the one at Chaat House has taken over this spot.

After lunch I did some coaching, talked with co-workers off an on, then went to catch the bus home. Bus was 20 minutes late and when I got to the house AM let me know that we were going out to dinner with friends to Aladdin’s Cafe.

We’ve not seen these friends in a long while and they also needed some input on an outing they are planning. Since the friends were running a bit late AM and I met them over at the restaurant.

First things first — there’s a post up on Yelp that notes that the fresh pita has dairy in it. I was pretty disappointed when I read this and immediately inquired about it. I was assured, twice that the pita is dairy-free and vegan. That done, I enjoyed dinner very much. Ordered the megadara and have a nice bit of it leftover for lunch tomorrow. Everyone then headed back to the house to talk until nearly 10PM.

Football, Sandwiches & Preserves

CK came over this evening and AM made bánh mì sandwiches, which are a real favorite. To make fully veganized ones we use Veganaise (AM likes to add a little Maggi in it to give that tangy bite that fish sauce creates in the non-veg variations). Add slices of tofu seared with mushroom sauce, mung bean sprouts, avocado slices, and pickled veggies (jalapeno & banana peppers, daikon, and carrot). Top the whole thing off with some fresh coriander (cilantro), Thai basil and a squeeze of fresh lime. Hold on with both hands, because if you try to put it down it will explode, and enjoy with friends (because they won’t laugh, much, at the mess on your face).

I picked a pocket full of jalapenos from the garden, the one plant that has really produced a lot, and we made Dave’s recipe for poppers. We all gathered downstairs to enjoy our delicious, messy sandwiches while watching the football game on DVR. The game wasn’t very exciting, except for all the injuries, and the commentators were annoying (as usual).

All the while I worked on my experiment with apple preserves, based on the recipe I read in the NYTimes. Will make some notes on that in the cooking blog after I’ve tried it and decided what I think. I’m enjoying playing with making my own preserves, that’s for sure!

Quick Picnic (no lunch)

Woke up feeling more rested and less sore, it was a nice break. I worked from home until about 11:30 then headed up to Washington Park for a team picnic. It was a nice time even though lunch was just salad stuff since in picking up veggie burgers they selected ones with eggs and dairy in them. I brought some of the apples from the Farmers Market and the rest of the grapes from KW, which many people commented on enjoying.

I was being so mindful of the time, trying to make sure I got to spend time at the picnic but get back in time for my 3PM appointment with my therapist. I kept checking the time, noting the minutes and at 2:35 took off to get across town, near Wilshire Park. I pulled up just at 3PM and parked… right behind the 2PM appointment!
In my diligence at making sure I’d be on time I hadn’t paid close enough attention the hour hand on my watch, merely keeping track of the minutes. I was an hour early! I drove over to the house since I had the time and answered some messages from the office. I also had time to have some leftover soup.
AM commented on my getting home chilled and hungry that I should just always take a veggie thing with me to supplement the inevitable salad. Even if I end up not having it, the option is there. Hard to argue the logic of it, it is one of the many times something like this has happened. People mean well, but just aren’t as accustomed as I am to reading ingredient lists very carefully.

Longer ride, connection by many means

So tired tonight. It has been such a long couple of weeks and stuff is so close to the surface that I feel stretched thin by it. CK was supposed to come over tonight but is feeling absolutely exhausted herself so is at her flat watching a movie, we’re chatting while I sit here trying to write while AM watches the History channel.

Had a pretty busy day working too, spent a great deal of time making adjustments to some requirements I’ll be doing the development of. Began training someone how how to do account administration for a project they’re taking over supporting from me. Then AM messaged me that he was still out in Wilsonville, it took longer to get there, and I should take the bus to my hair appointment.

When I checked the schedules and saw how long it would take I check the bicycle trip planner and decided to ride over to the salon on Hawthorne. It was further than I’ve rode before, but seemed doable especially since I’d be having my hair done for about 90 minutes or so. I was pleasantly surprised that it took me far less time than I thought it would and wasn’t too difficult. It even took less time to get home than I thought it would.

Around 6:30 I felt awful, entirely depleted and felt my blood sugar crash. AM was also feeling awful, most likely a reaction to the tetanus shot he had yesterday. We ended up having dinner at Aladdin’s Cafe, which is always tasty. Although I’m very disappointed that I’ll have to follow up on the comments I saw on Yelp about the bread having dairy in it! Ugh, I hope that’s not the case, how frustrating if it is since everything else is so tasty. Will have to ask the owner.

I try not to be a jerk about being vegan. I don’t rant at people even when they ask me to talk about why I’m vegan. It just doesn’t leave me feeling very happy when I consume animal products without realizing it, worse since I think I’m doing fine! It isn’t like I’ll get ill, although I might if I had cheese or milk, but my preference is to avoid animal products for many reasons so it can be frustrating to discover I’m being served something I wouldn’t want to eat.

When we got home I talked with CK, it felt awkward and I could tell she was so tired. She wanted to stay home and, as much I was looking forward to seeing her tonight, I didn’t entirely feel like going out of the house either. AM suggested that I consider going, that he was feeling a little better and if I could make sure the bed got remade (I’d taken off the sheets to wash) I should go. I sent CK a text message but didn’t hear back from her.

My mind immediately rushed to bad places. Sure that she didn’t want to see me anymore, that she wasn’t just tired, she was really upset with me. I watched the thoughts race around, feeling them rubbing against my already chafed psyche. For a moment I felt myself freezing into silence and then I went and checked for her online, pushing back against the fear-cold. Her phone was still on “vibrate” and she hadn’t seen my message.

We fell to chatting. I felt connected to her just by watching the letters she typed showing my on my screen. At nearly the same point we both noted this, how we were managing to feel that sense of connection without either of us having to leave our homes in the evening. We both felt better for it and understood how tired we both were.

Sometimes it is easier to write out my thoughts than talk through them, tonight is such an example of that. On the phone with her I felt so anxious and uncertain of anything other than my lack of skill in talking. Typing to her felt OK, better and I try not to call my self “silly” because of it.

Truly I am grateful to have so many methods to try to communicate and connect. Tonight I felt inadequate using my voice, I often feel that way. To have some other way to still get my thoughts out, a way I feel somewhat more adept with, seems like such a blessing. That CK understands this is equally relieving.

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