What do vegetarians eat? Visit vegan food festivals to find out
My 18-year transition from omnivore to ‘accidental vegetarian’
Writer’s note: This post was originally published in Medium’s “We Need to Talk” blog series on August 3, 2019.
When I first became an on/off vegetarian back in 2001, I had no idea what to eat. I’d already dropped from a size 14 to a size 6/8 simply from taking a weight training class and walking up and down Jefferson City, Missouri hills. I had no interest in being a vegetarian, but I stopped buying meat once I started buying my own groceries. I was an accidental vegetarian.
That is, until I came home for Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks from college, and remembered what my mother’s food tasted like. When I returned to college and my own off-campus apartment, meals became meatless all over again. By the time I graduated from college, I’d decided to make vegetarianism permanent.
Shortly after I returned home, I remember my grandfather telling me, “I’ll drink soy milk when I run across a soy milk.”
“I’ll drink soy milk when I run across a soy cow.”
He still went with me to at least three vegetarian restaurants, primarily to give me a hard time but wouldn’t admit he was curious, too. I wasn’t home from school more than a year before I saw soy milk in his fridge. I raised an eyebrow, looked at him and asked, “So what was it like when you met the soy cow?” He changed the subject.
The hard truth about transitioning to vegetarianism: The weight gain
What people don’t tell you about going vegetarian (or vegan) is you can gain a lot of weight if you’re not careful. You don’t hear about the Vitamin D loss from not eating dairy or where to get B12. I had a fainting spell coming home from my first editing job and thought, “Forget it. I’m eating meat again. I can barely walk a few blocks.”
I shot back up to a size 12/14 because I was loading up on potatoes, rice and bread to make up for all the meat I wasn’t eating. And it wasn’t like there were a whole lot of African-American vegetarians around to tell me how to make vegan soul food. So I didn’t know how to eat a balanced meal, and doctors are not trained to give you nutrition advice. I was advised to take B12 vitamins and fish oil pills, and that was the extent of it. At that time, Beyonce wasn’t showing us how to make vegan meals, and I was just guessing my way through it all.
Inviting your vegan and vegetarian friends out to eat
Years later, I found out about Soul Vegan food at Whole Foods and ate Soul Vegetarian East in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood. I dined at Quentin Love’s (now closed) Quench and Vegetarian Life restaurants. When I wanted Thai food, I had the time of my life at Alice & Friends (now Alice & Friends Vegan Kitchen). And I started going to a boatload of food festivals, such as Veggie Fest, Chicago State University’s Taste of Vegan, and Chicago VeganMania.
Although some do, I wasn’t the kind of vegetarian (and vegan for one year) who would lecture you about animal rights and slaughterhouses. Honestly, I would never have become a vegetarian if someone lectured me about it all the time. But I definitely asked my loved ones and friends to come along with me so we could test the food out.