November 20, 2013

Misty Watson: ‘How do you live without meat?’

My diet has been scrutinized more as a vegetarian these last two years than it ever was when I was chowing down on quarter pounders with cheese from McDonald’s and chili cheese fries covered in ranch dressing from Krystal.

I’m not angry about it because I understand that especially here in the South, people think a life without meat is just not a life worth living.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “How do you live without bacon?!”

With lower cholesterol? Actually, I’d live much happier if people didn’t insist on putting bacon on everything. Not everyone swoons to the smell of pork sizzling in the pan, and I don’t like spending my lunch overturning every leaf of lettuce on my salad to make sure the bacon is gone. I gave up pork and other meats years before becoming a vegetarian because of my religious beliefs.

Don’t worry. I’m not about to tell you why you should give up meat. My decision to give up meat was a very personal one based on family history and my own health. It’s not a lifestyle for everyone.

But since the most wonderful time of year — for food — is just around the corner, I’ll be faced with more scrutiny and incredulous reactions of “Why don’t you eat meat?” Since I also avoid dairy like 95 percent of the time, I’ll be faced with an extra “What? How do you live without cheese?”

Meals and parties at the holidays with family and friends become a game of “What’s in this? Can I eat this? Do you have anything vegetarian-friendly?”

You’ve heard the joke, “How do you know if someone’s a vegetarian (or vegan)? Don’t worry they’ll tell you.”

Well, if you didn’t put meat or cheese in everything, then get offended or keep pressing when we politely say “No thank you,” we wouldn’t have to tell you.

I get tired of hearing that joke.

With the season of eating approaching, I’m sure I’ll hear it a few more times. I’ll probably hear a lot of phrases with regards to my lifestyle choice. You may even be tempted to utter some to the hippie in your life as you sit down to a feast centered around a roasted or fried turkey.

“How do you carve Tofurky? Isn’t that what you eat on Thanksgiving?”

I have never had a Tofurky “turkey.” I do love Tofurky products, but eat them sparingly since I like to focus on non-processed foods.

On Thanksgiving, I eat corn, potatoes, green beans (because my family respects me enough to cook them without a big chunk of pork in them), squash, okra and rolls, and treat myself with pecan pie. Sorry to disappoint, but there’s no Tofurky or tofu product anywhere on my Thanksgiving table.

“I wouldn’t get enough protein if I gave up meat. Are you sure you’re getting enough protein?”

I once feared this, too. So I understand. But I researched it — a lot — and learned how to make sure my body receives enough protein, iron and B12 through a plant-based diet. I eat lentils, quinoa and spinach, for example. Also, I still eat eggs since I get them fresh, local and organic. Thanks for being concerned about my health. Since going vegetarian my blood pressure is in a healthier range and I have lost about 50 pounds.

“I wouldn’t know what to eat if I gave up meat.”

Cooking and meal planning actually became a lot more fun for me when I gave up meat. It became even more fun for me when I started cooking without dairy at home. I found I liked the challenge, and food began to taste so much better to me.

Some of my favorite foods are smoky chipotle pintos with dairy-free cornbread (dare you to tell me you miss the milk and butter in my recipe!); black bean and potato “nachos,” with roasted potatoes acting as the base of the dish instead of chips; stir-fried veggies with rice noodles; spaghetti squash with homemade marinara and a good, crusty garlic bread drizzled with olive oil; butternut squash, apple, chipotle soup and homemade croutons; and just about anything with eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes and tons of garlic.

“What’s wrong with eating meat?”

Don’t put us in that position. You’re just asking for a debate. I’m more than happy to talk to someone about the reason I choose to avoid meat. There’s nothing wrong with you eating meat. Just because I don’t eat it doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t eat it. I was a meat-eater most of my life. But the meat I want isn’t the healthy broiled fish or roasted turkey. It’s the fried fatty stuff. So it’s best for me to avoid it all together.

It amazes me that people want to pick on me or criticize the healthy choices I make.

How about a “Good for you for not scarfing down a bucket of delicious, fried chicken!” instead of some of these other comments?

Murray County native Misty Watson is a staff writer and photographer for The Daily Citizen. Her mother constantly assures others, “I didn’t raise her to be like this.” You can connect with her at mistywatson@daltoncitizen.com; facebook.com/MistyWatsonDCN; or on Twitter, @mistydwatson.

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