I’ve already gone into depth about the benefits of being vegetarian in the vegetarian section of my website, but I thought that I would give you a more personal account and also explain how it led me to start cooking for myself.
To start with, I was not raised vegetarian—many people think that most Indians are vegetarian, but in actuality only about 30% of Indians in India are vegetarian and the number is lower among Indian-Americans. My family was not heavy into meat, and we did not eat meat every day. Part of this is because Indian cuisine uses a lot of lentils and beans which makes meat uneccessary for protein. As an aside, in Hinduism, Thursday is the holy day and most Hindus do not eat meat on Thursdays. Guess what day Thanksgiving is always on? Yup, so a lot of Indian-Americans celebrate Thanksgiving day without turkey. That being said, I started to question the eating of meat around the time I was 11 or 12. I have always been an animal lover and it didn’t make sense to me that I loved animals but then also ate dead animals.
The only pet I had growing up, besides fish, was a bunny rabbit. You might want to say “Awwww” but actually I had the meanest bunny ever! My best friend gave me the rabbit as a birthday present, and my mother was too polite to say we couldn’t keep it. My sister and I were sooo happy to have this bunny rabbit. He unfortunately did not feel that same way about us. His favorite thing to do was to bite us when we fed him. He also liked to bite us when we tried to pick him up or pet him, or really have any interaction with him. His favorite thing to do was to run to the corner of the basement and start tearing up the carpet. I realize now that he was trying to dig his way out.
Anyway, even though Bitey the Bunny did not particularly like us, we thought he was the cutest thing, but I also knew that people ate rabbits and considered them a delicacy. Some people argued that it was perfectly fine to eat domestic animals since they were raised for food, but that also didn’t make sense to me. Why raise an animal just to kill it? At that time, I didn’t even know how cruel and inhumane animals were treated prior to being killed. Other people said that God made animals for us to eat, but that also didn’t make sense to me because God also gave us wheat, corn, nuts, vegetables and fruit—so why did we need to kill animals which obviously suffered when we did? After some debate and not hearing any kind of convincing argument I quit eating meat.
So this was back in the early 90s and vegetarianism was not very popular, especially in the Midwest where I grew up. At that time, I was addicted to sugar, so I didn’t have to give up my main food group, but eating out could be quite a challenge. I was not particularly health conscious so I was happy to rely on pizza and french fries as my standard fare. At home, I could have eaten the delicous freshly-prepared home-cooked Indian food that my mother made every night, but my palate was also not very developed, so I preferred boiled spaghetti with Ragu sauce. I don’t even know if they make Ragu sauce anymore, but I kind of liked its blandness.
Anyway, when I went off to college, I realized that I did not really like pizza and french fries every day, and my dorm room did not have a stove with which to make spaghetti with Ragu sauce, so I started to appreciate the weekly care packages my mother would give me. And when I actually went far enough away that my mother couldn’t send me weekly care packages, I started to learn how to cook for myself.
Another reason I started cooking for myself is that I am ridiculously picky and don’t like many types of vegetables. Once, I went to Mr. Pita, and as usual, there was one vegetarian option. So I ordered this, but I told the guy to hold the green peppers, cucumbers and olives because I didn’t like them. He gave me a pita with three pieces of onion in it. Now I get that this is Mr. Pita, but I really think he should have given me some warning! But being the mild-mannered person I was back then (oh, how things have changed) I paid for my three slices of onion and slunk off.
The worst offenders for vegetarian options are, without a doubt, fancy restaurants. IF, and it’s a big if, they have a vegetarian option it usually is some crap that the chef throws on a plate and calls the “vegetarian special.” There is nothing special about 25 cents of iceberg lettuce arranged on a plate with some carrot shreds and three sprinkles of cheese. Once in DC, I was at a restaurant renowned for good cuisine—the Obamas were known to have dined there—and of course they had a “vegetarian special.” It was three pieces of ravioli with flowers and twigs on it. Now, I understand that not everyone understands vegetarians, but we still like human food and not twigs and grass. And why does everyone else get three pages of options, and I have to select the one possibly edible vegetarian option? I’m glad that people are becoming more concious about food choices these days, and that I can eat more than french fries and pizza when I go out!