Brightest Blue did a post the other day about being a fairly new vegetarian and the many ethical questions that she’s faced since making that decision: If killing animals for meat is wrong, how does she justify wearing leather? And so on.

One of her commenters said:

I could never be a vegetarian although I would like to be but I know I’d end up living off of french fries and bagels.

It always amazes me how many people say they’d like to be vegetarian, but couldn’t. Or people say they’d love to be vegetarians but their spouse isn’t one so it would be impossible. Like it’s some sort of insurmountable feat like becoming an Olympic athlete.

It’s really very simple. I’m pretty sure the commenter above doesn’t just live on french fries, bagels and meat. There are probably a few vegetables, beans, eggs, cheeses and other non-dead-animal related foods in her diet.

Becoming vegetarian is not an overnight magical transformation where one day you’re at The Keg sawing into a bloody sirloin and the next day you’re gnawing on seaweed and brown rice.


And there is no secret society of vegetarians that lay down a list of rules about how to be a vegetarian. People get all discombobulated  when they hear I sometimes eat fish. “But, but, but…are you allowed to eat fish if you’re a vegetarian?”

I’m allowed to eat anything I want, just like everyone else. No one will march into my home and revoke my vegetarian membership if I eat eggs or cheese or go to The Keg and sit at the same table as someone who’s sawing through a bloody sirloin.


Of course not all vegetarians could handle that. And not all eat eggs and/or dairy or fish. We’re all different. Just like real people. We all like and dislike different foods. We come in all shapes and sizes – not all of us are thin and pale, some of us are hearty and robust.

We’ve all stopped eating meat for different reasons. Some of us actually like the taste of meat, but don’t eat it because we don’t like the idea of having to kill something for a momentary taste sensation. That’s why we enjoy the occasional meat substitute. Non-vegetarians often laugh at that. “If you don’t like meat, why are you having a burger that has the look, taste and texture of meat?”

Some people become vegetarians because they don’t like the whole idea of meat and can’t even stand meat substitutes. Some become vegetarians for health reasons. Some for environmental reasons. Some vegetarians (vegans) will not consume, wear or use anything that in any way caused the death or exploitation of animals or any other living creature. That includes not wearing leather or wool and not eating honey.

So if you think you’d like to follow a vegetarian diet, don’t just give up on the idea because it seems too overwhelming. Start by giving up meat one or two days a week. (And yes, Mother, cold cuts, bacon and chicken soup all contain meat. My mother claims she rarely eats meat, but to her meat is a roast beef dinner or Swiss Chalet. All that other stuff doesn’t really count).

You don’t have to start eating tofu every day if it doesn’t appeal to you. (But you might change your mind when you read the results of The Great Tofu Challenge[1] which will, I’m sure be posted next week on Zoom and/or Hella Stella’s blog and/or maybe even here.)


There are plenty of protein-rich foods for vegetarians to eat. We don’t just live on vegetables and tofu. Check out some veggie cookbooks. Check out some online vegetarian/vegan recipes. Go to a vegetarian restaurant and try some of the food. Places like the Green Door or the Table in Ottawa are great because you get to try a little bit of everything that looks good to you and the ingredients are listed for everything. Same deal with Le Commensal in Toronto or Montreal.


And remember, at no time are you irrecoverably committed to never eating meat again. Maybe you’ll go veg except for the Thanksgiving turkey or the odd Big Mac or the neighbour’s annual summer pig roast. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing is all I’m saying. Feel free to dabble. 

[1] At some point Zoom declared that she hated tofu. Hella Stella maintained that was only because she had never tasted tofu properly prepared. The bet was on. Hella Stella has invited Zoom and a few neutral parties to a favourite restaurant on Friday the 13th to taste the best tofu ever. If Zoom likes it she has to post a video of herself doing something embarrassing or acrobatic and if Zoom hates it then Hella Stella has to post such a video. Stay tuned.


46 responses to “Vegging

  1. I’m not a vegetarian, but I often spend several days without eating meat – it just happens, so I guess it wouldn’t be a stretch to do it consciously.

    A few weeks ago we went to a restaurant and though the meat was cooked perfectly, it felt somehow wrong. When I cut it I had a feeling of total disgust and repulsion – even thinking about it now makes me shudder.

    Dunno what that was about, but I wished I had picked a vegetarian dish that day.

  2. Yep being vegetarian isn’t as difficult as people think and if you ate veggie even just a couple days of week, it would help the environment and your waistline. 🙂 It is funny how many people that think we only eat tofu and nuts. Since restricting meat in my diet, I’ve researched and come across literally hundreds of vegetarian and vegan recipes from all cultures.

    P.S. Zoom and you guys HAVE to go to Green Earth on Preston. Guaranteed she will love it! 🙂

  3. If I actually ate a reasonable amount of vegetable foods, I could very easily be a lacto-ovo vegetarian, since cheese is my protein source of choice anyway. Tofu I would have a problem with. (It’s largely psychological. I get physically ill at the scent of unprepared tofu. And my brain automatically translates visibly recognizable tofu like your photo above into that smell, whether or not it’s actually there.)

    Veganism is something that impresses me. It takes a lot of energy and effort, especially in the beginning, to be that vigilant about the smallest presence of animal product.

  4. I’m one of those “robust” vegetarians that you mentioned. Maybe I could be a thin vegetarian if I restricted myself to just twigs and berries, but I just finished eating my second portion of eggplant moussaka with lemon rice and greek salad. Bring on the chocolate cake!

  5. I was mostly vegetarian for about 4 years in my late 20’s. I gave up meat and poultry, but still occasionally had fish and shellfish. Oh, and no way I would even give up eggs or dairy. Love ’em too much.

    There was much about a vegetarian diet that I loved. I discovered a lot more spices that I liked to cook with. I found the food was much more interesting than I thought it would be before going vegetarian.

    That said, a few things led me to return to my carnivorous ways. First of all, while I love onions, peppers, beans and lentils the damned things really do a number on my digestive system. Ovol tablets can only do so much to counteract that. I found that my vegetarian diet often made me a tad…um…uncomfortable.

    More importantly, I developed anaemia. I swear, I was incredibly careful about my iron intake…did tons of research on how best to maximize iron absorbtion. No matter what I did, my iron levels were too low. After a couple of years on ferrous sulfate tablets (nasty things) I finally gave up. I’d become a vegetarian to improve my health, and apparently it wasn’t working.

    A while after I remember chatting with a friend who was a naturopath about my experience. She said in her experience it seems like some people just do better on a vegetarian diet than others do.

    It was weird going back to eating meat again. For the first few months it kind of grossed me out. Beef was hardest to adjust to eating again. Bacon was easy…I’d always kind of missed bacon. But after a few months eating meet my iron levels were back to good levels and I was able to toss the ferrous sulfate tablets. Yippee!

    I was glad I tried almost-vegetarianism for a few years, but it just wasn’t for me.

  6. LOL @ just like real people.

    I’m actually quite fascinated by the idea of a “mostly” vegetarian diet. I’m pretty careful what I eat now and I have been looking into other ways to be healthier i.e. vitamins and hormones etc. Send me your favorite recipe, I’ll try it!

  7. This made me laugh. The whole, “I wish” thing always cracks me up. Years and years ago I was discussing something I had read and the woman reponded “I wish I read more.” And to this day that still makes me laugh. Just do it. I don’t care what people eat as long as they don’t use their “special diet” as a passive/aggressive demand for attention. Then it’s annoying.

  8. I’m trapped in an aeropuerto in Leon Mexico. My flights are continuing to be cancelled. My luggage was ransacked by federales at an impromptu drug checkpoint outside the airport. the only restaurant here just served me the most godawful hamburger I’ve ever tasted. I had to step away from the plate. Maybe I can be a vegetarian.

    I’ve often thought I might be better suited to vegetarian meals…maybe i’ll try it a few days a week and see what happens. If I ever get back in the states. I’d like to know more about how to cook tofu.

  9. TTP – Don’t worry. I won’t try to convert you.

    Jazz – Interesting. I’m thinking with all the weird stuff they put into livestock animals these days, it’s scary enough eating meat without considering all the other ethical/health/environmental stuff.

    Hannah – We (the Friday work lunch group) have Green Earth on our list of Friday lunch venues. We may go tomorrow if the stars align properly. The interesting thing about the different cultures thing is that many cultures were primarily vegetarian for ages. Meat was a luxury only the wealthy could afford, but the North American influence is making itself felt and more and more cultures are featuring meat as a staple –to the detriment of it’s less affluent citizens as more of their lands are dedicated to livestock.

    Alison – That’s great – on both points!

    Louise – Yes, I was vegan for quite a few years, but it was very difficult and not much fun. I compromise now and throw a bit of fish in now and again. And I like eggs and the only dairy I eat is goat cheese.

    Jobthingy – Hey, I don’t blame you. Sometimes it’s very difficult to pass up the bacon. Like on Saturday when I gave mine away. And I still have erotic memories of All You Can Eat Beef Rib Night at the pub near my university.

    Kimber – Good for you! I don’t like those thing, pale, dreadlocked vegetarian stereotypes. It makes people point and laugh. When they see a healthy looking vegetarian it confuses them and makes them think maybe it’s not so bad!

    Mary Lynn – Well at least you gave it a go. There are better ways to get iron than those nasty tablets even on a vegetarian diet. And the discomfort of legumes dissipates after a while, but there are ways of cooking them to make them more easily digestible. If you ever want to give it another try, we can talk!

    Charlene – There are so many. You would have to come and live with us for a few weeks to get the full effect. But, as I said, go eat at some good veg restaurants or browse through some nice veg cookbooks. Try a recipe or two. I have posted some in the past. You’ll have to read each and every post to find them, but they’re there.

    Geewits – I totally agree. When I meet new people they often have a difficult time adjusting to the fact that I don’t eat meat, but they soon find out that I can do everything they can do and go everywhere they can go. I can always find something to eat in pretty much every restaurant these days and any house party. You don’t have to knock yourself out or prepare anything special or hide your leather sofa. I don’t want to make my choices anyone else’s problem. When my daughter goes to a sleepover she always packs a bit of food just so her hosts don’t have to freak out. When we spend a week at my mum’s, I always bring or buy a whack of groceries and do the cooking so no one has to panic or feel weird. I can sit down to Christmas dinner with everyone else and eat everything but the turkey and gravy and I usually make some protein dish to make up for it and make enough for everyone if they want to try it. And yes, I drink beer and wine and am willing to try a whole lot of other stuff. (I don’t know why people always assume I don’t drink just because I don’t eat meat)

    Milan – Ah yes, a Venn diagram is exactly what this post was missing. Give Hella Stella a call and she’ll be happy to tell you what the restaurant is. It would be fun if you could join us, I’m sure. You understand why I don’t want to make note of it here, right?


  10. You understand why I don’t want to make note of it here, right?

    Pressed to guess, I would say you are concerned about reporting where Zoom and Stella will be on Friday, in an open forum?

  11. Some of us actually like the taste of meat, but don’t eat it because we don’t like the idea of having to kill something for a momentary taste sensation.

    I do like the taste of meat, and I am a vegetarian. It’s not the killing that bothers me. In the end, all animals die. What bothers me are the conditions under which most livestock animals live.

    While I have no fundamental objection to killing and eating a pig, I definitely object to the way confined animal feeding operations treat pigs before they are killed. That treatment not only contradicts animal rights and environmental sustainability, but it also raises health risks for those who eat it and (in the form of antibiotic resistance) even those who do not.

  12. I’m a meat eater, happy to be so and eat meat-free meals a few times a week that I have only just realised are meat free because I thought about them after reading this! My lentil and chickpea curry is my favourite indulgence and I have just this evening baked a batch of vegan chocolate muffins that are, even if I do say so myself, fabulous (the vegan muffins date from the time my son was allergic to both milk and eggs but they are so good I still make them even though he can eat eggs now!)

  13. Milan – I sent you an email. There will be more of us present to monitor the event, so if you’re in the neighbourhood…

    How do you feel about organic/free range meat then? The animals are treated humanely, killed humanely and fed on natural things. Even then I see no reason why a fellow living creature has to die so I can have a bit of something that tastes good.

    Loth – We’ll be looking forward to that muffin recipe on your blog soon, right?

  14. I’d make a very UNHAPPY vegetarian. I LIKE MEAT. It just tastes too damned good. Life’s short and difficult enough…I don’t want to deprive myself of the simple pleasures of eating.

    And don’t give me any guff about veggie dishes being just as good. No, they’re NOT!!! Sure, veggie dishes can be okay….but they’re just NOT the same, without that flavoring of meat and animal grease! 😦

    One thing I don’t understand, is why some quasi-vegetarians feel it’s okay to eat fish. (Or chicken is apparently more ethically “acceptable” with some people, than beef).

    Whether it’s a cow, fish, or chicken. Regardless of the critter, they’d all probably be pretty unhappy at being eaten.

    But I’m on top of the food chain, so…well. It doesn’t bother me. Sorry, I’m going to EAT YOU.

    Or how about the vegetarians who impose that lifestyle on their CATS? (Geezus! I don’t get that!)

    For crying out loud…cats are CARNIVORES by nature…why are you forcing Kitty to be something he’s NOT? That consists of animal abuse, in my books!

  15. I don’t know Zoom or Hella Stella, and I certainly mean no disrespect for either lady when I ask this question: Just how is the “does she really like it or not?” answer going to be determined?

    I mean, if I’m threatened with having to do something embarrassing on film, I’ll tell you right now that I’ll hate whatever it is you’re serving. 😉

    Then again, maybe the Tofu really will be *that* good. 😉

  16. Meloukhia – Can’t you eat meat even if you love vegetables? How do you go back to eating meat after being vegan? Even though I didn’t become veg because I was revolted by meat, the thought of eating now does revolt me.

    Friar – I was never THAT fond of meat. I liked a good steak and the aforementioned beef ribs and stuff like bacon and sausage and salami, but most other meat I didn’t like too much anyway. So, I sort of became veg by accident. I just realized one day I hadn’t had meat in over a month so I thought I’d see how long I could keep that up. And I think there are so many really tasty dishes from many many cultures that don’t feature meat. Yes, it doesn’t taste the same, but it does open up a whole new world of exploration. And the fish thing — like I said, not everyone is a vegetarian for the same reasons. For me the fish thing is mainly because I think the health benefits of eating fish outweighs the killing of the fish thing. It’s also a social thing because a meal with fish is something everyone can understand and cope with whereas a vegetarian meal is not. And vegetarian cats is just nuts.

    CP – We’ll be there to monitor the situation first of all. And Zoom is a highly ethical person and we trust her implicitly to tell the truth. And we’ll be there to monitor the situation

  17. I’m a full-time vegetarian after being a part-time vegetarian for decades so I know what you’re talking about. I don’t try to convert anyone but I do tell people very similar things to what you’re saying if they ask “how on earth can you be a vegetarian?”

    People actually get more freaked out when they find out I don’t drink alcohol or caffeine. And believe me, I hear even more people say “I could NEVER go without coffee!” than I do “I could NEVER be a vegetarian!” 🙂

  18. Well said, XUP. I made the decision to be veggie after years of saying I could never, ever give up meat because I like it too much.

    It’s been about six months and I’m surprised every day at how creative I can be in the kitchen and how delicious the meals taste. Most of what I make is very simply and prepared in under half an hour, yet the entire family will eat it. Going out is fairly simple if you know the right restaurants. And most of my friends and family have been fabulously supportive of our choices in the Maven household, even cooking meat-free dishes and enjoying them alongside us.

    I think we might have to plan a little veggie excursion at some point. I haven’t checked out a vegetarian-specific restaurant yet, but I’m eager to go!

    (And I still miss bacon, but not enough to eat it.)

  19. I think eating out is the most difficult thing for me when it comes to staying vegetarian. At home, I’m fine with eating mostly vegetarian, because I can’t stand handling raw meat. I’m usually nauseous and have no appetite by the time i’m done cooking it, so I just don’t bother anymore. But when I go out, or have someone else cook it for me, I’m more likely to eat it. Since i’m not eating out as much now that everyone is broke, I’m actually going longer periods without eating meat. When I lived in Minden, where there are very few options for eating out, I was vegetarian for about 5 years.

    I had a stint as a “raw vegan” for about 6 months when I was 19, lost a lot of weight, but was so miserable I went back to cooked, non-vegan food.

    If I had consistent and affordable access to fresh fruit and vegetables, I imagine I’d go completely vegetarian quite quickly. It scares me when I think about how far some of our vegetables and fruit travel.

  20. I enjoy eating vegetarian meals just as much as eating non-veg meals. Truthfully, if someone else makes it I’ll eat anything!

    Although we are eating more veg meals for the greener good…and it doesn’t harm the grocery bill as well!

  21. How do you feel about organic/free range meat then? The animals are treated humanely, killed humanely and fed on natural things. Even then I see no reason why a fellow living creature has to die so I can have a bit of something that tastes good.

    I have a post about this too: Ethical meat.

    In short, I think it is better to eat meat and actively encourage an ethical meat industry than it is to simply abstain.

  22. LOVE your big steak shot. I’m not a veg, but I could be. In the words of Bartleby, I choose not to. My friend Jennie is vegan. And she is the most non-complaining, easiest-to-please eater I’ve ever known. Give her a baked potato and she’s good to go. (Hummus and pita chips? Even better).

  23. Debra – Do you feel like the healthiest person on earth? Isn’t it odd that people always ask, “what do you eat if you don’t eat meat?” Like it’s the only available food source.

    Maven – Oh boy… veggie field trip!! You’re lucky your family is so on board. Even after some 25 years of me being vegetarian and almost that long of my sister being vegetarian my family will not invite us for dinner because they’re afraid they won’t have anything we can eat. And if they visit us they always rush right out and buy a supply of meat in case they’re forced to live on vegetarian food and starve to death. I’m eager to try the new place on Preston Street Brightest Blue mentioned. And have you tried the Yves Veggie Bacon? It smells like bacon cooking and it has the flavour of bacon, but the texture is different. Still, it hits the spot nicely when you’re having a bacon craving.

    Em – That raw vegan diet thing seems very extreme to me. I can see incorporating it into my diet – having at least one thing raw with every meal makes sense, but not everything. There is that organic food basket from Ottawa Organics that will deliver all sorts of goodies to your house every week – that might make things easier for you? I believe it’s the one Hella Stella subscribes to??

    Helen – That’s the spirit. And yes, as expensive as good produce is sometimes, I’m always shocked at the price of meat and more shocked that people can afford it on a regular basis.

    Milan – I’ve read through your post and the comments. One that struck me was, “If we accept the goodness of ecosystems themselves, we accept the appropriateness of animals being killed” Yes, animals are killed all the time by other animals out of necessity to survive and by humans accidentally as one of your readers pointed out. And if humans had to go out individually and hunt for their meat I would probably agree with the ecosystems argument. But, it is not necessary for humans to kill animals in order to survive and we don’t do it in a natural-order-of-things manner. Meat is purely a luxury for humans. Our systems aren’t even designed to process, digest or efficiently use the nutrients from meat. We breed animals just to kill them in order to indulge a taste sensation luxury. So whether the animals are farmed and killed cruelly or farmed and killed less cruelly is not relevant ethically. In both cases we are abusing our positions as the dominant species. Ethically, our frivolous desire to eat animals is far outweighed by the animals’ rights to freedom from exploitation by humans.

    Ellie – Poor Jennie…. Has to live on baked potatoes. Most of us make a point not to complain or make a big deal about what is and what is not available for us to eat in restaurants or other people’s homes. Because we’re so damn polite. BUT, when someone makes a bit of an effort to include even one creative, well-balanced vegetarian dish on their menu or at their dinner party it makes us ever so happy.

  24. I’ve been vegetarian on and off since childhood. I’m not exactly a poster girl for it since my health has never been stellar. Eating things that can move under their own power seems wrong somehow. It’s a sensibility that’s hard to shake. I do eat meat, especially abstract meat, occasionally. Vit B12 can be stored for years in our liver. Vegetables do have natural protein.

    Each person thrives on a different diet. Depending on where you are equilibrium in diet can be a different directions I suppose. looks like a good plan.

  25. You make a reasonable argument, but I will continue to disagree on the basis of caring more about the welfare of animals as a group than the ‘rights’ of individual animals.

    If demanding pasture-fed organic meat helps shrink the industrial meat industry, I think it’s a victory for both humans and animals.

    For me, at least, this is all a bit of a moot argument, since I don’t actually want to spend the time and money required to track down ethical meat.

  26. I don’t think the physiological argument against meat eating is very strong. Humans are omnivorous and quite capable of consuming moderate quantities of meat in a healthy and beneficial way. That isn’t to say most people don’t eat too much meat in our society, however.

    I know at least some anthropologists also believe that meat eating and the cooking of meat played an important role in the evolutionary development of humans.

  27. Pearl – Your health might be worse if you weren’t vegetarian off and on? Who knows.

    Milan – I don’t see a whole lot of difference between eating organic meat and regular. Yes, the animals live and are killed in more pleasant ways, but neither is sustainable in the long run. If more and more people were encouraged to buy organic meats then organic meat production would have to increase. When the demand for organic produce increased, family-owned organic farms couldn’t keep up with the demand and most organic produce is now grown on huge corporate farms. The letter of the “organic” law may be followed, but the spirit of the organic farm is not. Same with “free-range” eggs. They don’t come from chickens who trott freely around verdant farmyards. The chickens are raised in barns under artificial light, fed the same crap other corporately farmed chickens are fed. The only difference is they’re not squeezed into cages, but get to run around the barn. Encouraging the consumption of free-range/organic meat will result in the same bastardization of the concept. They key, I think, like some of your commenters pointed out, is to encourage people to eat less and less meat of any source.

  28. I agree that ‘organic’ and ‘free range’ as legally defined in Canada are woefully inadequate. If you want ethical meat, you need to deal directly with a farmer who feeds animals with grass. The PolyFace farm discussed in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma is what I mean by ethical meat.

  29. Milan – Once a month? Why bother? If you’ve rid yourself of the shackles of meat consumption to such an extent why would once a month make any difference?

  30. It’s a matter of shifting expectations. Taking something routine and making it extraordinary can add to its appreciation.

    On the broader issue of environmental sustainability, I suspect that in the future we will either choose or be constrained to do a lot of things less frequently: travel, use large amounts of energy, etc.

  31. Milan – I hope you’re right. It would be nice if we were evolved enough to make those decisions ourselves, though.

  32. What a delicious post! I really like your arguments here.

    I once dated a vegan and people were really thrown into a whirlwind by that. “You mean he can’t have grilled cheese?” Not even that?!?!?!?


  33. Milan – scary stuff

    Missy – I know. If it weren’t for animals, apparantly humans would have nothing to eat.

  34. I’m interested in becoming a vegetarian. I haven’t come to a proper conclusion as to where I stand on the moral issues surrounding eating animals. If I believe that animals are capable of conscious thought, how can I justify the consumption of their meat? (Thanks, FYP, for making me think of things like “conscious” and “rational” thought. Thanks also to Aristotle for making me want to disagree with everything you say. Jackass.) I haven’t figured it out yet.

    What I do know is that bacon is delicious, and that I feel I’m too limited by my current eating arrangement (i.e., a meal plan) to make the tough decision. Next year, when I’m cooking my own food, I’m going to take a deeper look into it.

  35. excellent post and i’m very pleased you let folks know there is a way out 😉

    i’ve gone the no meat route a few times, maybe one of these days it’ll stick. i know the real problem is me. not my husband, my kids, or anyone else.

  36. Davis – You mean they’re still not offering enough vegetarian options on meal plans? That’s disgraceful!! Protest or something.

    Leah – It’ll happen when/if it happens

  37. There are SOME vegetarian options – they kind of have to. But the problem is most of those options are usually just the tofu/non-meat versions of the main (meat) meal. As one of my vegan friends complained the other night, “I’m getting bored of stir-fry”