Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Vegetarian Experiment

           Perhaps I have a weak stomach. I've seen the doctor several times for tummy troubles...heartburn, nausea, burning sensations, tenderness in the abdomen...and it's always inconclusive. Now that I'm sans health-insurance I've been left to my own devices to try and find the source of my digestive woes.

           IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, is defined as "any combination of common disturbances of the bowel...sometimes accompanied with psychological stress." This may very well be the issue, although any form of medication I was given always had worse side effects than just dealing with it. I tried a food diary, jotting down what, how much, and when I ate. This method would last all of three days and I would soon forget to write things down and when I remembered to write them down, I would forget what I ate!

            I clearly lacked the discipline to map out when and where my digestive disturbances occurred and what I was eating at the time. I did manage to narrow down a few culprits: caffeine, chocolate, spicy foods, tomato based foods, milk, and for some unfair reason...cake. As a college student waiting tables part time I found it quite impossible to avoid caffeine, and chocolate...well, just kill me now why don't you? Pizza was especially brutal- creating a raging inferno inside my gut that even the  deliciousness of these cheese and sauce covered pies was not worth. What was a girl to do?

          Faulty digestion was not the only thing that seemed to plague me on a regular basis; I also seemed to get food poisoning quite often. I was convinced that there was a modern day Typhoid Mary loose in Texas and he/she was contaminating every fast food and sit down restaurant I patronized! Take this and multiply it by the paranoia of someone taking a Food Microbiology course and you have one great big irrational fear! Or was this fear a rational one?

           In the news recently there was a recall of 1 million pounds of frozen ground beef products due to possible E. coli contamination. Yes, it is true that packaged salad mixes have also been found to be contaminated with E.coli which is another reason, besides pesticides, to rinse your produce thoroughly! I had been noticing the sort of "off" taste and texture of the chicken I would buy from the grocery store, and I was just plain tired of ground beef since it was the main ingredient in almost everything mom made for dinner. (Sorry mom!)

            A friend of mine suggested I watch Food, Inc., claiming that I will never want to eat meat again! I watched it, keeping in mind that documentaries tend to be very one-sided and filled with propaganda. What struck me the most was the treatment of our mass-produced meat animals! They live out their sad lives in cramped and filthy spaces, suffering from disease and inhumane treatment only to be slaughtered in a factory-like fashion. If I am wrong about this, please someone correct me because I would be quite relieved to hear it! I wont go into the other disturbing information I was presented, I will leave that up to you to find out on your own. The bottom line was that I had another good reason to avoid meat!

          My other reasons were as follows: I hated handling raw meat, couldn't seem to get a grasp on cooking meat, and I didn't eat very much of it anyway. My mom brought home a package of firm tofu and it was the beginning of my vegetarian experiment! I used a combination of FoodNetwork , allrecipes , and Google to find different ways to cook tofu, and what types of dishes a vegetarian ate. I would snap pictures of my little experimental meals and post them on my Facebook to mixed reactions. Some of my friends would comment on how gross they imagined tofu to be, and others thought the meals looked quite tasty.

          I expected people to have a negative reaction to my desire to go vegetarian and this was not the case at all! By the way, my boyfriend is extremely pro-meat, loves to grill and has to have his beef jerky...even he enjoys eating my meatless meals! Three of my friends have let me borrow cookbooks filled with vegetarian fare, and I am slowly working my way through reading "Becoming Vegetarian: The Essential Guide to a Healthy Vegetarian Diet." The transition is not an easy one! I've had the occasional burger, tacos, and my mom's delicious chicken pot pie...I'm only human! As long as I stock my own kitchen with plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, tofu, eggs, low fat dairy products (this is considered lacto-ovo-vegetarian) and a plethora of herbs,seasonings and healthy cooking oils I will be well on my way.

         Since I've seriously increased my intake of vegetables and whole grains compared to what I used to comsume, I have noticed that I feel much better! My bowels have become very regular (my apologies for the imagery), my energy has increased, and I've even lost weight. Keep in mind that everyone is different and has their own unique needs when it comes to nutrition. I am a student and by no means have the authority to counsel anyone. Consider this my disclaimer. :-)

         Thank you for taking the time to share this experience with me and I hope you will join me for the rest of my adventures in eating!

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