The path to vegetarianism is not the same for all of us… some people decide to become vegetarian instantly, boom!!! And some people, like me, take years of modifying their habits before they can call themselves vegetarian.
That’s possibly the case with Kate too… Kate is American but now lives in Italy. She and I occasionally mingled in a website called Serious Eats. She had mentioned she had certain gastro issues I am particularly familiar with so I had written her screen name down so I could remember who she was.
For about a year now, we have become friends thanks to Facebook… we both belong to a group made up of Serious Eats enthusiasts. But on Facebook, we got rid of our screen names and have gotten to know each other on a more personal level. That’s when Kate and I started developing our friendship – over our love of food, our gastro connection and a genuine spark that brings people together regardless of how far apart they live. Technology is a beautiful, beautiful thing indeed…
I was touched to learn from Kate that KarmaFree Cooking partly inspired her to become what she calls – a workweek vegetarian. She eats vegetarian meals Monday thru Friday and still eats some meals over the weekend made from animal proteins. She does not consider herself a vegetarian by any means, but she has experienced herself the positive effects of reducing her consumption of animal products in her daily diet.
I asked her to please share her story with you all… she graciously accepted.
I would like for you all to see that EVERYONE and ANYONE can benefit from making some positive changes in their diet towards a more natural and vegetarian lifestyle. Hope you enjoy Kate’s story as much as I have.
Grazie mille Kate!!!!
Kate Matney-Perini, Modena, Italia
You know… I can’t think of anything in the universe that makes less sense than being vegan. I understand that it’s a moral issue most of the time. Some people really, honestly think that cutting ALL animal-based products out of their lives makes them better human beings. Pfff.
Scientists will tell you that if our ancestors WAAAY back in the day hadn’t started consuming flesh that our brains wouldn’t have grown to a large enough size for tool making and language. That doesn’t mean that eating meat every day is a good diet plan either. As an American, I was raised to understand that a good meal included meat, carbs, a vegetable side, something sweet to follow, and a tall glass of milk for my bones.
When I got to Italy 4 years ago, married my husband, and had access to healthcare I couldn’t afford back home in Oregon I found out that I was 22 and had high cholesterol. Me. 22 years old with high cholesterol. Are you SERIOUS!? This is BULL HONKEY. No one under the age of 50 should have high cholesterol, right? Wrong.
Turns out I was one of many American youngsters with high cholesterol, and in Europe it is one of the first things they test Americans for when they add tests to the list of blood exams. I felt pretty terrible about the fact that Americans are known for high cholesterol in Europe. What the heck was I supposed to do? Go on Lipitor or something? N-n-n-n-no… No. I wasn’t going to go on MEDICATION for high cholesterol. So I did the first thing any self-respecting American does when faced with a health issue: I jumped on the internet and updated my status on Facebook. Terrible, right?
Well, it didn’t really turn out to be that bad of an idea. I got lots of fake-pity-filled comments like ‘Oh, I’m so sorry!’ ‘I hope you feel better!’ ‘Stop eating so much butter!’. All that did was piss me off and make me want to show them my tub of generic low-calorie butter substitute that I was using because I thought it was better for me. But then I got a comment from my middle school health teacher that I’ve kept in contact with. This woman is amazing. When I was 12 and my sister told me that she was in love with a woman I went to my health teacher looking for guidance. When I was 16 and found out that my best friend was getting into drugs I went to her for advice. Now, here she is again in my life telling me ‘Have you ever thought about being a Vegetarian?’. I balked at the idea. I nearly felt offended. My immediate reaction was to run to the fridge, take out my pack of bacon, cradle it in my arms and tell it ‘Don’t worry, sweetheart! She didn’t mean it! Don’t panic!’. I dismissed the idea immediately.
I started taking fish oil, I started drinking skim milk, and I subscribed to a gym. I thought I was doing great until my 6 month check-up blood work told me that my cholesterol had GONE UP FROM 220 to 222. You know that little anime trick where they make the face of the character look weird and make a huge teardrop slowly descend next to their face with a timpani BOOOWWWW sound in the background to express the ‘OH GOD THIS IS STUPID AND EMBARRASSING’ emotion? That was totally me. Wake-up call anyone?
So I got to thinking… maybe I should start cutting down in the meat. That’s REALLY hard to do in the region of Italy that I live in. I live in Emilia-Romagna. It’s the Pork capital of the world.
Think of an Italian dish with pork in it and I GUARANTEE you it came from here. No questions asked. I got my beef addiction from living in hillbilly paradise Oregon, so the move from there to here just made me consume more pork to make up for the deficit in delicious bloody beefy goodness. Excuse my drool, sorry kids. So I started by going to my butcher to talk about options. I had horse meat available (since Italians are into that kind of thing and its VERY lean), but as the daughter of a breeder of Arabian horses and a champion in Hunter Pleasure and Dressage, I just could bring myself to eat horse. Turkey, Chicken, Rabbit, and Fish came up. Chicken and Turkey… Yeah OK, fine. Rabbit? That sounds interesting! So I started by adding in new lean proteins that I wasn’t used to eating before. Rabbit was one of them. Fish the other. Before, I couldn’t STAND fish. UGH. That fishy smell, that fishy taste, that fishy mouth-feel… Yuck, dude. Just… no. But then I learned about the difference between different types of fish and which ones had milder flavor and how to cook fish. I learned that if you buy fresh fish from someone who knows what it should be like you’re much more likely to like it when you eat it.
After about 4 months of things that fly, things that hop, and things that swim (instead of things that graze and oink) I said to myself ‘Hey… That wasn’t so hard! Let’s try to only eat meat every other day. I bet I can do it!’. But that was an issue because I’m married. Why should that be an issue you ask? Well, my husband thinks that broccoli is the next WMD that the terrorists are going to use against the rest of the civilized world. He will eat salad, corn, spinach (miraculously), sometimes I’ll catch him eating bell peppers and onions… Potatoes are his favorite. Go figure.
So when I started not putting meat on my plate at suppertime he started to give me a hard time. He’d tell me that my vegetables make the house smell bad when I cook them. My vegetables are going to turn my skin weird colors. The next time I decide to eat asparagus I have to go outside and pee in a bush because it makes the bathroom smell bad. Thanks a lot for the support, Honey. After a while, I found out that it was his way of joking around and being supportive.
I fixed a lot of meals that I could add meat to one portion and leave it out of the other portion… Things like pizza, frittatas, hash browns, pasta dishes, anything roasted in the oven could have a little packet of sausage or piece of meat in another container. This was working so I pressed on. I kept my health teacher’s idea in the back of my mind like a secret Barbie collection under a mattress in boot camp. You take out your Barbies and have a tea party only when you know everyone is asleep and no one is watching. I went like that for a year.
When I finally decided to stop eating meat and only eat fish at the beginning of 2011, I forgot about how we usually go to my in-law’s house on the weekends to eat their food and use their hot water and electricity (because we’re smart like that and we love my husband’s parents). I didn’t want to impose my eating habits on them. I also knew that I still liked to eat meat but I didn’t want to eat it all the time. They thought that I was just eating more vegetables and started giving me a salad with my pork roast. When I ate my salad and left most of my pork roast on the plate, my mother in law took it like I didn’t like her cooking. When I asked for chicken or fish on the weekends instead of pork or beef, she asked me what was wrong. People who eat chicken in Italy usually do it because they don’t feel well.
Apart from high cholesterol, I’ve known for a long time that I’ve had severe gastrointestinal issues so she thought maybe I was feeling gastrointestinal-y. I explained that I was going to compromise with my lifestyle and be a workweek vegetarian to help keep my cholesterol in check, but I’d need to eat things that weren’t pork or beef on the weekends to get the protein that I need and still keep tabs on my cholesterol. She was very supportive. Now she always asks me ahead of time if something is OK for me to eat or if I’d like to have something different. I went in for a blood test this last December and found out that thanks to my diet change my cholesterol went down from 222 to 190! That’s within the healthy range! That means I’m on the right track!
With the new year I find myself INJECTED with new motivation. I started reading KarmaFree Cooking about 8 months ago and get new vegetarian recipes all the time, even ones that my husband can’t snub his nose at! With some gentle coaxing I’ve even managed to get him eating broccoli rabe, cabbage, and (dare I say it) GREEN BEANS.
My husband eats three vegetarian meals a week or more now. It is hard to believe, but so do my inlaws. We eat pizza every Sunday night and they order pizzas without meat like I do and find that they digest it easier and don’t feel the pizza hangover the next day like they used to. I give my mother in law vegetarian recipes all the time now.
I’m also finding new ways to bake cakes and cookies without egg yolks or butter. I choose one or the other. Either there is butter or oil in the recipe, or egg yolks. Not both. I take my health seriously, now. I haven’t lost any weight (Pandas are cute because they are squishy and fluffy, right? I think 5’7’’ and 160lbs is squishy and fluffy enough to still be cute right?), but I have my cholesterol hog tied and squealin’ like a piggy! And with help from Karma Free Cooking it isn’t hard to think that maybe I’ll be a vegetarian one day and not just a workweek one.
But for now I’m spreading the word about fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains like Quinoa and Barley and Brown Rice, and how you don’t have to completely nix meat from your diet to experience the health benefits. I eat meat about twice a week now, maybe. I’ve gone 3 weeks without eating meat and was perfectly fine. Maybe it is time to re-evaluate what an American dinner plate should have on it.
Now if only I could kick my dessert habit…
Age 25, Workweek Vegetarian