Thursday, January 23, 2014

It's not easy being green... (or, giving vegetarianism a go)

I’ve been pescetarian for the past 16 years, and in all those years I’d always wondered if I could ever become vegetarian. The term that some people use to be more precise as to what “vegetarian” means is ovo-lacto-vegetarian, meaning one would still eat eggs and consume dairy products. (Vegans eat neither.) I’ve long wanted to try it, but never really thought I could do without seafood. 

Last month, I went on a short trip to Mexico. The city I went to, Puebla, was way above sea level, so my friends who had gone there previously told me there was hardly any seafood there, and if that there was fish to be had, it was not the greatest.  I started to wonder what I would end up eating in Mexico. 

The beautiful cathedral of Puebla
While I was in that city, I only had seafood once (my friend told me that the octopus in Puebla was a must-try), and the rest of the time I had in essence, a vegetarian diet. A lot of beans, cheese, greens, other vegetables, and tortillas, fried or otherwise. I didn’t even notice that I was not really eating seafood until my ten-day trip was nearly over. There were so many vegetarian choices, even when it came to street food.

Molotes- fried tortilla stuffed with cheese and mushrooms
When 2014 rolled around, I decided that I was going to give vegetarianism my best shot. I figured that if I could do it for ten days without noticing, I could probably last a bit longer with some effort.

When I got back to the Philippines, I realized that being vegetarian is not that easy, because ours is a meat-eating culture. Of course I already knew this even when I was pescetarian, but I saw exactly how non-friendly our diet is to those who do not eat meat. 

I often eat out, and I discovered that the wait-staff are often not aware of what the word “vegetarian” really means. When I ask them what vegetarian items they had, they would just point out that they had salads, even if the salads were “grilled chicken salad”, “seared tuna salad”, or other salads that had meat. They would not refer me to their spinach lasagna or truffle mushroom pasta, which are actually the right dishes to offer someone who is vegetarian.

Some restaurants would not have anything at all for vegetarians, except for maybe one soup on the menu. Because of this, I’ve learned to be more diligent in researching menus of restaurants prior to visiting them, especially when I’m meeting up with friends who may have chosen the place. I’ve also learned that I sometimes have to eat before leaving my house, because sometimes, there’s practically nothing to be had from the menu.

The best way to be vegetarian here is to prepare your own food. However, I also noticed that it can be more expensive if you don’t eat meat. Vegetables are so expensive, and so is good cheese, which has been a staple for me since giving up seafood.

I’ve been vegetarian for a few weeks now, and I continue to adjust to this lifestyle that I’ve chosen. I have to be more creative in preparing meals for myself, and I have to find out how I can get enough protein aside from what I get from eggs and dairy products.

It’s been a learning process for me, and I totally have more respect for vegetarians and vegans who have managed to maintain their lifestyle. I hope I will have the patience to continually think of ways to keep my meals balanced, healthy, affordable, and tasty. It might take me a while, but I’ll probably get the hang of it, eventually.