Let me preface this by saying, I love meat! I like it in all forms: fish, chicken, steak, pork, lamb. I like it raw, I like it medium rare, I like it juicy and tender. I have no ethical or moral objection to meat. In the past, I have never spent time dwelling on the living conditions of the animals that I have devoured, and I have never seen a piece of meat and thought, "I'm eating flesh."
With that being said, I must share with you that Brian and I didn't eat meat for the month of May! We were what you could consider lacto-ovo vegetarians, meaning, we ate dairy products and eggs.
I'm sure your thinking (because someone said it every time we mentioned our month-long experiment), "That's crazy. I love meat. There's no way that I could ever give up meat. You HAVE to eat meat to survive." But let me tell you, friends, it was a fantastic and enlightening experience that everyone should just try-at least once in their lives.
It all started one Sunday morning when Brian's parents were visiting. We were watching CBS Sunday Morning, and Charles Osgood was featuring a group of firefighters in Austin, Texas that drastically changed their lifestyles to follow a plant-based diet and lower their skyrocketing cholesterol. Rip Esselstyn is a fellow firefighter and author of The Engine 2 Diet-the inspiration for the the firefighters plant-based diet. Esselstyn claims that after a 28 day following of this diet, you'll see remarkable changes in the way that you feel, your blood pressure, your cholesterol and your exercise potential. The four of us decided to give it a shot-why not try the vegetarian lifestyle for 28 days and see how we feel?
My kitchen was totally unprepared for this lifestyle change. Each evening when I came home from work, the dinner that I prepared consisted of some sort of animal protein, a vegetable and some sort of a carbohydrate (bread, rice, pasta). For May, I needed every type of bean, whole grain and tofu-yes, tofu.
I've always wanted to learn how to cook tofu-I've just never learned because, well, I really didn't want to learn badly enough, I guess. My first run-in with tofu was at the cafeteria my freshman year in college. Needless to say, I have been hesitant to try it again. But now was my chance to learn to cook this soy-based product. It always seemed ubiquitous, and completely lacking in pizazz or substance. I googled recipes for days; I felt determined to finish this diet satisfied with having mastered the art of tofu.
Our first attempt at a meatless May; black bean veggie burgers. Our thoughts? Absolutely satisfying! We topped them with cheese and and tomatoes-no different than any other burger. They were absolutely fantastic! Second attempt-spicy tofu. Thoughts? A mediocre attempt at tofu preparation. By day two, I called Brian's mom ready to quit. In typical Jan fashion, she gave me encouragement and creative ideas for satisfying meals.
And then something happened. We continued to be creative and finally began to enjoy what we were cooking. Lentils are a big staple in East Indian cuisine-we cooked lentils in every way-soup, salads. Lentils are super food that give you tons of protein and cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, and twice as much iron as any other bean. Additionally they are packed full of B vitamins and folate! Best of all-they were absolutely delicious!
One of our favorite meals was the hummus feta and vegetable wrap. It is a large spinach wrap filled with homemade hummus, cucumbers, carrots, green onions, spinach bell peppers and topped with a generous amount of feta cheese. It was amazingly satisfying and so delicious! I gave my hummus a little extra vitamins and fiber by making a roasted beet hummus! The final result was a deep-red hummus filled with protein, fiber and antioxidants! It was so good on wraps, sandwiches or as a simple dip for vegetables or crackers.
Another great meal was prepared by Brian; baked manicotti stuffed with ricotta cheese. He served it with salad and sourdough bread. It was so satisfying and we ate it for days! Italian food offers a lot of vegetarian options, and we indulged in them quite often.
Cottage cheese, yogurt, nuts, fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, soy-based products, eggs and complex carbohydrates became a staple. Breakfast was yogurt (Greek or vanilla) with Ezekiel 4:9 cereal, topped with honey and fresh fruit. Our lunches consisted of the hummus and feta wraps combined with fresh fruit, a trail mix (dried fruit mixed nuts and chocolate chips), yogurt, cheddar cheese, peanut butter and jelly crackers (if we needed something sweet) and anything else that we had that would be packed full of protein and nutrients. Dinner was perhaps of a tofu stir fry with vegetables or anything hearty.
The best part about our meat-free experience was that we were finally becoming very conscious about what we were eating. Brian works 130 hours a week so he needs to be as observant about his diet as possible to get him through his 35 hour days (yes-days can be longer than 24 hours in his world). His meal options at the hospital are limited and late night hunger left him in the McDonald's line. I was not much better. I was eating a shockingly huge amount of sugar, and animal protein consisted of 70% of my diet, rather than fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Meatless May proved to be a fantastic experience to REMIND us that our body is very well fueled by the plants and grains that the Lord has given us. Not only did our exercise routines become stronger, our entire bodies felt stronger as well. You don't NEED meat in your diet to survive, as you can find all the needed nutrients in plant and dairy products.
We ate meat for the first time June 1st in Colorado. It was absolutely delicious! When I put the first piece of steak in my mouth, time did not stop, and dramatic theme music didn't play in the background. But it was darn good. I like meat. Since we've been back to Miami though, I haven't had any meat. I'm not avoiding it-not at all. It's just that I've found as much satisfaction in a meatless lifestyle. That doesn't mean that I won't love a medium-rare filet if you put it in front of me.
This experience isn't for everyone. But I do think that you can learn a lot about yourself, your body and your eating habits by trying this. What do you have to lose? Well, I would suspect that most of us have a few cholesterol points to lose for starters. :)
The delicious baked manicotti stuffed with ricotta cheese
roasted beet hummus
baked portobello mushroom caps with sauteed peppers and onions topped with blue cheese