Making the Transition from Meat Eater to Vegetarian

Transition to vegan

Transitioning from meat eater to vegan can be an uphill battle

Whether for dietary, religious or ethical reasons, a number of people are now considering making the dietary switch from meat-eating to some degree of vegetarianism.  Some are choosing to become pescatarian, meaning they will still incorporate some seafood in their diets.  Others are willing to become ovo-lacto vegetarians, which means they will still eat products created by animals (eggs, milk, fats, etc.) but not animal flesh itself. A smaller percentage opts to go completely vegan, which means no animal-derived products of any kind and an emphasis on organically produced vegetables and fruits.  All of these dietary choices are viable and healthy, as long as the dieter does his or her research and invests in the right dietary supplements for optimum health.

But ending a lifetime of medium-rare rib eye steaks and fried pork chops is not an easy sacrifice for everyone.  The vegetarian alternatives to beef hamburgers or breaded chicken patties may not be very satisfying after consuming the “real thing” for decades.  Here are some tips on how to make the transition from meat-eating to at least a vegetarian-friendly diet easier:

Accept the fact that only meat will taste exactly like meat.

There are ingredients in meat products that simply cannot be duplicated by plant-based food products.  The appealing taste of a beefsteak is often provided by the animal’s blood, for example.  The mouthfeel of a juicy hamburger is the result of saturated animal fat melting into the muscle tissue.  Alternative vegetarian “meat” products can duplicate much of the flavor profile of the meats they replace, but not everything.  Even the gristly chew of a beef hamburger can be duplicated with plant-based ingredients, but it won’t taste exactly like a hamburger. Many people who attempt to switch over to a vegetarian diet are often disappointed by the texture or flavor of a meat substitute, but this is often a case of perception and comparison, not the actual qualities of the vegetarian alternative.  When switching to a more vegetarian diet, try not to put too much emphasis on the differences between real meat and the substitute.

Don’t be afraid to adjust vegetarian meals to make them more appealing.

Some people find that frying meatless vegetarian patties in a layer of olive oil will give them a meat-like crispiness not possible through baking or oil-free pan-frying. Adding a seasoning such as seasoned salt or soy sauce or a salt-free blend can also add meat-like flavors to an otherwise bland vegetarian dish.  Adding ingredients such as mushrooms or tempeh or tofu to a vegetable dish can also give it some meat-like texture or flavor. Vegetarian spaghetti sauces can be improved with the addition of meatless “burger crumbles”, available in many grocery stores.  If the original recipe for a vegetarian dish sounds insubstantial or bland, don’t be afraid to change the cooking method or add other ingredients to improve on it.

Visit vegetarian-friendly restaurants for meal ideas.

Many new converts to vegetarianism aren’t even aware that their favorite restaurants have vegetarian dishes on their menus.  A vegetarian dish doesn’t have to be a meatless equivalent of a popular meat-based dish, either.  Try eggplant parmesan at an Italian restaurant or tofu-based dishes at an Indian restaurant.  These recipes use hearty or flavorful vegetables in the same way meat recipes feature beef or chicken.  The prepared salads on many menus are vegetarian by nature, or can be made vegetarian with the removal of only a few ingredients. These vegetarian dishes can often be duplicated at home.

Remember why you have decided to pursue a more vegetarian lifestyle.

There will always be temptations to eat just one hamburger at a picnic or get some fried chicken at a fast food restaurant. The cravings for meat products does not magically disappear once the decision to go vegetarian is made. One technique that may help fledgling vegetarians is aversion therapy.  Visualize a tempting meat product covered in a disgusting substance, like motor oil or dirt.  Put a face on the meat.  Remind yourself that meat contains artery-clogging saturated fats or blood or some other unappealing ingredient. Use whatever technique works to make the idea of returning to a meat-eating lifestyle less and less appealing.  Learn to anticipate the taste of a delicious vegetarian casserole or favorite bread baking in the oven.  Do more research on the health benefits of a vegetable-based diet.  Reinforce the positives of your diet and try to avoid temptation throughout the day.

Find new friends who are also converting (or have converted) to vegetarian diets.

Many dieters find strength in numbers, and it’s also good to have a local support network to keep each other in check. A communal potluck dinner featuring favorite vegetarian dishes could be a positive introduction to other local vegetarians.  Group dinner dates at local vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly restaurants would also be good icebreakers.  Remember that ordering a vegetarian meal with meat-eating coworkers or friends should never be uncomfortable.  Other people may want to order the largest rib eye steak on the menu or a triple-decker hamburger with the works, but you can still order the cheese pizza with vegetable toppings or a house salad minus the bacon bits.  Having a strong support network of fellow vegetarian converts can help make the transition easier to make.

For further information on changing to vegetarianism Nutrition.gov is full of useful links and information (Nutrition.Gov Vegan)

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