Sometimes I like to go back to basics. For a relatively new vegetarian like myself — and even for more experienced ones — I think it’s helpful every so often to remember why we made this transition in the first place.
For me, the reasons included (and still include) health, environmental concerns and, though I haven’t talked about this next piece of the puzzle so much, a sense of ethical obligation to the animals of the world. Now, health claims can be controversial, especially because of the seemingly ever-changing nature of nutrition research, so I’ll just report that I feel much better now than I did when I ate meat. When it comes to the environment, there are many complicating factors, but I view vegetarianism as just one more way in which I try to go easy on the planet. (Others include recycling, composting and not owning a car.) And as it concerns those animals, I’m more comfortable than ever stating that my lifelong love for dogs and cats has made me want to extend that compassion to beings that used to show up on my dinner table.
Erica Meier, executive director of Compassion Over Killing, sponsor of last weekend’s DC VegFest (where I spoke and served samples), summarized the reasons succinctly when she and I appeared last week on a local TV news show: “Vegetarian means being lighter in many ways,” she said. “Having a lighter footprint on our environment. . . . lighter in terms of our health. . . . And, of course, especially for me — and this is the reason I became vegan — a lighter conscience.”
For the sixth annual VegFest, some 15,000 people were expected at Yards Park. That’s a 50 percent increase over last year, so some of them were surely even newer to the cause than I am — or perhaps they’re what you might call the veg-curious. If any are looking for a primer, they have a good new source in “Plant Power” by Nava Atlas, the prolific author of such books as “Wild About Greens” and the creator of VegKitchen.com.
The most helpful information might be the front matter. Besides recounting her own journey, Atlas busts some common myths about plant-based eating (it’s not filling enough, you can’t get enough protein, you’ll get weak and sickly) and covers important nutritional considerations (which leafy greens are good sources of calcium and iron, which foods have the most protein and more). The latter is so useful that I was tempted to copy those pages and tape them to my fridge.
Ultimately, recipes make the best case of all for vegetarianism, and I put one of Atlas’s to the test: How would it go over at a dinner party table occupied almost entirely by carnivores? I chose a slightly spicy stew that uses almond (or another nut) butter for creaminess and packs sweet potatoes, broccoli and kale into a tomato-based broth. Just a few bites in, our conversation turned not to the fact that there wasn’t any meat in sight, but to the kind of stories I like best: about our favorite vegetables.
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