A bad vegetarian

I ORDERED THE NO. 3 platter at The Old Spaghetti Factory last Friday and the waitress responded with a wry smile, “The meat lover’s platter, sure.” What did she say? A meat lover? Me? It felt dirty, especially since my girlfriend was sitting right next to me.

“Sorry babe, there’s another love in my life and everybody knows it, even this waitress. I wish you didn’t have to find out this way.”

It also felt wrong since for the past couple months, I have been an amateur vegetarian. But, like any passionate lover, meat has come crawling back into my life and it wants to stay.

I wasn’t always such a bad vegetarian. I recall one hungry night back in September when I drove to several fast-food restaurants looking for a decent non-meat meal. There wasn’t one to be had. A bowl of rice with vegetables at Panda Express cost almost $5. The salads at Wendy’s were pricey and most of them had meat.

The only cheap item that could qualify as a meal at Taco Bell was the bean burrito, and although these 90-cent treats would later become my boon companions, I wasn’t ready at the time for mouthfuls of flavorless beans.

I got some nachos and cinnamon twists from T-Bell. “This will be OK,” I told myself. “At least I’ll save some money.” And I certainly saved money. My wallet grew fat with small bills and I found myself wishing I had given up fast food sooner.

If I could take back all the money I’ve spent on burgers and tacos over the past four years, I would do it in a cholesterol-laden heartbeat.

But besides having limited options at my favorite fast-food stops, I was also troubled by the warning voice of my nutritionist, a.k.a. my mom.

“How will you get protein? You better be taking vitamins.”

Vitamins? Great. I wanted to be a vegetarian partly for health reasons and now I found it could be unhealthy in its own way.

So I went to Food-4-Less and got some generic multi-vitamins, a dozen eggs, and peanut butter. I fought the good fight against protein deprivation one peanut butter sandwich and hard-boiled egg at a time, and by God I won it.

The only price: an addiction to peanut butter (because it’s just so darn easy).

I felt healthier, too. I spend most of my days reading, writing, and teaching, so I don’t have much time or energy to exercise. Being a vegetarian gave me control over my weight without having to spend extra time at the gym.

Things were going so well; how did meat come back into the picture?

There was really just a problem with the way I started this whole experiment out.

To start, I came into it with cheap motivations. I had problems with the fast-food industry and the ethics of meat production, but those were just vague, impersonal ideas, and I think the only thing that’s really kept me going has been the commitment to my own health.

I also had a very casual attitude about the whole thing. G.K. Chesterton said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” This was my mantra. I knew giving up meat would be tough so I wasn’t too hard on myself when the occasional burger craving overpowered me.

And from there it was a slippery slope. Some pepperoni on a pizza became a cheeseburger, and that soon became a meat lover’s platter with spaghetti in meat sauce, meatballs, and Italian sausage.

So has it all been a waste? No, certainly not.

I’ve learned a lot about my own health, the environment, money management, and cooking, and though I may not be a vegetarian in the full sense of the word just yet, the effort has helped me become a more responsible adult.

I hope to wean myself off meat completely by the end of the year.

But not on Thanksgiving.

I’ve gotta have my turkey.

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