From Our Readers
October 29, 2013 6:00 am

When someone encourages me to eat a particular meat dish at either a networking event or at an assortment of awkward social settings (including family get togethers), and I state that I am actually a vegetarian, there are a variety of weird looks and questions I receive. Some include: what in the world do you eat, did you just wake up one day and decide not to eat meat, why would you do something stupid like that, and well we have salmon for the vegetarians. I usually answer the same way: I eat food just like everyone else in the world, I did not wake up one day decided to quit meat cold turkey, actually being a vegetarian can be a healthier lifestyle than a carnivore, and thanks, salmon still have eyes and breathe. I actually had a chain of events that led to this life changing moment, which actually included a turkey sandwich. Below are just a few signs that I believe shows that I was destined to become a vegetarian.

1. Anti-pumpkin carving

It is October, the time of year for candy corn, ghosts, costumes, pumpkin carving and fear. For me, the scariest part of Halloween is the possibility of being asked to carve a pumpkin. One Halloween my mom tried to convince me that carving a pumpkin would be something fun and enjoyable. I promptly burst into tears and exclaimed, “But I don’t want to kill the pumpkin!” The prospect of dissecting and spilling out Mr. Pumpkin’s insides for all to see seemed terribly wrong, even for a six year old. My mom tried to console me but she was determined to at least uphold some fall pumpkin tradition. I eventually caved and said it would be okay to paint a pumpkin. Somehow this seemed more humane than slicing and dicing of a poor unsuspecting pumpkin.

2. Wildlife Be free!

Even as a small child, I would try and capture insects/vermin that were caught in our house and generously set them free outside. This provided a little problem for my parents. They were worried I might happen to catch a poisonous spider or venomous snake. Fortunately we lived in Central PA and the worst thing I captured/released was a non-poisonous spider (or so I was told). Even in 2009 (6 months before I caved to my vegetarian cravings) I chased my live-in-mouse Mack around my apartment, trying and inexplicably failing to catch him in a soup bowl. I really wanted to free him before he ended his life in the decapitating death traps my landlord set around my apartment.

3. Thanksgiving Woes

Thanksgiving was always a time for thanks, seeing family, and trying not to vomit at the sight of a raw turkey in the kitchen sink. Raw meat makes me cringe. Lately I’ve become more tolerant of it since on some occasions, I cook it for my boyfriend (that my friend is true love). One Thanksgiving my mother decided that I was old enough to help with “kitchen duties” instead of just watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. I thought that when my mother asked me to “help her dress the turkey” (how deceiving is that term?), I was the luckiest girl in the world. I bounced into the kitchen, happy as a clam with my favorite doll dress in hand when I saw a sight that still to this day is burned into my memory: my mom had almost her entire arm up the turkey’s bottom. I screamed and quickly retreated to my room, frightened to ever return to Thanksgiving. The next year, my mom asked me the same question and I revolted and refused to leave the couch, screaming that she was a murderer. From then on, my job was only to set the table.

4. Lunch meat sandwiches

All my life my mom always packed me a lunch meat sandwich. I didn’t even think anyone ate anything besides a lunch meat sandwich for lunch. Even as a college graduate, the idea of eating a lunch meat sandwich was so ingrained into my brain that is what I still ate for lunch every day. In 2010, I was eating a lunch meat sandwich at work and I suddenly really looked at the turkey lunch meat. Have you ever REALLY looked at lunch meat? It is probably one of the grossest meat products you will come in contact with (besides raw meat and spam). I almost vomited in my mouth when I started to inspect this meat even harder. Thoughts started running through my brain about the turkey that I was about to ingest. How old was this turkey when he was mercilessly killed? Did he have a lover that dearly missed him? A child? Why did he have to die for me to survive? I almost started crying on the spot. I threw the other half of my sandwich in the trash and I haven’t turned back to grab that sandwich in over three years.

Being a vegetarian at first was difficult and all my cooking mishaps could be a book in itself. One very important point for the virgin vegetarian…beware of hidden meat.

Hidden Meats

1. Bacon-Bacon might show up where you least expect it. My horror story happened when I was a vegetarian for almost a year. A musician from a major orchestra was able to sneak me and my boyfriend into an after concert gala. We were elated; free food and mingling with some of the best musicians in the country! What could be better? I grabbed a mini chocolate cupcake to celebrate our accomplishment and ate it in one bite. My boyfriend took a tiny bite out of his chocolate cupcake and exclaimed, “There is bacon in this cupcake!” Tears began to well up in my eyes. I would have complained to the event planner for not having a warning sign next to the cupcake (what if I was actually deathly allergic to bacon!?) but considering I was a classical music gala crasher, I held my tongue.

2. Imitation crab meat-Just because it says “imitation” in its name does not in fact mean it isn’t some form of fish. White fish to be exact. I found this out from my father when I told him I enjoyed sushi. He found it quite hilarious to point out that I have not been a true vegetarian for all of these years. I believe accidents happen…as long as you are trying to not eat, you are still considered a vegetarian.

3. Weird meat names-take it from me…ALWAYS ask a restaurant if there is meat in the dish you are ordering. You might be almost 99% certain that there isn’t any meat but sometimes restaurants are tricky. I, not being Italian in the least bit, ordered an Italian dish that I was almost completely certain was meat-free. The dish arrived, baked gnocchi in a cream sauce, peas and some cheese that I couldn’t pronounce that started with a P. I dug in and noticed there was something quite pink in my much anticipated dinner. I stopped the waiter. He confirmed that yes indeed that pink foreign object swimming in my cream dish was a form of ham, aka prosciutto. So now I always ask when I order from a restaurant; you never know if the restaurant has another weird name for a meat, if the soup is actually cooked in chicken broth, or if there is bacon in that cupcake.

If some of these symptoms sound like something you may have experienced, you might as well accept the fact that vegetarianism is your destiny. It really isn’t that bad, I promise. If you still unsure, just try it for a month, a week, or even just a day. You can actually win money if you decide to do so… check out www.worldvegetarianday.org. I would be interested in hearing signs that other fellow vegetarians had that led to their aversion to meat. Happy Vegetarian Month!

You can read more from Diane Poff on her blog.

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