Monday, April 15, 2013

Yes, I do miss bacon.

There are certain questions every vegetarian gets tired of answering. For the most part I try not to be 'that girl'--the one who goes on and on about her vegetarianism. I went veggie in high school and even with all the holier-than-thou condescension that comes with adolescence I never lectured anyone about factory farming or the energy required to produce a gram of vegetable protein as opposed to a gram of animal protein. I didn't give my parents crap about eating burgers (now I do, but only for the sake of their cholesterol levels). When I eat out with friends, I don't make a fuss: I can usually find something wherever we go (notable exception: barbeque joints, where even the beans and corn frequently have, um, animal additions. I'm looking at you, Pappy's). What I don't understand is why so many people, when they find out I'm veggie, don't do me the favor of being similarly chill. So here are the questions I'm tired of hearing, and the answers--so that hopefully I don't have to provide them again (and again, and again).

Why are you vegetarian? Lots of reasons--though I guess the overriding one would be that I don't like killing sentient beings to survive if I don't have to (and, unlike people in other parts of the world/during other periods of history--I don't). Then there's the fact that most of the meat raised in the US is not raised humanely, and I want to do my part to minimize suffering (of humans and animals) whenever I can. The health benefits I derive from it (less saturated fat and more fiber = lower cholesterol, decreased cancer risk) are also a nice bonus.

Do you miss bacon? Yes. Terribly. Confession time: I do break down once or twice a year and have a slice of bacon, and lean back, greasy-lipped, in meat-and-nitrate-induced ecstasy. Bacon is the salty, fatty crack of the meat world. Bacon is a hell of a drug.

If you were in a survival situation, and all there was to eat was meat, would you eat it?  I always want to ask in return, "If you were stranded on a desert island, and all there was to eat was plants, would you eat them?" Of course. See above: I don't like killing sentient beings to survive if I don't have to. If I have to, then I have to. If I have to eat bunnies or cows or Uruguayan rugby players to live, I will, and with ketchup. Lots of ketchup.

How do you get enough iron? Well, let's say I eat a fortified cereal with 9 mg (50% of the RDA) of iron for breakfast. Then I have a stir-fry with 1/2 cup of tofu (6.5 mg) and assorted veggies (1 mg) for lunch. Then I have a veggie burger (1.5 mg) for dinner. Ta-da! I have 18 mg of iron in one day, or 100% of the RDA for a woman my age. PS: To be completely honest, my diet doesn't always look like the sample menu above--cough, macaroni and cheese, cough--so I also take a cute little Flintstones multivitamin with iron to cover all my bases.  I've ridden the anemia train before, and it does not stop anywhere you want to go.

But...*anguished cry*...how do you get enough protein??? So, first of all, let's agree on how much protein is 'enough.' If, like me, you're an adult endurance athlete (not a pro or anything, but you run maybe 40 miles a week and lift weights a few times a week), you need a MAXIMUM of 1.2 g of protein per kg of body weight. If you aren't as active, you need less--more in the 0.5 to 1 g/kg body weight range. For some reason, someone somewhere got hold of the idea that you need 1 g/POUND of body weight and disseminated it all over the internet, which of course would result in a gross overestimation of protein requirements. NO ONE (except maybe a person on a burn unit, or carrying septuplets) needs 150 g of protein a day, and it's probably kind of hard on your kidneys.

So, doing the sample menu thing again, let's say you're an average 65 kg person who works out a few times a week, nothing too intense. You'll need about 65 g of protein a day. Start your morning with an egg-white and veggie-sausage bagel sandwich for 25 g of protein. Have some macaroni and cheese (10 g) with celery and hummus (5 g) for lunch. Mid-afternoon, have a greek yogurt (Chobani...om nom nom) for another 15 g. For dinner, a salad and a cup of curried lentils (18 g) puts you at 73 g--more than enough protein, even for an active person like you!

Caveat: As I think the menus show, you can't be a lazy vegetarian and expect to meet all your nutritional needs. To be healthy on a vegetarian diet, you gots to plan, girlfriend. You don't have to be obsessive or anything--just be self-aware (ie, "Oh, yeah, I haven't had very much protein yet today--I guess I'll add some grilled tofu to my salad, and grab some yogurt for dessert"). That vegetarian friend of yours who lives on french fries, pasta and grilled cheese probably ISN'T getting all the iron, protein and other nutrients he or she needs. On the other hand, a lot of folks who eat meat don't either (though they may be getting more than enough protein and calories, people who eat at McDonald's every day can still be--and probably are--malnourished in the sense of not having enough vitamins and minerals, to say nothing of things like antioxidants and fiber).

So there.

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