To mainstream America, vegetarianism may seem mysterious and perhaps even cultlike, a way of living probably associated with the hippie communes of decades past. But judging by the growing numbers of people who are choosing a plant-based diet over one that includes eating flesh and animal products, the ideals of vegetarianism are becoming more appealing. The reason is that the more people understand the movement, the more it can make good, plain sense.
Embracing the vegetarian lifestyle can be very straightforward: Just omit all meats, meat products, and seafood from your diet, and then carefully select menus filled with vegetables, fruit, legumes, dairy products, and whole grains. Together these should meet your dietary needs. Sounds simple, and it is. After all, generations of folks here and around the world have made that choice and lived the life—and thrived and prospered.
But the reasons for selecting vegetarianism can be varied—and can also be very complex. For some with weight or coronary problems, vegetarianism may be a big part of the solution. For others, it’s a matter of conscience or morality, and of respecting the right to life of all living creatures, whether they walk, crawl, slither, fly, or swim. And for still other people, vegetarianism is a key part of their religious life, proscribed by the dictates of their faith. Take practicing Chinese Buddhists, for example, who are forbidden to kill or to eat flesh. And Chinese vegetarian restaurants, usually affiliated with a Buddhist temple, serve very highly refined vegetarian dishes, many of which, ironically, resemble meat. Closer to home in the United States, many Seventh Day Adventists practice vegetarianism, and many inside and outside their faith believe that their dietary habits, plus their abstention from alcohol and tobacco, contribute to their noteworthy longevity.
No matter whether you decide to adopt the vegetarian way of eating wholly or partially, you should know that selecting vegetarian options and preparing all-veg meals have become much easier than ever before. Not only can you find good vegetarian restaurants in almost every city, but also most restaurant menus offer at least one vegetarian entrée, and certainly, a responsible chef who aims to please customers will cook an all-veg dish to order. Most supermarkets and certainly all health food stores stock a plethora of vegetarian ingredients, from soymilks and soy-based products to whole grains, greens, and fruits. Even the burgeoning growth of farmers’ markets across the American landscape provides a valuable resource for people looking for a healthful, natural way to stock their pantries and refrigerators.
The best part for home cooks is this: vegetarian recipes have merged into the modern age, shedding the image that meals are based on tasteless grains-and-greens combos with just a dollop of bland tofu. Cookbooks have compiled countless enticing dishes that bring together the best of ethnic cooking plus the most creative ways to use today’s ingredients. In the past, who would have guessed you could prepare a meal that might feature Turkish-style stuffed peppers using a soy meat substitute or one that pairs field greens and goat cheese for a rich quiche? In fact, modern vegetarians can travel the globe or create a whole new entrée without leaving town.
On another note, most vegetarians have come to realize they are not alone in making this lifestyle choice. Based on the 2007 Census Bureau report numbering the population at 301 million people, the total number of Americans who are vegetarian would be about 7.5 million. And that group of people has fostered the growth of a vegetarian-lifestyle industry: social groups, singles groups, dating clubs, and travel groups, to name a few of the vegetarian activities. So if you are considering making the change, you might flip through your yellow pages, contact such groups as the Vegetarian Resource Group, or check out TheVegetarianSite.com to find out more about the vegetarian lifestyle.