One of the first things my Mom said to me when I told her I was going to be vegetarian for the month of December was, “Well, what about Christmas?”. I grew up in a family that was more carnivore than omnivore with meat, pasta, and potatoes as our main staples and my Mom would make sure to add in a veggie or two. Even if we had a salad I’m not sure any of us would have eaten it. That was just the culture of my family and we’re not unique in that by any stretch of the imagination. Holiday dinners always included a turkey, chicken, or ham. The thought of not having meat as the centerpiece of a special family meal was something that I had to come to terms with and many friends and family (myself included) found it hard to understand. A Christmas dinner without turkey?!?!
I headed up to Maine for Christmas and I knew I would be in for a vegetarian adventure. Come to think of it, I think I only know two vegetarians from Maine, neither of whom still live there (one is now in Boston and the other in San Francisco). Immediately after arriving at my parent’s house we traveled north to visit some extended family. We stopped at a gas station in northern Maine (one of the only places to get food in the area) and planned to grab some snacks (they had a diner there too but we didn’t have that much time). Normally I wouldn’t notice this type of thing but here’s a picture of some questionable (or not so questionable) food:
While at the gas station I almost bought a bag of beef jerky. Normally when I’m traveling I’ll nom nom nom on some beef jerky while I’m driving but I picked up this package and slowly realized that beef jerky is indeed made of beef; bummer, no jerky for me this Christmas.
It was interesting being home (in a house of carnivores). I ate a lot of cereal, eggs and toast because breakfast foods are typically vegetarian anyway unless you go for bacon and sausage which is usually too much effort for me anyway. When we were young our parents made us salads but we just simply wouldn’t eat them so they resorted to sneaking in one veggie at every meal. From talking with friends of mine from home, this is pretty typical. Even at dinners with our extended family my Mom used to make salads but they would go relatively untouched. That is simply the culture that we lived in: meat, potatoes, pasta, and some veggies here and there, I can’t ever really remember eating a salad on its own while growing up, even when one was staring me back in the face.
I made a bunch of eggs for various meals (technically vegetarian but vegans would argue otherwise). I tried to check out where the eggs from came from (besides Shaw’s) but their origins where nowhere to be found on the carton which was a bit disconcerting.
I did some searching online and was still unable to find out where these eggs came from. I was only able to find where they were distributed from (Minnesota) which is largely not the same thing considering they are labeled as a product of the USA. Using “USA” as your farm of reference could really mean a lot of things, I wish they would be more specific. The Shaw’s website is largely ambiguous about a lot of things as well. They make sure to leave no trace of where its food comes from or what kind of food they carry. They offer a lot of recipes and information about the differences between organic, free range, and grass fed, but they neglect to say anything about their supply chain (I’m sure that they’re probably better off as a business for doing so).
We grew up eating local potatoes harvested from my grandparent’s farm, and we even had a 50lb bag of potatoes in our kitchen this weekend (12 of which I took back to Boston with me). When my parents were growing up they used to get 2-3 weeks of school vacation in August to go pick potatoes on the farms up north. We had around a dozen baked potatoes in the fridge to munch on all weekend which were delicious. My brothers cut them up, heated them in the microwave and chowed down while I just ate it with the whole potato in one hand and a bottle of ketchup in the other (again they were baked not raw, I’m not THAT much of a hick). However, for dinner we decided that we would try out a new local dish. The “local” potatoes were from Mars Hill in Maine and we were just interested to see how they tasted.
Most of the ingredients in these potatoes I couldn’t pronounce and have no idea what they are. The only one I decided to look up was Titanium Dioxide because it seemed relatively obscure. Titanium Dioxide is a pigment found in paint, plastics, papers, ink, toothpaste, sunscreen and processed foods. It’s used to make products look white, I’m not sure why it was used on potatoes considering potatoes are already white naturally. I tried the pre-mashed potatoes and they tasted fine, but they were nowhere near as tasty as the local baked potatoes we had in the fridge.
For Christmas dinner I decided to make a salad. I had come up with an idea earlier in the week but forgot (or was too lazy) to send it to my parents to pick up at the grocery store before Christmas (all the grocery stores were closed by the time I got there). So I had to improvise with a bag of salad we already had. I added some walnuts and dried cranberries to spruce it up a bit with some dressing made from scratch.
Next was the pre-washed bag of salad. It was distributed from California but I’ve learned that bags of salad can often be grown in Mexico, so honestly, who knows where they came from. I checked out the website for Fresh Express but again like Shaw’s there wasn’t any info.
In theory eating local food is the way to go, but in practice it actually seems to be very difficult. At the end of the day do I really care where my food comes from? The answer is yes. However, in reality I’d still probably still end up buying the lettuce from Mexico (or oranges from Argentina) anyway, I would just think twice about it and probably do it less often. Eating local has become very confusing, you have to go way off the beaten path in order to join something like a CSA (community supported agriculture) in order to get good local food. My parents commented on how that’s how it used to be at the supermarkets back in the mid 1990’s. All of your produce was local (at least where I grew up in Maine). It’s just that the farm labels were slowly removed over the next decade or so and replaced with industrialized fruits/veggies from other states, countries, and continents. The supermarkets look exactly the same today as they did in the 90’s so not many people noticed the transition (tricky industrial food people).
The following is an image of my first Christmas dinner as vegetarian (will it be my last? I’m not sure yet). All in all it was pretty tasty. I had a couple helpings of the same plate pictured below; salad, pumpkin bread, green beans and potatoes. Also a few glasses of cabernet sauvignon from California. It’s interesting to note that the makers of wine pride themselves on where it comes from. Where and how you grow your grapes can make or break your brand. Now if only farms took the same pride in where fruits/veggies/meat came from.
Here’s the Christmas turkey (location is again unknown). It smelled amazing but honestly I didn’t really have a craving to eat it. I expected that I would have to try really hard to restrain myself from devouring the turkey but that wasn’t the case at all, I was somewhat indifferent to it. I was plenty full with my salad, potatoes, pumpkin bread and wine that I was content not having any turkey.
Only two of us touched the salad: me because I’m vegetarian, and one of my brothers because he felt bad that no one else was eating it. I don’t want to paint a picture that we grew up with an unhealthy lifestyle. That’s not the case at all. Out of all of us we are fit, athletic, played varsity sports, some college sports, hike/bike/climb/etc, one is in the military, we are in good health, and the list goes on, we just don’t eat a lot of veggies. It’s definitely been a learning experience for me. In the past I took the “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” attitude to my diet but I’m starting to see the light. If I take anything away from this month’s challenge it’ll probably be a diversified diet including more veggies/fruits as meals and snacks and also a larger appreciation and respect for those who are vegetarian, but particularly local vegetarian.