The other night we had dinner at our friends’ home. We sat down to a lovely home cooked meal of chicken, tomato risotto with sausage and sauteed kale. My husband looked at me curiously to see what I would do. We hadn’t talked about this and I was silently praying that he wouldn’t say anything to our friends.

I stopped eating red meat, pork and poultry in March.  I have made many modifications in my diet over the past year and this seemed like a natural transition. I have seen Food Inc. and read various articles as well as the book Skinny Bitch. I never had a strong connection with animals. I didn’t grow up with pets nor am I all that comfortable around animals, but I don’t like the idea of any living thing being treated cruelly or tortured. I had decreased the amount of meat in my diet to once or twice a week if that in the last year so it wasn’t really difficult to stop eating it all together.

I really like the way I feel when I do not eat meat. I will be honest, I would love to go full force all on vegan, but I know myself and if I don’t ease into change then it doesn’t stick. That’s always been my problem. I start out strong but finish weak making any changes null and void.

I don’t label myself with any diet terminology. I actually haven’t been very vocal about my diet change. I told my immediate family and a few friends. So at dinner on Saturday night I graciously accepted a small piece of chicken, a helping of risotto and as much kale as I could possibly take without depriving others of a serving.

That experience made me realize how challenging it would be to become strictly vegetarian or vegan. It would require me to actually tell people for one thing. I grew up in a big Italian family who thought it was sinful not to eat large heaping portions of homemade meat ravioli drenched in meat sauce accompanied by chicken parmesan. Seconds were practically mandatory. To say that my family is set in their ways is an understatement. I brought a quinoa salad to Thanksgiving dinner and my mother kept asking me what to do with it. “Now what is this again?” I love her dearly but seriously??? She is trying though and now keeps veggie burgers in the freezer.

Ironically when I was in the application process to become a Peace Corps Volunteer I was asked during the interview if I was a vegetarian or had any dietary restrictions. I said no and then was asked if I understood why I would be asked such a question. I did understand. Meat is a luxury in many countries. Offering a chicken or a goat is often a sign of respect to a guest in someone’s home. Also other cultures have different traditions or celebrations that “require” eating certain foods. Let me tell you I ate my fair share of goat, freshly killed chicken, pig, cow, innards, fish with heads, sardines, and a variety of unidentified things I would rather not think about.When your colleague invites you to her home, comes in with a white and a brown chicken that probably cost her family a week’s salary, and asks you to choose which one you want for dinner it’s really difficult to say “oh by the way I don’t eat meat.” That’s not to say that you can’t maintain your convictions, many volunteers did remain vegetarian. I am a people pleaser and have always tried to be accommodating to others. These are not in any way redeeming qualities. The older I get the more I am learning that I need to take care of me first and then worry about others.

My husband and I talked about how I felt after eating meat on Saturday night. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have years ago. I felt a little guilty but mostly conflicted. If I am not a full fledged vegetarian then how often is it ok to eat meat. Do I make up my own rules like I will only eat meat if it is served to me at someone else’s home?

One thing that might make it easier for me in situations like this would be to bring a hearty side dish like this Cilantro Lime Speltberry Salad from Angela at Oh She Glows.  I made it the other night and it is truly delicious. I offered to bring something but was asked to bring dessert. Next time I will bring both!

This was an eye opening experience that has given me much to ponder especially as we head into Memorial Day Weekend and at least two barbecues on the calendar.

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