“I’ll feel cleaner, lighter, happier!” I thought. “I’ll have loads of energy, my skin will glow like I’m a Brazilian sun goddess – I’ll be the picture of good health!”
Yet, for some reason or another (mostly laziness), I never went more than a couple days without meat. It’s infinitely easier to slap together a turkey sandwich for lunch than to pack together a balanced vegetarian meal like a quinoa salad with beans and all the fixings that are required to make it palatable. I already spend too much time in the kitchen (and at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Gelson’s, the Farmer’s Market…) as it is.
Last week, however, after some intensive eating at the Taste of Beverly Hills, I impetuously decided to dip my toe into the vegetarian pool for a few days.
Five to be exact.
I ate my usual oatmeal for breakfast; quinoa, bean and veggie salads for lunch; fruit for a snack; and then for dinner some combination of tofu or beans with more veggies and more whole grains.
It was great on paper – a meal plan to be extolled for its virtuosity and restraint.
But by day four, I felt like crap.
Even though I wasn’t actually craving meat, by Thursday afternoon of last week, I could hardly focus when talking to my mom on the phone on my drive home from work. I wasn’t hungry, but I felt punchy, a little dizzy – not full of energy like I had imagined.
The next evening, I met Esi from Dishing Up Delights for dinner at Momed, the casual, modern Mediterranean restaurant I had the opportunity to try at a media event earlier in the summer. As we settled into two seats at the communal table, I still didn’t feel like chowing down on animal carnage, but I knew I needed to feed my body some form of impactful protein with iron. As much as I love fried chickpeas and tahini, a falafel just wasn’t going to cut it that night.
After much debate on my various animal options (including the duck shawarma pita that is still my favorite thing on the menu), I finally decided on a dish that is decided un-me – a Lamb and Beef Koefte with Herb Salad over a whole wheat pita, served with rice pilaf and my choice from their marketplace salads ($14). Esi and I also ordered the Zucchini and Feta Cheese Fritters with yogurt sauce ($6) to start.
While the fritters were satisfying – packed with tender shreds of zucchini and irresistible when paired with the tangy herbed yogurt – it was the well-seasoned lamb and beef koefte that brought the win home for me. It wasn’t that it was mind-blowingly good or even something I would necessarily seek out again, but it was exactly what my body needed at that moment.
The koefte, which is essentially a sausage-shaped concoction of ground beef, lamb, peppers and spices – was an intimidating sight for someone who hadn’t eaten meat in five days – especially in its context. It overwhelmed the accompanying herb salad and disproportionately small whole wheat pita, and I eventually needed to order an additional pita ($1.50) to get through the entire thing. I was grateful for the Moroccan carrot salad with raisins and cinnamon that I had requested for my market salad. The vibrant al dente carrots helped lighten the load from the lofty Mediterranean-style meatloaf.
When Esi and I left the restaurant, I felt energized by my substantial meal of meat. I was ready to hit the town – ready to paint another wine glass red (with Barbara d’ Alba to be exact). While I imagine my vigor was mostly mental, I did feel better the next morning during my long run at the beach, and continued to feel better as I ate more animal-based protein over the weekend.
I still love tofu and vegetarian dinners and salads, but I now know that a meatless existence is not for me. The best way for me to be “the picture of good health” and an approximation of that “glowing Brazilian sun goddess,” is by eating a balanced diet that – blissfully – also includes the occasional strip (or two) of bacon.
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