Friday, May 16, 2014

The Herbivore Transition

Stress is a black hole. It sucks your energy with vigor, and worse, it spreads like a disease into other aspects of your life. You feel vulnerable and hopeless. You feel self-doubt come in like a neighbor to your inner critic, and they gang up on you like the bullies they are.

I graduate with a Master of Science in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at the end of this summer. With my internship school requirements completed, I remain in Malta to gain as much experience as possible while searching for a potential career. I want to find something that combines direct services with youth, education, sustainable development, conflict resolution, and food. But the search has soured somewhat, and I wonder if I will ever find something like that. It’s hard to explain to people that I don’t want just the career; I want the life that goes with it, and that includes CK and I finding a way to make that happen together.

And so I’ve tried to find ways to encourage my creativity in various outlets, but that’s hard to put on a CV. It’s hard to turn ‘I’m awesome’ into a technical term and reason why organizations should hire me.

But the beauty and inspiration behind the stress is how many organizations and initiatives are actually out there. The conflict resolution field, although it’s something I have to explain from time to time, is growing. So I know there’s a place for me out there. Until then, I am content working through my internship and learning all I can for the next seven months in Malta.

One of those learning experiences is the transition to vegetarianism. 

It’s been a fairly easy thing to do, actually. Those with food sensitivities, allergies, and health/moral-based diets have to find other ways to fill the nutritional gaps when entire food groups are cut out. I admit that being gluten free, soy free, and cane sugar free is a challenge sometimes, and it has been a journey to figuring out the balance of health, fun, and moderation. I went through a time where certain foods, if ingested, resulted in a panic attack. I thought that if I ate certain foods, all my efforts to being healthy (old paradigm code word for 'thin') would be wasted and BAM!, instant return to the awkward, sad little girl I used to be.

Malta has given me the ability to not take it so seriously, and I’ve even gone so far as to facing my food fears more than once. My fear of fried foods had pretty much disappeared when CK made British style chips in coconut oil.  It was such an amazing experience, a moment where I enjoyed the process of making and eating something I hadn’t had in years. We also experimented in making fried zucchini flowers, lightly breaded and cheese stuffed. It's only a matter of time until I make donuts...

I’m not sneaky. I wear my fears on my sleeves and in my actions. Typically, instead of using a certain amount of oil or sugar (honey) a recipe calls for, I’d substitute it with a banana or some peanut butter. I still use bananas as a sweetener replacement, but now because my palate finds a certain amount of sweet to be too much. As for the oil, I’ve focused on how foods make me feel, and incorporate oils and protein in every meal as consciously as possible.

... and coffee

Back to the vegetarian thing. As I've said before, CK was born and raised as a vegetarian, and he has shown me the importance of protein and fats. Being the cheese fiend that he is (living in Rome surrounded by such a variety of cheeses will do that to you), I came to enjoy cheese as a protein source. Even before the whole rabbit thing, I wasn’t eating very much meat anyway. It was a deliberate shift that I have been doing for a couple of years to cut out or remove meat from my diet. But in Malta, I started to notice that the meat I did get (chicken typically) left me feeling, for lack of a better word, oily. I didn’t feel nourished or wholesome. The whole rabbit thing left a permanent mark on my psyche as an animal-loving individual. After the second and third time feeling the same way, I decided to take on the vegetarian lifestyle. 

What a gluten free herbivore eats...

... and sticking to what I believe in

Being a gluten free die-hard vegetarian is tough though, especially in the Mediterranean where there’s bread, pasta, and pastries everywhere. Often times the only gluten free thing in a Mediterranean restaurant is meat. When I was visiting Rome for the second time, CK’s parents were also there. We went out to eat quite often, and I remember a restaurant that didn’t have any gluten free thing on its menu, but the kitchen was kind enough to make a dish with cooked steak slices over arugula. Even though Italian restaurants are starting gluten free pasta and bread more often, I don’t expect every one of my sensitivities to be met on the fly; so when something gives in order to go out, I either need to eat ahead of time or step out of the meat-free circle.

While stress tends to bring out the inner critic and the focus on the food I am [not] eating, or the exercise regimen I am [not] doing, cutting out meat hasn’t affected me other than positively. I’m actually eating more and maintaining my metabolism just fine. And you can imagine how creative you can get with the same ingredients in different dishes.

So this isn’t an official “Meals with Morri is going vegetarian” announcement, but saying that I’m mostly vegetarian or “I’m vegetarian with the occasional steak/burger/fish/chicken stew” makes it sound like it’s a fad or a trend. It isn’t. I eat food that makes me feel the most wholesome, and do my best to know what doesn’t in order to limit or remove them from my intake. I don’t think eating meat or products from animals is a bad thing, and not because they tend to be delicious. I find the way we treat them in factory farms and the use of hormone-laden foods and vaccines to be inexcusable. But I am more than willing to support farms and other local initiatives that have similar ethics and beliefs on animal raising, care, and slaughter. The fragile symbiosis we have with the flora and fauna is a beautiful thing when done correctly, and I think it needs to be more apparent in how we eat. 

Warm Lentil Salad
250 g Brown lentils
1 Red bell pepper
1 Onion
2 Garlic cloves
1 tsp. Mixed herbs*
1/4 tsp. Cumin
550 ml water
2 tsp. Apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. Olive oil
1/2 tsp. Sea salt
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. black pepper

Thoroughly wash the lentils and allow them to soak at least an hour.
Rinse and pour the lentils and water into a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat.
Add the remaining ingredients and cook until the water is absorbed and the lentils are soft (more or less 30 minutes).
Pour on top of noodles, rice, (in my case) quinoa, potatoes, or additional veggies.
Can be served hot or cold, and topped with cheese, lime, or avocado is a guaranteed delight.

Makes 3 – 4 main dish servings.

No comments:

Post a Comment