A few mouthfuls and a little more than an earful

This is a conglomeration of thoughts on dining out vs. eating in and fleshy temptations. Bear with me.

First, the Dining Out Dilemma.

I want to respond to comments by Ava and Brion a while ago. Ava made a good point about how dining out is not only easier than cooking for yourself, but can even be cheaper. Brion mentioned a few perks to cooking for yourself, including the fact that you can fit the flavors and portions exactly to your taste. He pointed out that cooking can be quick and easy, even for a group, especially after a little practice. Thanks for bringing this up!

Treating yourself to a meal at a restaurant or take-out place is A-OK, but I think cooking at home has many advantages. The key to making it cost effective is having staples on hand and being flexible. If you buy a new spice jar and a specialty oil for a new recipe, you have probably already hit the cost of the entire meal at a restaurant. But then you’ll have those ingredients on hand for many more meals to come. If the price of that spice or oil is prohibitive, you can probably substitute something else, or you can just leave one of those out.

I also think it’s more convenient and cost-effective to cook at home because you can make a lot of food and have leftovers! I end up spending 7 bucks on lunch sometimes, then kicking myself because I could have put something together for much cheaper at home if I was willing to take a little time.

And finally, most meals out don’t offer as many fresh fruits or vegetables or whole foods as ones you can make at home. White rice is far more common than wholesome brown rice and vegetable pad thai is mostly noodles. Salads may be an exception to this when they’re made with the increasingly popular baby greens instead of iceberg lettuce. But in general, when it seems like I’m getting a lot of food for not much money, I stop and think: what’s really in it?

I want to address spending a tad more on homemade and healthy/sustainably-grown food, but I think that will require its own post! Stay tuned.

pepper n greenz

Now, since I’m already on my (animal product-free) soap box, let’s talk about veering away from the temptations of the flesh!

As one reader pointed out in a comment, the meat-eating world has a lot of good tastes. If you’re a meat eater, you probably agree. And if you’ve read the book or seen the movie version of Fast Food Nation, you probably know there’s a lot of R&D put into making your taste buds swoon over those grill-marked burgers and marinated chicken breasts. Most of it, however, is made to taste good because, if your own instincts were doing the judging, the food wouldn’t make it down your gullet. Or you may really like the seasonings that you associate with your favorite fleshy foods. But lemme tell you—a garlic butter with white wine tastes good on anything, anywhere. It’s not the shrimp that’s making the scampi so scrumptious.

I argue that the vegetarian world has a lot to offer, and you can indulge without worry of growth hormones, mega doses of cholesterol, chemical additives, or other questionable stuff. Many people are realizing that, but there are still challenges to making the switch.

I applaud the reader who wanted to eat veg, because the determination is half the battle. Many omnivores tell me that cerebrally, they are convinced that a more herbivorous diet would be better for them and the planet. Then comes the actual weaning from what you’ve been eating your entire life. To help address this potential brick wall, here’s an inspirational tale. Laurie Colwin, in her book Home Cooking, describes an enlightening experience with reducing her sodium intake. For a food enthusiast and lover of all things salty, those doctor’s orders signaled the end of the world. However, Colwin committed herself to trying it. She bought good quality low-sodium foods so that the other aspects of the food (like the flavor of smoked mozzarella) would appeal in other ways. She found that after adhering to the low-sodium way for a while, her palate adjusted. She learned to notice and appreciate other foods, enjoying the nuances of a fresh Kirby cucumber perhaps as much as she used to enjoy a pickle. Meals out in restaurants, prepared the “normal” way, tasted unbearably salty.

I think the same phenomenon happens when trying a lacto-ovo vegetarian or vegan diet. There are many new tastes you may have missed out on as part of a meat-centered world, and they’re all waiting to divert you. For example, did you know there are dozens of different kinds of sea vegetables, each with a different texture and flavor, some even meaty? And speaking of meaty, how about mushrooms (shiitakes and portabellas are two great ones for texture, not to mention dried porcinis and morels for fabulous flavor). There are lots of international foods that are tasty and vegetarian. My favorite veggie foods are Indian and Ethiopian. Check out the vegetarian section of your favorite restaurants’ menus and see what you discover there. Then Google the dish or check it out in a cookbook and develop your own version at home.

The majority of clients I’ve served through my personal chef service were not vegetarian, but they gave rave reviews to the all-veggie (and often vegan) food. So I think it’s a matter of exploring new foods and styles. Who knows–one day you may look up and realize you’ve been enjoying yourself so much you forgot to worry that there’s no meat in sight.

Wow—I really am high up here on my soap box. I’ll hand you over now to some web resources. Order a free vegetarian starter kit here and see a quick online guide to cooking vegan here. Plus there’s the Vegetarian Resource Group, offering lots of info and the very helpful book Simply Vegan.

Let me know how it goes!

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