I feel fairly certain that when I was in college I didn’t actually know what veganism was, though I probably had a passing familiarity with vegetarianism. I don’t remember any of my friends being vegetarian though. Looking back on the available dining options, I’m also certain that being vegan or even vegetarian at my university would have been a difficult thing. I actually have a pretty good sense of how much meat was in my own diet because I vividly remember that it was difficult for me to give up meat on Fridays in Lent. I remember wishing that I could swap out days, because it would be so much easier to not eat meat on a day in the middle of the week. On Fridays in college I went out with my friends, and it seemed like a waste to spend money on a vegetarian meal at a restaurant, when the options were limited and not very good. There actually was a vegetarian restaurant near campus that had a great brunch, but at the time I thought they’d be even better if they served bacon with that awesome french toast.
I joke that I became an accidental vegetarian. I can chart my change in eating habits (and really much of my life) through books. Shortly after college, dissatisfied with weight gain and not really knowing how to cook, I decided to start cooking for myself. The most influential books in my cooking and eating at this point in my life were “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant” by Jenni Ferrari-Adler and “Going Solo in the Kitchen” by Jane Doerfer. I started cooking for myself, and I have particularly fond memories of Doerfer’s risotto, pizza, and lemon sugar cookies.
I was living mostly alone for the first time, so I had a special kind of freedom with cooking. My roommate at the time had very different tastes than I did, and my boyfriend was living in DC, so I only had myself to please. Nothing I cooked was ever really inedible, and if it was truly horrible I could always make some macaroni and cheese (Annie’s macaroni and I have had a very long and dedicated relationship). I made omelets, a dozen variations on risotto, and was particularly fond of salmon cooked in a little foil packet with zucchini and summer squash slices and a little butter and seasoning salt. I still ate meat at this point, but I was starting to switch to more fish and chicken, and away from red meat. Vegetarianism was still far away for me at this point, but I like to think back on how I first started cooking for myself. Cooking and love are commonly linked, and I really liked the idea of cooking for yourself as a manifestation of loving yourself and taking care of yourself.
These days I have more people to cook for than just myself, and I’m lucky that J and most of my friends are adventurous eaters who will try anything. Still, I think that cooking for myself was the beginning of me really taking care of myself. My accidental vegetarian journey would continue through learning about organic foods, more details about our food system, discovering food blogs, discovering Whole Foods (yikes!) and reading many, many more books. Stay tuned for Part II!