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I became a vegetarian at Union Grove, North Carolina in March of 1970. I had travelled with a group of friends to camp over Easter weekend at my first fiddler’s convention. I cooked and baked for the occasion, very excited to be camping out right next to the music. I did not know what to expect, nor did I have any idea what others might bring. I made hot crossed buns and brought a really giant (about 15 pounds) country ham, and made plenty of biscuits. I can’t remember the rest of the spread but do know everyone brought way too much food. We ate, drank, and gave the food to our fellow merry makers so we would not need to take it back home with us. The ham was super savory, chosen very carefully for Easter on the go. Country hams are salt cured and require no cooking. I was 19 years old with a big appetite and plenty of energy to dance late into the night. The party was memorable, wonderful, and very delicious. A fun time was had by all.
When I arrived home in Durham Sunday night something just clicked in my mind. I had a friend who had recently become a vegetarian because she witnessed a bird hang itself. This did not strike me as a good reason not to eat meat, but the idea of being a vegetarian sprouted in my mind because of her. She worked with me, and on Monday at the office I started talking to her about her two week old vegetarian practice. I decided to try it. There was no particular issue or reason at the time. I ate way too much ham, and was having some kind of rebound from it. In North Carolina in 1970 people did not take kindly to being questioned about meat in the restaurant dishes. Vegetarianism was an extreme fringe belief system with few believers. The Seventh Day Adventists were the core. They sometimes had little health food stores with Worthington fake meat in cans, but there was not much catering to vegetarians in the 70’s.
Now being vegan is all the rage. The vegetarian lifestyle services and product lines are mind boggling. My diet went through a metamorphic change over time. First I stopped eating meat, but had few cooking skills. I learned to make tasty food, but had never heard of vegetarian diet for health, so I was heavy on the butter and whipped cream, etc. Any food can be made to taste great with enough cream and butter. In about 1972 I met a woman from California who was not only a vegetarian, but did not eat white flour or sugar. We thought her odd in our Austin household of hippies and did not know what to feed her. We cooked from scratch but put sugar and white flour in almost everything. We also drank Dr. Pepper like it was going out of style. She did leave an impression, however. By learning to cook and expand the healthy ingredients in my cuisine I eventually gave up all sugar and white flour myself.
Today I am still a lacto-ovo vegetarian. I like to make vegan food, and tend to eat much of my food raw. I am not interested in full on veganism although I think it can be a very healthy choice. I still enjoy dairy and eggs, so I buy organic products and use them as a minor part of the menu. A little cheese goes a long way, and my butter habit is well under control now too. I eat a bit of sugar these days too, but keep that at a minimum. Common sense and savoring each bite are the keys to happy relating with sugar. Why I am telling you this story, gentle reader? I want you to know that being a vegetarian since 1970 has shown me a lot of different attitudes toward the idea. I am often asked how to become a vegetarian by those who want to make a change. I think the way to go is find one new vegetarian dish you like each week and start to switch out that for some of your beefier meals. Experiment and try recipes your mother never served you. Check out some ethnic restaurants with exotic vegetable preparations, and make them at home. Don’t restrict yourself or feel deprived. Just branch out and do it. If and when you succeed, don’t give us a bad name by telling other people what they should eat. Badgering will never become popular.
I know many vegetarians and eat with them frequently. Some are full-fledged vegetarians.. others are more flexible about what they will and won’t eat. It’s interesting to see how people deal with not eating meat….. and balancing the diet is pretty key.
I’m happy with veggie food, but I do like meat too. I try to eat like a feastarian at home (just a little meat), but all that goes out of the window when I am eating out. I agree – badgering is the worst way to encourage people to try something!
[…] I met a group of friends who attended Duke and lived in Durham. They invited me to go to the Union Grove Fiddler’s Convention on Easter. A caravan of cars full of sleeping gear and tons of food traveled from Durham to the […]