Swiss chard and acorn squash Stefan Modrich food column

A veggie stir-fry of rainbow Swiss chard and acorn squash was among the first vegetarian dishes food writer Stefan Modrich experimented with when he began cooking healthy meals in 2019. (Photo by Stefan Modrich)

Time can often be measured and put into context by observing lifestyle changes.

Perhaps none of these changes are so prevalent as what we choose to consume or not consume.

While it is at this point common knowledge for many that vegan diets do not include any animal products, even eggs or dairy, and vegetarian diets prohibit meat and sometimes fish, I know that it has been an ongoing process for me to learn about the scientific and health-based reasons for these lifestyle decisions. And as I’ve covered in this week’s food and drink section, we have seen a rapid growth in the number of restaurants offering vegan and vegetarian options. This is a result of you, the local residents, voting with your dollars for a change you’ve deemed to be worth making in your eating habits.

I still remember the surprised reaction I had as an elementary school student when my parents explained we were going to no longer be buying cow’s milk to have with our cereal in the morning, and that we were using rice milk instead.

Not long after that, in 2005, my dad and I were on a road trip back from Cooperstown, New York, for a baseball tournament, and stopped somewhere upstate for a burger. He explained to me it was going to be the last one he would have for a while.

I was shocked by this, and even more surprised to recently learn that within the last year, his 16-year hiatus of eating meat had come to an end.

His intense, strict focus on eating a mostly vegetarian diet was something I thought might endure for the rest of his life. After all, he did tell me that while he enjoyed burgers and hot dogs and barbecue after many years of eating them, he was content to have those flavor profiles reside in his memory and that he truly didn’t miss them.

Just as he was advised to return to eating some meat to ensure he was receiving a sufficient amount of protein, I have learned of many different dietary restrictions people have, including my former college roommate during my years in Phoenix.

There, I learned that eating vegan ice cream and desserts left me feeling less bloated and guilty. I learned that soy and tempeh can actually taste really close to barbecue chicken. And while I have always put an emphasis on cooking healthy meals at home because of my upbringing, I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy making vegetarian chili or meatless tacos and how it has made a tangible improvement in the way my body and mind feel.

I am not a registered dietitian and am not advocating for anyone to adopt any diet without consulting a professional. However, if you are interested in supporting health-conscious restaurants by stopping for an occasional meal if only to indulge your foodie curiosity, I think doing so would be a worthwhile exercise for even the most staunch carnivores.

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