I dream of poke: Confessions of a vegetarian who doesn’t like vegetables

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DISCLAIMER: I’m about to talk about the fact that I am a vegetarian. If you are a carnivore who becomes aggressive or insulted at the idea that there are people in this world who choose not to eat meat, you might want to skip this one. I’m not judgmental of carnivores, but having said that, I’m not going to bend over backwards to prove the point.

I didn’t give up meat until I was 26. It was something that had been in the back of my mind since I was a child—not because I had any particular affinity for salads or broccoli, which I could not stomach as a child, and still wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot fork, but because I love animals and eating them felt wrong. Every time I ranted against animal abuse, there was a little part of me that felt like a hypocrite.

Still, despite the fact that I knew that it was morally the right decision for me, altering my diet in a major way was not a simple feat. I don’t cook, which limits the types of food that are available for consumption when I don’t happen to have someone around to cook for me. And, as I mentioned above, I don’t much care for vegetables. Everyone told me I would outgrow my aversion, but I never did. So I kept putting off becoming a vegetarian—until I felt so guilty about eating meat that the sight of a cow chewing grass in a field filled me with stomach-wrenching guilt.

My final meal as a carnivore was a delicious prosciutto dish in Barcelona, and I’m not going to lie: I still dream about it sometimes. But I’m proud I didn’t go out on a Big Mac or SlimJim.

It was surprisingly easy cutting meat out of my diet. There were occasional cravings—spicy buffalo wings, fried chicken, salami, turkey sandwiches—but the temptations were far from overpowering. I never cheated, even though I never imagined that I could cut meat out of my diet without occasionally binging on something disgusting. But that day never came.

Before I became a vegetarian, I didn’t control my diet, my impulses did. I ate whatever I wanted to eat, whenever I wanted to eat it. This was the first time in 26 years that I actively denied myself something I wanted, and that feeling of self-control was really important for me. When I am inevitably diagnosed with diabetes—which runs in my family, and let’s face it, someone who eats their Oreos by the sleeve should probably expect—the self-restraint I show as a vegetarian might be the only thing that saves me.

I never did start liking vegetables. I’ll eat cauliflower if it’s smothered in cheese, and potatoes, also preferably smothered in cheese. And corn, with cheese (the photo posted above is choclo con queso, corn with cheese, which I ate with relish in Peru). And artichokes, smothered in mayonnaise … I think you get the point. At work they call me the cupcake vegetarian and I consider that a reputation well earned. In lieu of meat and vegetables, I eat cake and candy.

And fish. I used to, anyway.

I continued to eat fish because it seemed impractical to cut it out while I was already giving up so much. I never much cared for seafood, but discovered that once I’d given up burgers, chicken, turkey, hot dogs, basically all of my favorite foods, I had a new appreciation for seafood. Sushi is one of my favorite meals; I didn’t fully understand the meaning of the term “mouth-watering” until I first tasted poke. Shrimp spring rolls are one of my favorite appetizers. Little by little, seafood began to fill the gaps in my diet once occupied by the meat I’d already given up.

Then came the day I read an article about how intelligent octopi are. The octopus in question was caught on camera sneaking out of his tank at night, slouching over to a jar of peanut butter, opening the peanut butter, and eating it, before returning to his tank before he could get caught. Anything that intelligent didn’t deserve to die for a meal, at least not to me.

I spent a year or so talking about becoming a proper vegetarian by eliminating fish from my diet. I waited until I got back from Peru, because I wanted to try the ceviche there—which is downright heavenly, and so pervasive that I stopped feeling guilty about it while I was there.

In January, I officially gave up fish. Unlike the last round, I had two relapses—the first when I simply forgot that I wasn’t eating fish a couple days in and ate shrimp spring rolls and the second when I ordered ceviche at my favorite restaurant, knowing I was cheating and feeling badly the entire time. But that was several months ago and my transition to vegetarianism has been smooth ever since.

Unless you take into account the fact that I salivate every time a friend mentions sushi, the fact that I daydream about giant bowls of poke tuna, the fact that I walk into a restaurant knowing my order and then remember, with a horrified moment of revelation, that my usual order is now off the menu—for me, at least.

I’ve discovered that there are plenty of vegetarian meat substitutes at the grocery store. MorningStar has delicious vegetarian burgers, chicken patties, ribs, sausages, and bacon, all of which are a regular part of my diet. But I haven’t found any fish substitute, and in fact the idea of a seafood substitute sounds rather grotesque. Maybe some company will come along and change my mind. I hope so. There’s not much I wouldn’t do for a bowl of poke right now.

It’s strange, I realize, to talk about these things that I could eat, and want to eat, but won’t. Given time, I know the cravings will diminish and, if I’m lucky, the idea of eating fish will eventually become appalling. But for now, well, you know those statistics you hear people tossing around about how many times per day men think about sex? That’s me, but instead of sex it’s poke tuna.

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Comments

  1. I am a vegetarian………….. I am not from a family where meat is a big part of diet, so it is easier for me…… family support helps a lot, I guess…………. Occasional meat eating is still fine; because as a science student, I have understood that we are living and surviving in a food web and everything living is eventually food for something…….. there are millions and billions of tiny friendly bacteria and yeasts living on human skin, guts and other parts…..

  2. I respect vegetarians and understand it is a very healthy way to live. But like you, I can’t stand vegetables (mostly the green cooked ones that make me gag). And I live in a place where meat-replacements to don’t exist (in Asia). There’s a lot of vegetarians here, but they have to eat real vegetables. So I have to stick with a meat eating diet…or else I may starve.

    If you find a way to make vegetables so they don’t make you gag, let me know. I could go for that.

    • I will definitely keep you posted. So far, the key seems to be lots of cheese and sauce when vegetables are involved, sort of tricking myself into eating them. Also, I’ve learned never to eat any vegetable raw. That’s an important one because they are gross.

      • Unfortunately, cheese is very expensive here. Asians drown veggies in different kinds of sauces. I need to find one that I actually like (most are too spicy for me to eat). I actually prefer to eat things raw because then they don’t make me gag. There’s something in the cooking process that causes that. But you have to be careful with raw veggies here because farmers tend to use a lot of chemicals (wash very very well first).

  3. Nice to know I’m not the only one with food aversion. My husband is mainly vegetarian (the occasional chicken if there’s nothing on the menu that’s in anyway edible for a veggie). He can eat broccoli and cauliflower raw!!!! Blergh!! Where I have failed with myself I have succeeded with my kids. Both of them were vegetarian until about the age of 5-6 when they decided they wanted to know what meat tasted like. It’s not a major part of their diet but I’m happy that they could quite happily give up meat and have a healthy diet without it.
    As for me! I’m getting there. Broccoli is no longer an EVIL vegetable. Cauliflower is acceptable. Swede – work in progress. Carrots – I can now eat them raw but it’s still an effort! Green leaf lettuces – they’re okay, mostly. How? I educated my pallet without overloading my senses.
    For example – Carrots…. Half a cooked carrot once a week. It was horrid! Then it was tolerable. Then it wasn’t so bad. Then it tasted sweet!?! Boiled carrots are okay. Half a raw carrot once a week. Gag!! Horrid. G’ah! Tolerable. Still doesn’t taste nice. Not too bad, still don’t like it. There’s that sweet taste again, carrots where NEVER sweet!! I’m sure of it.
    Just like training for a marathon or studying for a test, your body needs a little time to adjust.
    Good luck on your journey to a fish free diet.

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