On the Benefits of Being a Part-Time Vegetarian

Back in the 1970s when I was growing up, the vegetarian movement in America was just getting off the ground in places like Berkeley, CA and Ithaca, NY.

Everywhere else, however, vegetarians were seen as sandal-wearing kooks and mocked for their food choices.

Fortunately, attitudes have changed quite a bit since then. Now, most people fully understand the negative health impact of a meat-heavy diet, and more and more people are becoming aware of the negative environmental impact of a meat-heavy diet.

Finally, people are asking themselves how much meat they really need.

And let's face it: the Western diet contains meat and saturated fats in amounts far beyond a human being's daily requirements. By comparison, vegetarian meals are typically far healthier, much lower in fat, and loaded with healthy vitamins, fiber and antioxidants.

But best of all, most vegetarian dishes can be made for a mere fraction of the cost of the typical meat-centric meal.

Look: I'm not a vegetarian, and I'll probably never be a vegetarian. I fully respect why others might make that choice, but I simply don't choose to eat a 100% plant-based diet.

But what if there was a solution that let us capture the best of both worlds?

That's where the concept of Part-Time Vegetarianism comes in.

Forget about being a sandal-wearing kook. Instead, try replacing two or three of your weekly meat-centered meals with vegetarian meals. You don't have to be a militant vegetarian to take advantage of the dietary, environmental and cost benefits of vegetarian food.

A number of years ago our household made this transition, and we saw an immediate 25-30% reduction in our weekly food bill. Our diets became much healthier and, not surprisingly, we felt healthier.

But the most amazing surprise of our part-time vegetarian experiment was this: we never missed the extra meat. It was a surprisingly easy transition to make, and the results (not to mention the financial savings) were so clear and compelling that we never went back. We've been embracing part-time vegetarianism ever since.

If you'd like some cookbook ideas to help you get started with vegetarian and low-meat cuisine, here's a brief list of some of the best cookbooks on our shelves:

1) Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant -- A wonderful cookbook, jam-packed with all kinds of ethnic recipes.
The New Moosewood Cookbook-- One of the original veggie cookbooks and a highly regarded classic.
The New Vegetarian Epicure -- An early and influential vegetarian cookbook, in a newly updated edition.
Almost Meatless -- An exceptional cookbook centered around low-meat eating. 

Finally, take a moment to scan the wide range of veggie recipes here at Casual Kitchen. You can search under the vegetarianism tag or visit my Index of Recipes page and look under "Vegetarian." You'll find more than 40 free recipes there!

Don't forget: you can help your pocketbook, your health and the environment by eating less meat. Try part-time vegetarianism in your home and get the best of both worlds!

A different version of this post appeared about a year ago in the blog Home Ec 101.

Related Posts:
Eight Myths About Vegetarians and Vegetarian Food
Food Absolutism
A Few Thoughts on Habits and Food
How to Resist Irresistible Food

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Joanne said...

I would definitely consider myself to be a part-time vegetarian...I actually find vegetarian meals more appealing 99% of the time (unless the meal in question is pulled pork. But that's a whole other story.) I think part-time vegetarianism is great because it doesn't put pressure on people to give up something entirely, which is probably why people are typically turned off to vegetarianism. Great post!

Alison said...

One of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks is Some Like it Hot. What I like about the recipes is that they are separated by regions of the world--and each recipe is full of flavor. I think what puts people off is the idea that they will be eating tasteless, heavy veggie meals--like what was served in the 70s.

MCM Voices said...

Dan, thanks for this. When one is a parent, the "what's for dinner" thing is relentless - cooking really becomes a burden. You inspired me to look in the Moosewood Cookbook tonight and the lentil walnut burgers caught my eye and I made a variation of those that included grated zucchini (zucchini chopped in the Cuisinart has become the love of my life). They were really good.

I'm very fond of Diet for a Small Planet and Recipes for a Small Planet. Lots of good meatless recipes in the New York Times Natural Foods cookbook too.

Daniel said...

Alison and Mary, thank you for the additional veggie cookbook ideas.

Joanne, I am with you pulled pork. :) But yes agreed, it's the absolutism that drives many people away.

And you raise an interesting thought: Kind of like in politics, there is a large, silent majority of "food moderates" out there that we can either 1) help motivate with our ideas, or 2) drive away if we are militant or won't concede a middle ground.

The vegetarianism debate is kind of like that. I like to stake out middle ground here with my part-time vegetarianism concept and therefore open it up to people who might otherwise rule it out.


Marcia said...

I have a ton of veggie cookbooks. We are mostly vegetarian around here. I recently visited my family. I tend to do a lot of cooking there. My mom kept asking "what kind of meat do you want with that?"

I said "mom, don't make it on my account..."

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon your blog via CHG, and wanted to give you a cookbook recommendation or two. Have you seen Donna Klein's vegan cookbooks? Most of the ingredients are inexpensive--no faux meats--and the recipes are awesome. I used to be vegetarian, but we still eat mostly that way here and Klein's books are quite dogeared at this point.

María said...

I love the idea of part-time vegetarianism! In fact I am probably a part-time vegetarian already: I love vegetables, fruit, salads and eat them a lot... and there is just _no way_ I am going to give up the very healthy Spanish jamón serrano.

Daniel said...

Maria, I hear you. In fact, jamon might be the single greatest reason not to become a full vegetarian (it's tied with bacon). I'm kidding, but only partly kidding. But my whole point with this post was to make the case that you can capture most of the benefits of vegetarianism without actually being one. I think that is really resonating with readers.

Also, Anonymous, thank you for the suggestions! Much obliged.


Jay said...

We are what has been termed 'practical vegetarians', meaning that while we eat a predominantly vegetarian diet and choose non-meat foods if there are good choices, we are not rigid and will choose good food with animal protein over bad or even mediocre veg cuisine as necessary. Life is too short to eat bad food! I collect cookbooks and have many good vegetarian books but one of my favorites is Mark Bittman's 'How to Cook Everything Vegetarian'. It not only has tons of great recipes in all categories, but it is a good resource for learning to work with foods you may not be familiar with or to do new things with the familiar.