Would You Like A Pork Free Easter Ham?

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Brisket marinated in orange juice, rosemary, thyme, and a little olive oil for 24 hours then seared on both sides and placed in a baking dish with onions and the marinade liquid in the oven for three hours.

I make it a point to not use this as a place to talk about my personal life, but I’m going to make an exception for a couple reasons. This is my blog so I’m allowed. I’m hoping I can get my writing momentum going again with the review posts and this so I can get the motivation to write politics and current events again. Finally there are a couple things I learned between Mardi Gras and the Easter that bear sharing.

I am not a religious person. I’m especially not a catholic. Lent has always held a special place for me though. I enjoy personal challenges. This blog is in existence thanks to a new year’s resolution and lent is really just a 40 day new year’s resolution. Lent also allows you to try something out for 40 days without having to justify it. When you want to make a change in your lifestyle people will often ask why and I’ve found the answer, “It’s my life and I want to try something new to better myself,” often doesn’t satisfy people. “I’m doing it because it’s lent,” on the other hand never seems to warrant any follow up questions. As hilarious as the implication is, lent is a guilt free time to try to make a change in yourself.

There are some interesting modern day lent resolutions I’ve seen. Giving up facebook, netflix, or the internet are some examples. My wife and I decided to go a more classic route, no meat for 40 days. We set out to be vegetarians. This post is not meant to be a comment on whether people should, from a health or environmental angle, be vegetarian. Overall I take my philosophy from Michael Pollan who stated, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

The first thing I realized was that not many people knew the proper definition of  vegetarianism. When we were out to eat we’d tell people we were vegetarian and we’d get lots of questions, so here is a brief rundown:

Vegetarian – No meat(chicken, pork, beef, or seafood), but dairy(milk, cheese, butter), eggs, honey, and all vegetables are ok.

Pescatarian – Same as above, but will eat seafood.

Vegan – No animal products of any kind, so no meat, dairy, eggs, or honey.

Locavore – Eating any kinds of food but the food has to have been produced locally.

Gluten Free – No barley, rye, and wheat based foods. This one is tricky, so if you want a full definition I’d recommend this Mayo Clinic article.[1] Gluten free is the accepted treatment for Celiac Disease although it is becoming popular in other circles as well.

The trickiest part for me didn’t have anything to do with missing meat. Companies like Boca and Morningstar are making some truly remarkable proteins that taste and resemble meat in every way aside from origin. If you don’t believe go find a box of Morningstar chicken nuggets, available at your local mega mart. You won’t know the difference.

The problems came when we left our own kitchen. Unless you’re eating at a specifically vegetarian restaurant, there aren’t a lot of options for eating out. Some ethnic cuisine(thai, japanase, or indian) being the exception. It isn’t even necesarily safe to order the vegetarian option. There are vegetable soups made from beef or chicken stock. The most egregious violation was when I ordered a vegetable platter and it came with bacon on it. When we asked the waitress we were told, “It’s labeled a vegetable plate not a vegetarian plate,” Ok, that was true, but it still seems like if you’re going to have bacon on a vegetable plate you might want to include that in the description.

During lent we also attended a house party and found ourselves frozen at the food table because we didn’t know what was in each dish. Fortunately we had a friend who had already sampled most of it so we just asked him, but it was a little socially awkward because we didn’t want to go interrupt the host who was being honored at the party.

The dish I described at the start of this post was the dish I ate to re-enter the omnivorous majority. I would like it noted that as I’m writing this I’m eating a roasted root vegetable medley with fresh parsley, a grilled portobella mushroom cap with a thai peanut sauce, and grilled sweet corn with cracked black pepper. Sounds good right? I won’t be going full vegetarian permanently, but my time on that diet taught me some excellent new cooking techniques and I think I’ve gained some empathy for those who have dietary restrictions.

Trying someone else’s diet is one of the most realistic ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes’ possibilities out there. Gaining an additional perspective is something worth the effort more often than not. There are plenty of pushes out there for trying to eat on a certain restrictive budget, but I would recommend a restricted menu as well. It should be noted that even though vegetarians often get a bad rap for proselytizing there are those who are on the diet for medical reasons. I have a friend who, thanks to a series of childhood traumas, is allergic to types of antibiotics often used in commercial meat so she eats vegetarian. Earlier I mentioned Celiac Disease but there are multiple ailments that require a specific diet, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, peanut allergies, and dozens more.

Lent is only 40 days. A 40 day challenge isn’t going to change your life, but on the same note a 40 day challenge isn’t going to kill you. No matter you religion, it’s a holiday worth trying. If nothing else though, practicing Lent reminds you to practice Mardi Gras and that is something I never want to give up.

As always, questions, comments, and criticisms are encouraged. Answers are guaranteed.

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3 thoughts on “Would You Like A Pork Free Easter Ham?

    Natalie said:
    April 30, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    I feel you about limited vegetarian options when you eat out! My solution is to essentially cook vegetarian at home (with occasional exceptions), and not really worry about it as much when I eat out. That way I’m still restricting my meat intake, but it doesn’t cramp my style when going out with friends too much.

    When you come back to Chicago, though, I’ll have to take you to Native Foods Café. It’s an all-vegan restaurant with some excellent dishes. (Heck, there might be one out where you are – if so, try it out.)

      Reed Perkins responded:
      April 30, 2014 at 3:11 pm

      That’s the direction we’re moving towards here. We eat less meat at home, but relax the rules when we’re not in our own kitchen. There are some fantastic options in Baltimore, Phili, and DC but I’m always happy to try a new restaurant.

    Doug said:
    April 30, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    What with Sue being on a gluten free diet, I too mostly eat that way. What with both our mother’s genetic markers showing Alzheimer’s disease, I have found the work of David Perlmutter, MD interesting. His book, “Grain Brain,” has raised all kinds of controversy (http://www.drperlmutter.com). In it, he suggests wheat, carbs, and sugar are your brain’s killers. You might try giving up sugar & dramatically reduce your carbohydrate consumption while increasing your consumption of “good” fats like fish, nuts, seeds, and olive oil next Lent. I think you’ll find it much harder (particularly with your fondness for baking) than giving up meat and with better emerging science behind it.

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