I work as a cook for a corporate cafeteria. This is the story of my personal culinary journey.
Chef Gone Vegetarian
The first true effort I made to adopt vegetarian eating habits was January 3, 2016. I had just returned back to work from the company's annual winter break, a rarity for large corporations. I work as a cook for a corporate cafeteria. My title of 'cafeteria worker' is a far stretch from the culinary culture that I have been accustomed to my whole career (I just came across my next article subject).
Before the break, I was given the task of revamping the salad bar of the cafeteria. So I took several weeks to gather information and recipes, scout Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, and conceptualize how the new salad bar would look and what we (or I, as the chef) would be offering. Looking back, the salad bar was a great success—but the best part about it was that it allowed me to easily transition into vegetarian eating habits.
How Vegetarianism Changed Me
Once I was able to focus on fresh produce, grains and everything that has nothing to do with meat, my palate changed. I learned about flavor profiles and what worked well together and what did not work as well. Not eating meat helped me become a better cook. Not eating meat provided me with the opportunity to learn more about foods that I was not familiar with.
I wish I could speak about the health benefits and health improvements that this way of eating promotes, but I do not see a doctor at all (I haven't been to a doctor's office since 2003). What I can speak on is the boost of energy that I felt and increase in energy I had. Another thing I remember was clarity in my head.
Being vegetarian led to me cleaning up my diet, abstaining from the large amounts of beer that I regularly consumed, exercising daily, and ultimately going vegan.
From Vegetarian to Vegan
Naturally, with my addictive personality, I dove deeper into vegetables and health. Veganism was the next step. It was difficult. Let me be more specific: It was difficult giving up cheese.
Life Without Cheese
This is coming from someone that gave up cigarettes, cold turkey, after 20 years of smoking. I was like Steve Urkel when it came to cheese. The flavor of cheese is irreplaceable. It makes everything better, whether it be processed and cold on a smoked turkey sandwich or hot, oozing raclette on a crusty loaf. I was all in on cheese.
But once I kicked that habit, being vegan was just ok. The best thing about being vegan was that I could announce that I was vegan and stupidly look down on people who were not vegan. My vegan days did not last long. I estimate it at four solid months.
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From Vegan Back to Vegetarian
So I was back to eating a vegetarian diet, feeling more like Stefan Urquelle now that I had been to the deepest and darkest place of restrictive eating. I came out the other side cooler, with a better understanding of what my personal limitation was. I was able to enjoy food much more, and I was happier for it. It's really interesting, as I recall in my memory as I write this, that food affects you on so many levels—cellular, physical, and emotional.
So, by this point, my health was good (in my opinion), I was a better cook, and I was understanding that many people were looking for alternatives in their eating habits and that I was able to affect numerous people by providing delicious vegetable and fruit-forward dishes. Diving into vegetable cookery brought me to one of the sweet spots in my cooking career and changed my relationship with food forever.
It was time to introduce meat products back into the mix.
From Vegetarian to Carnivore
I eventually fell off the wagon (or got back onto the wagon, depending on who you are talking to) and introduced meat back into my diet. Meat is delicious; that is undeniable.
A ribeye steak that is seared just right and cooked to 125°F, left to rest on a rack and seasoned with fleur de sal is a great dish by itself. When I was able to combine that flavor profile with a simple charred cauliflower, hard-roasted baby carrots, or grilled broccolini, misted with sherry vinegar and tossed with olive oil, it truly was the best of two worlds combined. Like when Remy from the movie Ratatouille was describing combining flavors to his brother, they sang together.
The Apex of Good Food
Once my palette was exposed to eating different kinds of vegetables and different techniques for handling vegetables, my appreciation for good food had really come to an apex.
But I became seduced by the sexiness of meat, and the vegetables faded into the background again. My health was ok, but I could feel the heaviness of the meat in my body and the sluggishness returned at times. I realized I had to cut back.
Carnivore Gone Flexitarian
I would call myself a flexitarian now. I get the best of both worlds but monitor my meat consumption closely.
What I've Learned
The lesson that I learned from this unexpected journey is that I really wanted to learn about something I had no idea about, so I committed to it fully. I was lucky enough to be put into a situation where this thing that interested me was given to me, so I took it and ran with it. Then I went as far as I wanted to go with it, took a step back from it, reassessed it, and made an educated analysis of what worked best for me.
Even the side effects from that experience taught me more than I could have learned from just reading about or observing the habits of vegetarianism. Sometimes the answer is already made out for you, but you never understand the answer until you go through the experience. Which brings me to another lesson I learned, something I have heard countless times before: Everything in moderation.