Shortly after giving up meat in 1995, Jessica Lindsey took a cross-country trip that gave her a taste of what eating out was going to be like.
"Vegetarianism was still so fringe then that hardly anyone outside of California knew what it meant," she says. "At one restaurant, the waitress told me that the soups were vegetarian. She said that the broth was from beef, and it contained chicken pieces, but no meat!"
Today Lindsey rarely has such strange encounters. Vegetarianism is steadily becoming mainstream. Roughly 6 to 8 million Americans are vegetarians, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group--up from a half million to 2 million in 1994. And they have gotten smarter about their dining choices. A generation ago, vegetarian meals were often built around leaden nut loaves or uninspired brown-rice casseroles. Today, many vegetarians consider themselves foodies and relish the challenge of finding recipes that showcase fresh vegetables as a delicious main course, flavored with herbs and spices. More than 50 vegan cookbooks are set to be published this year alone. "Vegetables are becoming culinary rock stars," says Amanda Cohen, owner of the vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy in New York City.
As these four women show, there are many potential benefits to eating vegetarian. Read on...
The Organic Gardener
44, Hudson, NY
Job Horse breeder
Status Married (1 grown daughter)
Vegetarian For 10 years; vegan for 6 months
At this time of year, all the vegetables I eat I grow myself in my large organic garden--heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, patty pan squash, carrots, basil, parsley, dill. Sure, it's cheaper and more delicious than store-bought veggies, but that only partially explains why I'm out there watering at 7 AM. Growing your own food is so much better for your health and for the environment too.
It's been a gradual process for me. I gave up meat ten years ago strictly for health reasons. I was concerned about the hormones used in beef. Then three or four years ago, my daughter Rachel, now twenty-one, began giving me books on the environment. A couple of points really made an impact on me--like the fact that producing meat requires up to fifty times more fossil fuels than growing veggies, or that it takes four times more farmland to feed a meat eater for a year. Thanks to those books, I eliminated eggs and milk from my diet too.
Now I'm purely vegan, and I eat more produce than I ever imagined possible. I'll saute a big batch of veggies for the week. I freeze vegetables straight from my garden and can them, and I make my own salsa. Last year I even treated myself to a spiral slicer that helps me make noodle-like strands from summer squash. When mixed with tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and a little nutritional yeast, it's like heaven on a plate.
The Payoff: Before I started packing my diet with fruits and vegetables, I used to gain weight easily. Now my scale steadily reads 135 (I'm five-foot-nine), and, much to my surprise, my body shape has changed. I don't have belly fat, and my hips and legs seem slimmer.
But I'm most thrilled with my improved energy level. In the past, when I ate a lot of meat, I used to feel like going to sleep right after a meal, or else I'd get a burst of energy but crash an hour later. Now my energy level is steady. I never feel depleted, even after running a couple of miles around the neighborhood.
More from Prevention: