Note: The Dallas Morning News published a nice article on why people go vegetarian called "Vegetarianism: Who switches, why and how." To my surprise, there were no nasty meat-eater comments. I think I went to graduate school with the author. About the environmental issue, though, an important point wasn't brought up. The rain forests of South America are being torn down to grow crops for cattle feed. Because calories are lost in the production of animal flesh, growing crops to feed them to feed us will always be less efficient than feeding humans plants directly.
By Lisa Martin
As a teenager in the Czech Republic, Barbara Dillard feared that a nasty bout of hepatitis would end her dreams of becoming a professional ballerina. Traditional medicine may have saved her life at age 17, but she despaired that the constant fatigue and accompanying weakness might end her aspirations. Out of desperation and after much research, she decided to try vegetarianism.
"My doctors were amazed at my recovery," says Mrs. Dillard, a Dallasite since the late 1990s. "But it wasn't easy to be a vegetarian. I even had to learn to make my own soy milk." That's because such products were not readily available at the time in the Eastern European country.
She went on to spend four years as a member of the National Theatre ballet company in the Czech Republic before moving stateside, where she is a stay-at-home mom.
Dr. Manisha Chandalia, an endocrinologist and metabolism specialist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, also brought a tradition of vegetarianism with her to Dallas.
"I don't have strong religious reasons for being a vegetarian, but growing up in India, nobody in my family was very keen on meat," she explains. "Here, it's more difficult for me to be a vegetarian. It's easy to become sloppy and end up with a carb intake that's too high."
Dr. Chandalia describes herself as an ovo-lacto vegetarian: someone who eats no meat, poultry or fish but whose diet includes dairy products and eggs.
Mrs. Dillard, on the other hand, is a vegan: She will not consume animal products, which means checking food labels for ingredients such as lard and gelatin.
Behind the decision
The reasons people turn to vegetarianism tend to fall into three broad categories: health, the environment, and animal rights or ethical considerations. Religious reasons also may lead a person to abstain from eating certain types of meat, such as pork or beef.
Reactions from the uninitiated to a vegetarian's dietary choice can range to fascination or abject horror.
"My family still doesn't understand how or why I'm a vegetarian," says Barbara Bush, president of the Black Vegetarian Society of Texas. "But when my father passed away, one of my aunts who's a big meat eater went out of her way to research and prepare a vegan meal. I was so touched by this gesture of support."
Ms. Bush says her co-workers often are fascinated by her choice.
"Whenever we're together at a banquet, I get a special meal, and people are always enthralled," she says with a laugh. "I try to be discreet, and I'm not a missionary out to convert people, but they always ask questions."
The inquiries often center on protein: Is she eating enough? How can she and other vegetarians survive, let alone thrive?
"If you have a crummy diet and give up meat, it's likely that you'll still have a crummy diet," says Jo Ann Carson, a professor of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern and a registered dietitian who earned a doctorate in nutrition.
"But most serious vegetarians and vegans go out of their way to have a healthy diet and not to eat doughnuts all day long."
Earth, animal concerns
Although health concerns initially motivated Terry Jensen of Euless to go vegan in the mid-1990s, she quickly embraced the environmental benefits of the practice.
"Food is one of the biggest users of energy and one of the greatest contributors to global warming," she says. "Not only are the greenhouse gases emitted from the animals' waste causing problems with the environment, but you also have issues of transportation of the food and the energy that consumes."
Adds Margaret Morin, co-president of the Vegetarian Network of Dallas and a former registered nurse: "The number one thing you can do to support the environment is to go vegan." For this longtime Dallasite, however, another issue motivated her decision 15 years ago to become a vegetarian: empathy for animals.
"Farmed animals are objectified as cogs in the wheel of production and forced to eke out a miserable and lonely existence until they die, usually in terror, just so humans can eat their flesh," she says. "This is incontrovertibly wrong."
Missing ice cream
For her friend, Rusty Posch of Irving, a dispatcher for Southwest Airlines and a vegan who gave up animal products almost nine years ago, the only thing he truly misses about his former lifestyle is ice cream.
"Tofutti is OK, but the rice-based ice creams don't taste as good to me," admits this longtime volunteer with the Irving Animal Shelter.
Like many vegetarians and vegans, he went cold turkey on meat. Others, including Ms. Bush, preferred to taper off, first giving up beef and pork, then chicken, then fish and finally all animal products. The choice is purely individual, one born of myriad factors ranging from convenience to cravings.
"The one advice I've given people who are tempted by fast food at work is to bring meals from home," he says. "Someone who brings in fried chicken or something, well the smell might get to you, especially in the beginning."
Lisa Martin is an Arlington freelance writer. The New York Times also contributed to this article.
Many restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area offer vegetarian entrees, but the following offer all-vegetarian menus.
•Cosmic Cafe, 2912 Oak Lawn Ave., Dallas; 214-521-6157, www.cosmiccafedallas.com. Menu includes black-bean burgers, falafel, spinach enchiladas, mandala pizza.
•Kalachandji's, 5430 Gurley Ave., Dallas; 214-821-1048, www.kalachandjis.com. Menu includes bean soup, vegetable curry and rice puddings.
•Spiral Diner & Bakery, 1314 W. Magnolia, Fort Worth; 817-332-8834, www.spiraldiner.com (A second Spiral Diner is being planned for Oak Cliff.) Vegan menu includes organic fruit smoothies, hot hummus wrap, red coconut curry noodles.
•Veggie Garden, 516 W. Arapaho Road, Richardson; 972-479-0888, www.theveggiegarden.com. Menu includes eggless egg roll, kung pao soy beef, soy shrimp fried rice.
Vegetarian (also known as ovo-lacto vegetarian): Eats no meat, poultry or fish; does consume dairy products and eggs.
Vegan: Eats no animal products. This can even include honey, because it is made by living creatures.
Pescovegetarian or pescetarian: Will eat fish in addition to dairy and eggs, but abstains from consuming meat and poultry.
Flexitarian: A relatively new term to describe someone who is primarily vegetarian but who may, for pragmatic reasons, occasionally eat animal flesh.