One of my pet peeves is when people call me a picky eater. I am a vegetarian and I made that choice 12 years ago. I am not “picky” about what I eat; I am conscientious of what goes in my body, as we all should be.
I became a vegetarian after watching my sister go through the transition. I looked up to her and wanted to be like her so I followed suit. The first year was a bit rough. Jess was away at college, which made it hard to consult her, and we didn’t own any vegetarian cookbooks. A lot of peanut butter sandwiches were consumed that year. The second year was a bit easier since I was just starting college and the cafeteria always offered a vegetarian selection. As the years progressed, Jess and I found some vegetarian cookbooks we enjoyed and when we visited Mom and Dad, they were always willing to try out a new recipe.
When a vegetarian stops eating meat, after a while the body will stop producing the enzymes that break down and help digest the meat. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way.
About 8 years into being a vegetarian, I took a little trip and visited my two best friends from high school. We went out to eat at one of my favorite local Italian places. My family and I had gone there on countless occasions when we lived in Illinois. But after I moved away, I missed it, especially the warm bread and butter that came with every meal. Imagine my excitement as I sat down in one of my favorite restaurants after a decade of being away.
There weren’t many vegetarian options on the menu so I went with the cheese ravioli with marinara sauce. One of my friends ordered the same thing. As we chomped away at our salad and bread (yummy!), we chatted and caught up on our lives. The entrees came and I eagerly dug into mine. About half way through the meal, I started to feel a little dizzy and something was not sitting well with my stomach. I excused myself to the bathroom. When I came back, I felt better and figuring that it was just a fluke, I started eating again, finishing off my ravioli. But the same thing happened. Again, I went to the bathroom. I was feeling a lot worse this time and so I stayed in there a little longer. At one point some teenage girls came in and one exclaimed, “It smells like shit in here!” and I thought, “Well, we are in a bathroom…”
After paying for the meal I was starting to regret eating, my friends and I headed outside. I’d moved to the stage of nausea and it wasn’t easy to walk without wanting to throw up. We couldn’t figure out what it was that was making me so sick. It wasn’t food poisoning because no one else was sick.
I refused to get in Lynn’s new car until I felt better so we stayed out in the cool night air for a bit. As I emptied my stomach behind my once-favorite Italian restaurant, Celeste crossed the road to get me some water and gum (I’d never fully appreciated gum until that point!).
I felt a little better after that but still nauseated. Lynn drove me back to her place, a plastic bag gripped in my hands and the window rolled down so I could feel the air on my face. I crawled into bed that night, apologizing profusely for ruining the evening. Like any true friend, Lynn was only concerned about my well-being.
The next morning I woke. The nausea was still present but considerably less than when I’d fallen asleep. I forced myself out of bed and through my morning routine. My sister was taking the train up from the South and I had to pick her up. The station was halfway between Lynn’s place and my place, but still a good hour and a half away. I figured that if I could just make it there, then Jess could drive the rest of the way.
It was a rough ride, but I didn’t get sick. By the time we were close to home, I’d started to crave crackers. My health improved as the day progressed.
It wasn’t until three months later, when Lynn was visiting me, that I learned why I’d gotten so sick. The marinara sauce was actually the same sauce as the beef sauce. They just strained the beef out. So all the beef juice was still in the sauce that I’d so readily consumed. After 8 years of being a vegetarian, my body knew of only one way to deal with the beef juice: expel it.
Now I know to ask when eating out if my veggie burger is cooked on the same grill as the hamburgers (a surprising number are; I have to shout out to Cheeseburger In Paradise, the only restaurant I’ve found that has a separate grill for everything). So, if you’re dining out with me and I start asking questions about how my food is prepared, don’t make a snide remark about “picky eating.” (And don’t tell me I can “just eat a salad.” Do you eat salads for your meal? No, and neither do I.) If you do, I may just purposefully eat something cooked with beef juice just to throw up on you.