a peek inside the fishbowl

08 Jun, 2015

21-day vegetarian challenge: day one

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Challenge me, challenge you|Recipes and Food

I haven’t written about this here, but awhile back my eldest decided she didn’t want to eat beef anymore, or at least, drastically reduce the amount she was eating. I was ok with this, because I didn’t really want to eat it anymore either. There are many reasons why reducing the amount of red meat we eat is probably a good idea. Here’s my top two:

1) The environmental argument
Factory farms are crap on the environment. (No pun intended.)

2) The “kindness to animals” argument
Factory farms are pretty awful places. As an animal lover who struggles to find her own place in the world sometimes, I am finding it harder and harder to ignore what happens in places like that. Once you get to know an animal, like a pet, it makes it harder to reconcile the fact that we are animal eaters. We were talking about it around the dinner table last night. I believe humans evolved to be omnivores, but does that give us the right to mistreat the animals that we eat? Creatures that feel love and joy? I don’t think so.

Mark Bittman, food journalist and author of many books about food including Food Matters, wrote a great piece about it in the New York Times aptly titled: Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler. The bottom line is that our increased meat consumption has created a number a very serious problems.

(I sense my mother rolling her eyes at this point. (Hi mom!) It may be worth noting that I am the daughter of Eastern European parents and there was meat on the table every night, no matter the season. So I’m bucking tradition here.)

I can’t honestly say that beef hasn’t passed my lips these last few months. It has once or twice, most recently in the form of a Chinese crispy beef dish that I can’t refuse, but I’m not eating nearly the same quantity that I used to. And by default, neither has my family, because I’ve simply replaced beef with fish and chicken when I’m planning our menus for the week. And you know what, I haven’t missed beef that much.

I touched upon a burger-related epiphany in this past post. I love food, and I suspect I’m not alone when I say that meals can represent a kind of comfort to me: like the happy feeling that comes with a family BBQ on a sunny day. But it’s the comfort and taste that is more important to me, the fact that beef is the primary ingredient in a given meal is less so. So I have no problem eating vegetarian versions of traditionally beefy foods like lasagna, tacos, and burgers if I’m still in that happy place. Does that make sense?

Soooo, that’s where this comes in:

21 day vegetarian challenge

I decided I wanted to challenge myself and cut meat out of my diet for 21 days. Confession: I spoke to a few people about it this past week, but in terms of a vegan challenge (no meat, no dairy, no eggs). I ultimately decided it’d be better if I eased into this as a vegetarian challenge, and not take such a huge leap right out of the gate. (That being said, I will try to make half of my total meals to be vegan meals too. We’ll see how that goes.)

I think I can do this, but today of all days, I am woefully unprepared to begin: a busy weekend, no meal plan, no groceries in the house, and looming work deadlines. I fear I’ve set myself up for failure before I’ve even started. Oh well. Onward and upwards! I’ll be writing about this here and there, and tracking my meals (with recipes if applicable, right here.)

p.s. I’ve issued these kinds of challenges before, but I’m afraid to ask anyone to join me on this one. It’s a biggie. That being said, if you DO want to join me and give it a shot, I’d love the company.

8 Responses to "21-day vegetarian challenge: day one"

1 | Carla

June 8th, 2015 at 11:02 am


I’ve eaten vegan, vegetarian, carnivore, omnivore, paleo, etc diets with varying levels of success. The one thing I’ve noticed is that many people when removing meat from their diet, myself included, can often fall into replacing the space on the place with dairy products or more carbs, which don’t provide the protein and good quality fats our bodies need. Sure it’s easy to just add more choose or a piece of bread, but I found just made me hungrier. Planning ahead to have cooked/canned beans/lentils makes a big difference, and add hempseed, nuts and other such things. A vegan diet takes more planning because you have to identify good sources of protein and supplement with B12 (you can add nutritional yeast to your diet) which is only found in animal products. There’s lots of resources out there. Good luck in your journey!

2 | Lei Gumes

June 8th, 2015 at 3:10 pm


I was a vegetarian for 21 years. It’s not that tough. You will learn to eat new things which is good for your health, your mind and your joy.
If you do make the switch, I urge you not to become a preachy vegetarian. In 21 years, I never once tried to convince anyone to change the way they eat…probably the most personal and important thing a person does – every single day. The dicsussions (some attacks) were quickly shut down when I smiled and said “It’s very personal. I don’t ever discuss it”.
Oh and if you’re invited to a meal, do not demand that the hosts acommodate your personal decision. It’s your chioce, not theirs. Bring your own food. Or eat the baked potato and salad and don’t complain.

3 | Ginger

June 8th, 2015 at 3:40 pm


I participated in a 21-Day whole food cleanse (once in 2014 and once in 2015). It was vegan (no dairy, no meat, no refined sugar, no gluten). It was a very personal thing and I didn’t ask my husband or kids to join. I just did it. The first time it changed my life for forever. This year I did it because I enjoyed it the first time and I plan to do it once a year from here on out.

Last year after the cleanse I committed to being Vegan (most days) Vegetarian (all the others) until dinner. My husband isn’t giving up meat any time soon and I don’t plan on make multiple meals all the time. I made it even through a move and crazy life upheaval. This year, after my cleanse, I got lazy and didn’t make it a priority and totally slacked on it. In the last month I have recommitted to my goal.

My reasons for cutting meat are different than yours. (Have you watched Forks Over Knives? It is a documentary on Netflix.) But I think that is okay. I made a vegan meal one night and my boys helped make it. They tried all the food including the tofu (which they discovered they loved). I am slowly easing my family into a different way. I don’t think we will ever be totally vegetarian or totally vegan. I am okay with that too for now.

I am not really prepared to join your challenge as I know that I have to prep to be successful. But I am excited to read your updates and see the recipes you might share. I will commit to being vegetarian with you every day until dinner for the next 21 days and see how many full days I can get in in those 21 days as well. :) It will help me get back and STAY on track with my original goal!

4 | andrea tomkins

June 8th, 2015 at 7:10 pm


Thanks all! I think I have some planning to do this week!

Lei Gumes, you reminded me of a girl I once knew who asked her roommate how he liked his “flesh and cheese sandwich” (a.k.a. ham and cheese). I could never be the preachy type. What works for me may not work for others, and everyone has their own personal feelings/history with food.

Ginger, I think the whole food challenge is pretty awesome! Kudos to you for taking it on. For what it’s worth, I too am doing this alone. We do eat some meatless meals and it’s not a big issue, but I can’t force my husband or kids to eat what I’m eating, although I’d be very happy if they tried something new and liked it! I do admire vegetarians and vegans who are able to stick to their guns, but I also think that any reduction in the amount of meat we eat is a good thing. If that’s just once a week, that’s great.

5 | CeeB

June 10th, 2015 at 8:01 am


A few years ago our family switched to locally sourced, humanely raised meats. I actually find beef (and pork) much easier to find than chicken. As a result, we eat much less meat, because it is more difficult to get and more pricey (but also more flavourful). There is a butcher in Manotick who sells only locally sourced, humanely raised meats.

There is the issue of determining if any meat can be called humane, because ultimately the animal is killed – I can understand this argument, but my main concern with factory farming was the living conditions of the animals. In principle I feel it’s ok to eat meat, but I don’t think we need to raise them in horrific conditions.

6 | CeeB

June 10th, 2015 at 8:10 am


To add – that was meant as a suggestion if you don’t enjoy the vegetarian life. There are options aside from factory farmed meat :)

7 | andrea tomkins

June 10th, 2015 at 9:28 am


Although the phrase “humane slaughter” is a bit of an oxymoron, I’m with you Cee. Although I don’t ever see myself becoming a big beefeater again, I feel it’s ok to eat meat in measured amounts… but animal suffering is not ok. There are humane ways to end an animal’s life.

I know the vegan community would pick apart that argument in a heartbeat, but I think we have to make our own choices about these things.

I wonder. If people knew *all the true and unbiased facts* about how most meat was raised, how many would continue to eat it? 50%? More?

8 | Claudette

June 10th, 2015 at 12:34 pm


I keep going back to how we have eaten meat so many generations ago, and as a child in Europe, humane treatment of animals destined to meat was common practice. Children in Italy witness the slaughter of sheep (or lamb) and it doesn’t faze them, probably because they understand a different relationship between them (humans) and their animals (not typically in factory farms). I personally grew up in Switzerland next to a dairy farm, and spent many times up in the Alps seeing goats or sheep roaming around eating natural food off the meadows. The chickens too roamed free. And yet, at most dinners, there was some sort of meat on the menu. Not huge supersized amounts, but a complementary amount to the many vegetables, cooked and fresh, and no one blinked even.

I say this as a meat lover but at the same time do not meat every day. I just don’t see it as necessary. Also, reputable meat is expensive (or more expensive). And by reputable, I don’t mean organic necessary. There’s a farm in Toronto called Baretta and we select only their meat, especially beef, because we trust in their methods (grass fed, on meadows, humane ending, etc).

Having said all that (sorry for the speech L:) ) I too have gone the vegetarian way several times a year. One thing I found was that dairy and eggs remained an important part of the menu, partly because OMG the amount of chopping things is insane! :P Sometimes I just didn’t have the time or desire to deal with all the prep work for a vegetable meal, and might have reached for a couple of boiled eggs in a pinch, just to starve off hunger, get some quick protein, and stay away from things like chips or cookies!

I’ll be reading on…you know I will. Good luck!


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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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