This is chapter 9 from the 2001 3rd edition of my book, “Judaism and Vegetarianism. Much has happened since it was published so use additional sources to get more recent suggestions.
And you shall eat and be satisfied and bless the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. (Deuteronomy 8:10)
PREVIOUS CHAPTERS HAVE DOCUMENTED MANY REASONS why Jews (and others) should adopt sensible, well-balanced, nutritious vegetarian diets. This chapter will provide some suggestions on practical ways to practice this diet effectively.
A. Vegetarianism—A Way of Life
Some suggestions for making the transition to vegetarianism and a healthier lifestyle easier follow. You know yourself best; adopt suggestions and a pace of change most comfortable for you.
1. Many people become vegetarians instantly, totally giving up meat, poultry, and fish overnight. Others make the change gradually. Do what works best for you.
2. It is important to supply your nutritional needs by eating a wide variety of foods in season rather than depend on a limited selection of foods with which you were previously familiar. Experiment with new foods; dare to improvise!
3. If possible, plan menus in advance. Take time to build attractive meals using foods you enjoy. Many sources for recipes for tasty meals are given later. Generally aim to have simple meals with quick and easy preparation. Simplicity in diet has many advantages, including health and saving time.
4. Approach each meal with positive expectations. Enjoy your food. Don’t consider yourself an ascetic. Realize that your diet is best for life— your life and that of spared animals, hungry people, and the environment.
5. Learn principles of sound nutrition. Read books on vegetarianism and natural health. Start to build a home library that you can use to seek responses to questions as well as to lend books to friends. Subscribe to health magazines, such as Health Science, Vegetarian Voice, Vegetarian Journal, and Vegetarian Times. Attend vegetarian and natural health meetings and conferences.
6. Become familiar with vegetarian restaurants in your area. Find out which restaurants offer salad bars with a wide variety of fresh vegetables. If their vegan selection is small, ask them to offer more of these choices.
7. Associate with other vegetarians and become friendly with health- minded people for mutual support and reinforcement. This is valuable even if socialization is mostly by telephone or the Internet. It is especially important for children—they should know that there are others with diets similar to theirs.
8. Become familiar with local health food stores, co-ops, ethnic stores, and the natural food section of your supermarket. However, many “natural food” products may be overpriced and not all that healthy. You don’t have to shop in a special store to obtain healthy vegetarian foods. However, new foods can add variety to your diet. Here are some special items that you should get to know.
Tofu—soy bean curd, which is a high-protein product that can be
adapted to many vegetarian dishes.
Tamari—a natural soy sauce prepared without caramel coloring or
chemicals. Most brands are high in sodium although several low
sodium options are available. Generally, tamari is wheat-free.
Tahini—natural sesame butter.
Rice cakes—puffed brown rice pressed to form round cakes, which are
crisp and crunchy.
Unsulfured, unsweetened, dried fruits.
Unsalted shelled nuts and seeds.
While no special equipment is essential for vegetarian diets, the following may be very valuable: a vegetable juicer, blender, food processor, pressure cooker, and a stainless steel steamer (with perforated “wings” that open to any size pot and three legs, so water does not touch the vegetables).
9. Increase consumption of fruits, vegetables, and their freshly squeezed juices. See to it that a good variety of these foods, as well as seeds, raisins, and nuts, are always available at home.
10. As long as sufficient calories are consumed daily, protein needs can be easily met by all healthy vegetarians and vegans.
Maintaining a healthy diet is not difficult. The important thing is to eat a variety of wholesome plant-based foods, including some protein-rich foods, and consume sufficient calories.
A few good sources of plant-based protein are nuts, seeds, lentils, tofu, and tempeh. Many common foods such as whole grain bread, broccoli, spinach, potatoes, corn, and peas add to protein intake.
11. Use healthier substitutes. Instead of polished rice, use brown rice. Instead of white flour, use whole wheat or brown rice. Instead of sugar or an artificial sweetener, use rice bran syrup, or blackstrap molasses. Instead of margarine, use grapeseed or sesame oil (in recipes) or tahini dressing as a spread. Instead of commercial oils, use cold-pressed, pure grapeseed, sunflower, sesame, canola, or olive oil.
12. When you are invited to a wedding, bar/bat mitzvah, or dinner at someone’s home, respectfully let your hosts know beforehand that you eat only vegetarian food. Generally, they comply cordially and often enjoy preparing a special meal for you and other guests. If they ask, “why?,” use this as an opportunity to respectfully educate them, using the information in this and other vegetarian books.
If you feel it would be an imposition for your host to prepare something special for you, offer to bring a vegetarian or vegan dish. This will not only relieve the pressure on the host, but will also provide the opportunity to introduce the host and the other guests, whose knowledge of and experience with vegetarian food may be limited, to something really wonderful! Situations such as this can often lead to stimulating discussions on why one chose to be vegetarian.
13. To be on the safe side, have your blood tested periodically to be sure that you are getting sufficient nutrients,especially vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Supplement if necessary.
14. Here are some additional suggestions for healthy eating: become a label reader; pay special attention to small print and nutritional data on food packages; minimize use of products with food colorings, preservatives, stabilizers, and artificial flavors; avoid frying, if possible; you might want to minimize and possibly avoid the use of foods that contain caffeine, such as coffee, cola drinks, chocolate, and regular tea.
Ideally, a healthy vegetarian diet should contain a minimum of canned products, refined sugar and flour, artificial sweeteners, and salt. However, when you first adopt a vegetarian diet, you may wish to reduce consuming these products gradually.
14. Use substitutes for animal products while working with familiar recipes to make them as healthy and humane as possible. Here are some examples:
Tofu, tempeh, textured vegetable protein, nuts, and refrigerated or
frozen soy “burgers,” “hot dogs,” and other mock meats may be used in
main dishes and other recipes instead of meat products.
There are many delicious substitutes for dairy products, including soy- based milks, almond milk, rice milk, oat milk, and their associated cheeses, yogurts, and ice creams. Cheeses made from any of these various milk substitutes may be used for melted cheese sandwiches and pizzas. A good source for alternatives to dairy products is The Uncheese Cookbook: Creating Amazing Dairy Substitutes and Classic Uncheese Dishes, by Joanne Stepaniak (Summertown, Tennessee: Book
Regular sour cream can be replaced by soy yogurt or a non-dairy sour
cream substitute. Cheeses made from milk substitutes can replace high-fat dairy-based cheeses. You can further limit your fat intake by choosing lower fat substitutes.
There are a variety of good substitutes for an egg, including a mashed banana, two tablespoons of cornstarch or arrowroot, or quarter of a cup of tofu. A powdered vegan egg replacer is also available in health food stores. A valuable source of information on this subject, as well as for many eggless recipes, is Instead of Chicken, Instead of Turkey: A Poultryless “Poultry” Potpourri by Karen Davis, founder and director of United Poultry Concerns (www.upc-online.org).
An excellent source of information on everything in this chapter as well as other vegetarian-related issues is the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG), www.vrg.org.
These suggestions are just a beginning. As you read more about vegetarianism, attend meetings, and interact with like-minded individuals, you will expand your horizons and find the lifestyle ideal for you.
There is an abundance of very comprehensive recipe books, including some written primarily for the Jewish community, which can be found in the Bibliography.
A valuable internet source of recipes is www.Foodtv.com, the official website of the “TV Food Network.” By clicking on their “meatless/vegetarian” box in the “Advanced Recipe Search” section, you can find many vegetarian recipes from celebrity chefs. For special occasion meals, you can check out the five-course vegetarian menu, which changes weekly.
For locating vegetarian restaurants, the website http://VegDining.com provides more than 700 listings for vegetarian restaurants worldwide. At this site, you can also: find links to national and international vegetarian groups; join an ongoing vegetarian dining discussion group to receive news and talk about vegetarian restaurants in different cities; learn about special events coming up at vegetarian restaurants; and learn about a special international vegetarian card. There is an impressive index of over 1,600 vegetarian restaurants and health food stores scattered across the globe at www.happycow.net/. Vegetarians heading to Jerusalem, Santiago, London, Paris, or pretty much anywhere may want to give the “Happy Cow” a look before leaving.
Since vegetarianism is sprouting up in so many areas, it should be no surprise that there is a vegetarian cyber-superstore on the web at www.planetveggie.com. This site offers sections about all aspects of vegetarianism and vegetarian living, including information about vegetarian supplements and cruelty-free products (such as non-leather
shoes, belts, and wallets) at discount prices and tips for healthy living, cook g, and how to purchase herbs and other natural foods.
C. Mixed Marriages: When Only One of You Is a Vegetarian
There are a number of factors that will affect how well a couple with dietary differences gets along:
1. Was there a change in the diet of either spouse after the wedding?
2. How strongly does the vegetarian hold his/her view? Does she/he regard it as a moral crusade or only as a personal preference? Is he/she revolted at the sight of meat?
3. How strongly does the non-vegetarian hold his/her view? Does she/he deeply resent it when a strong case is made for vegetarianism? Or does he/she respect the vegetarian position and perhaps even agree with it, but just feel unable to adopt that diet?
While the above factors should be considered, it is hoped that the following suggestions will be helpful in most situations:
Suggestions for Both Spouses
1. Recognize that the issues you agree on are far greater than those on which you disagree;
2. Recognize that your spouse did not adopt her/his diet to hurt you or make life more complicated for you. Try to respect his/her decision, whether it is based on what she/he regards as great moral principles, on convenience, on conformity, or on habit.
3. You might both want to take advantage of the many increasingly available vegetarian substitutes for hot dogs, hamburgers, and other animal-based meals.
4. Try to be creative in experimenting with new dishes that do not compromise your position.
5. Never attack your spouse’s point of view, especially in public.
6. Compensate for any friction related to dietary differences by stressing important areas of agreement.
7. Try to find restaurants where you can eat together, without either spouse feeling that her/his principles are being violated.
Suggestions for the Vegetarian Spouse
1. Play an active role in shopping and preparing meals. Try to show that vegetarian meals can look appealing and be tasty.
2. Invest in a few good cook books (see Bibliography) and try to come up with perhaps seven or eight easy recipes that you can both enjoy.
3. If you lack time for meal preparation, you might find valuable ideas and recipes in Meatless Meals for Working People: Quick and Easy Vegetarian Recipes by Debra Wasserman and Charles Stahler and Conveniently Vegan by Debra Wasserman (see Bibliography).
4. Try to be a positive role model. Try to let your good health, cheerful attitude, and tolerance serve as a positive example of a vegetarian life.
5. Don’t talk about your diet and the many benefits of vegetarianism unless your spouse is interested.
6. Use your improved health and vigor to be a better spouse.
7. If meat is not served in the house, be understanding if your spouse feels that he/she needs to eat meat outside sometimes.
8. If appropriate, have vegetarian books and magazines around the house, so that your spouse may pick them up and learn about the benefits and other aspects of vegetarian diets.
Suggestions for the Non-Vegetarian Spouse
1. Try to see the positive side of your spouse’s diet. Recognize that she/he may be having a hard time defending his/her diet outside the home and that some support at home can be very helpful.
2. Don’t say “how much easier life could be if you could just throw a steak in the oven (or on the grill).”
3. Appreciate any improved health and increased vitality your mate has due to a vegetarian diet.
4. Recognize that if you eat vegetarian food you are not compromising any principle or belief, while your spouse would be doing so if she/he ate meat. Consider, for example, that all meals served by the Israeli military are kosher, even though many Israeli soldiers do not normally observe the kosher laws, so that nobody’s beliefs will be violated. (Vegetarian food is also available for Israeli vegetarian soldiers.)
5. Try to find some good vegetarian recipes that you find convenient and enjoyable, and that you can share together.
In conclusion, recognize that, while eating is one of life’s great pleasures, it is not all of life, so please don’t let any disagreements get in the way of your enjoying your life together.