Transitioning to vegetarianism?

I feel myself pulled towards vegetarianism. I know the quality of the pull, seeing as it got me in the ministry, got me to Washington, and got me a husband. I suspect it’s just a matter of time, but I’m making no promises.

There are the ethical, health, and sustainability reasons, and I think I’m leaning more or less to all three.

But how to do it? I know that I’m more likely to do something if I don’t forbid myself to do it. Then, when it becomes a habit I just surrender the option. It worked with WalMart, so it might work with meat.

I’m thinking of applying the strictures of Christian fasting — from the Greek church, say, or Russian — as a way of moderating my meat content until I hit a point where I just stop.

Or until I’m a big meat-eating baby, and give up.

Do you have an experience on tapering off meat, especially if you have Christian fasting experience.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. It seems like Christian oriented vegetarianism is something of a new trend:

    I’ve heard good things aboutThe Gradual Vegetarian:

    I’m particularly fond of Ethiopian vegetarian lenten recipes and other recipes from Lebano or Jordan:

    I like the resources of the Vegetarian Resource Group:

    I pretty much quit cold turkey (no pun intended) so I can’t help you much on the gradual question. I know I did work my way into it when I quit eating eggs and dairy. I started out just not having milk and eggs around the house and occasionally eating prepared foods that had those ingredients but eventually gave them all up.

    I would say don’t force yourself to make to radical of a change too quickly. That’s a recipe for burn out and giving up.

  2. I’ve thought of going vegetarian too. Pretty much for the same reasons you mentioned. I decided to start easy and give up four legged creatures first. I just don’t buy that kind of meat and don’t order it at resteraunts, so I rarely have it. With food I have a tendency to rebel if it is on an “absolutely not” list. My plan now is to just find more and more delicious recipes with protein in them and without meat, so that I start to naturally rarely eat any kind of meat. I don’t think I’ll ever put meat on an “absolutelynot” list. I don’t drink alchohol and I don’t want to, but I had a sip of champaign this year at a wedding. I think I just wanted to let myself know that I was choosing not to drink, it wasn’t forbidden.

  3. The downside of the “nothing forbidden” gradual approachis that you actually have to think about it all the time. After a cuple months of not eating meat it just didn’t occurr to me to me to eat meat. It’s really hard to get over the idea that “i’m a decent person and I shouldn’t be denied anything” as it applies to animals.As a vegetarian extremist I would say you don’t have to be a vegetarian. Just don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you should be a vegetarian but doing nothing about it but feeling guilty.

  4. I was a vegetarian for 5 years, having fallen off the wagon last year :(

    Having said that, when I felt the same pull you feel now, I just made a decision to limit meat to a few times a week. In the meantime I found myself enjoying different vegetarian dishes, and finally I made the decision to go meat-free for two weeks. If over that period I didn’t find myself dying for steak, then I’d make the leap. In Atlanta we have such wonderful vegetarian restaurants that dining out wasn’t always a hard thing either (anyone who has a chance to check out Café Sunflower at either location should do so).

    The only reason I reverted back to my evil ways was a real longing for fish and seafood, although I have had other types of meat too. I am considering being semi-vegetarian with seafood as my only meat indulgence.

    As for Ethiopian vegetarian lentil dishes, we have a restaurant here in ATL which serves the best Ethiopian vegetarian food. I am salivating as I write this…

  5. Mrs Philocrites is a vegetarian with one exception: She eats meat when it’s served in a religious setting, such as a meal in a monastery, because she realized the brothers only serve meat at the Tuesday dinner they invite guests to. I thought that was a pretty good exception, and it makes some potentially awkward pastoral situations easier to adjust to. (Food given as an act of hospitality is hard to turn down gracefully.)

    I eat meat at lunch, I confess, because I love to go out for lunch, but the Moosewood Cookbooks have given us plenty of really good meals for dinner. A few more years, though, and I suspect Mrs Philocrites’s gentle evangelism will have converted me to milk-&-eggs vegetarianism (free-range, of course).

  6. I’ve noticed recently that I really don’t eat red meat any more. I don’t know how it happened, but it has. Cutting out red meat was painless. Cutting out chicken would be harder but is doable if I really wanted to, but right now I don’t.

    At the same time, I take an even broader stance than Mrs. Philocrites in that I don’t want to show up to anybody’s house and say “This is what I eat.”

    Ps. The Moosewood cookbook rocks.

  7. I became a vegetarian in 1973 and a vegan in 1981. It seems to me that there are many helpful and supportive books in libraries and bookstores for a person considering vegetarianism. I’ve found vegetarian groups of great help, off and on, over the years. There are some helpful things on Keith Akers’ website,

    I embraced universalism much more recently. Veg and univ are, of course, a perfect combination.


  8. Scott, vegetarianism is great for me! As I am writing this I’m eating vegetarian haggis with mashed potatoes and peas (Scot’s wha’ hae!). It took more discipline than most people would imagine for me to become a vegetarian fifteen years ago. I came from a family that put meat into everything. Years ago i was listening to NPR and an agricultural economist was being interviewed. He said that if everyone on the planet were vegetarian that everyone could potentially eat. The only answer, beyond that of global politics, to starvation was vegetarianism. Upon hearing my experience with that radio program years later, Tom Wintle told me that he knew that agricultural economist–he was a member of First Parish, Weston, Mass. So, my conversion to vegetarianism was directly due to an encounter with a UU Christian. The Spirit works in mysterious ways. . .

    I did not go vegetarian all of a sudden though. Experiences with animals, the horrible sanitation of the meat packing industry and the pollution of the seas all added to the arguments for vegetarianism in the long run. It has not been easy but I feel bettter for it.

    When I first went vegetarian I craved meat and the kinds of meals that I had experienced all my life. Then, I found Linda McCartney’s cookbook, “Home Cooking.” It’s chock full of meat-replacement recipes that made the transition easier. I have a ritual with that cookbook. Before I put it away I always kiss the late Mrs. Paul McCartney on the cover (like the Russians do their icons.) I suppose that I take that a bit more than most, yet eating food that I know has not been the product of violence is affirms my basic principles.

    I would also commend to you “Simply Heavenly! The Monastery Vegetarian Cookbook” by Abbot George Burke (“1,400 recipes from the Kitchen of Holy Protection Orthodox Monastery.”) In the introduction the Abbot gives his reasoning for vegetarianism as deriving from a translation of the original text of Genesis in the early Christian era, “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat” (Genesis 1:29) Now before everyone starts clamboring about mistranslations and such, I am only conveying this monastic order’s explanation for their vegetarianism. Their seems to be a tradition of vegetarianism and fasting in Orthodox traditions. Some hold that digestion of meat interferes with mental and spiritual awareness, slowing them down.

    This is quite a long post, hope that it helps.

  9. Ya’ll are so crazy and I love you for it.
    I don’t kiss any pictures of Paul Prud’homme or anything but Scott I MUST ask… how did vegetarianism get you a husband? I thought you and Hubby were major carnivores! I must admit that one of my fondest memories with you is the Christmas Day that found us both exhausted and sitting side by side on old easy chairs, watching “Damn Yankees” and eating slice after slice of a fabulous glazed ham.

    oink. oink.

  10. Whatever PeaceBang wants . . . PeaceBang gets. And what PeaceBang wants is . . . another slice of ham. And perhaps a glass of the low-alcohol German wine. I remember that day with overwhelming fondness (even if the pig doesn’t.)

    The husband and ministry parallel comes from the string of “this is it” calls I’ve gotten over my life. I’ve lived a very “zubba, zubba, zubba, ping! Noah!” life. (For those who enjoy old Bill Cosby routines.)

    Or put another way, I don’t think I’m the one who chose the vegetarianism for me. I tend not to bring this subject up because it makes me sound crazy or fanatical, but it tends to turn out that way.

    Oh, in case y’all think the UU Enforcer is being provocative, well, he is. (You are!) But I suspect Mrs. Enforcer will take care of him.

  11. Hmmmm. After 10+ years of knowing Scott (and being a vegetarian), I’m a bit surprised. But you’ll get nothing but encouragement from this end. I know you can cook so you’ll be in that department. I can recomment some good cookbooks to start with. My starter cookbooks were “The Moosewood Cookbook” and “The Enchanted Broccoli Forrest.”

    As I recall, for me it was a New Years resolution. And I backslid on the very first day. After that, I righted myself, and got back on track. Beyond that point, I went cold-turkey of meat and seafood (which some don’t consider meat, but I do). Some folks do it gradually, but it really depends on what’s best for you. I just thought gradual change would allow me to put it off for too long.

    For me, it was initially for health reasons, and the payoff was pretty quick in terms of how I felt after a while. I didn’t start considering the ethical reasons until about five years ago, and I’m still working on those, and figuring out just how far I can reasonably take it. (Becoming a vegan is the obvious next step, but I haven’t taken it yet.)

    Also, I think it’s easier now than it was 10 years or more ago, as there are more options in restaurants, people are more accepting of it, and there are just more vegetarians than there used to be. Plus there are a lot of vegetarian products out there, that weren’t available when I started.

    Anything I can do to help, you have but to ask.

  12. 10+ years, Terrance? Try 16. (Really. I have photographs.)

    I might ask for help, like where in Logan Circle can someone get a decent vegetarian meal?

  13. I was a vegetarian once. I went cold turkey after completing a stint as a lobster cook in high school. Nothing like ripping the inards out of little crustaceons (sp?) and stuffing them with breadcrumbs to turn you off! I have become a “gradual reductionist” of sorts, thanks to the incredibly large numbers of vegetarians I have as friends/relatives. That, combined with what I like to call “economic vegetarianism” (poverty) has kept my meat consumption low over the years. Of course, I have a brother who raises mostly-organic cows, pigs and free-range chickens…

    I have a question. Do more people swear off meat for ethical reasons or for health reasons?

  14. I am currently doing this as well. I have decided that meat simply does not agree with me (I end up feeling bloated and ill after eating it). I have slowly weaned myself off with a number of different salad recipes. It so happens that I love fresh vegetables anyway. Tonight I had feta and olive salad with pita bread. I think that rather than making a rule that “I AM NOT GOING TO EAT MEAT AGAIN” it is a case of slowly adjusting your diet and getting to know some tasty alternatives. I once tried to be a vegetarian before but didn’t really have any alternative to meat based meals and so it proved hard.

  15. I guess the strategy I followed isn’t really an option for you — I started dating a vegetarian, and the positive reinforcement of seeing her eating habits coupled with the fear that she’d think less of me if she saw me with a big steak on my plate gave me the motivation I needed. I’ve since broken up with her, but without taking up meat-eating again, as our three years together gave me time to adopt vegetarianism as part of my own identity. I’m not a strict vegetarian yet — I call myself a “social carnivore,” in that I’ll eat meat if someone else offers it to me or I’m at a restaurant without any decent vegetarian options, but I never cook meat for myself and I try to order vegetarian at restaurants when they have it on the menu.

    I guess my main advice would be to develop a taste for vegetables. Soy and cheese have their place (though we don’t actually need nearly as much protein as your average omnivore eats), but if you rely too much on them, you’ll have this constant feeling that you’re eating a replacement. But if you get into a vegetable-based cuisine, you’ll start to forget about meat rather than having its absence hanging in front of you at every meal. Sometimes my parents will give me some ham, and I don’t know what to do with it — I wind up with vegetarian dishes that have ham grafted onto them.

    There are loads of good vegetarian recipes online (I’ve been using, and going to Indian and Vietnamese restaurants can give you some inspiration.

  16. Darn it, MT ate my long comment. In summary: my own experience was that dating a vegetarian is a good way to motivate yourself, although I doubt hubby would be too keen on Scott trying that path. Also, the key is to find vegetarian meals that stand on their own, rather than being omnivore meals with the meat replaced with something else.

  17. Funny, but Adam’s brother’s farm was one of the things that pushed me over the edge.

    Here’s the logic. If I was going to be an ethical carnivore, their meat would be exactly the kind of thing I’d look for. (And we can get it from local farmers at the Sunday market at Dupont Circle.) But, like the Tierneys, those farmers are keen to show me pictures of the named live animals that are now cut up and resting on dry ice.

    And that’s too real for me. But thanks for keeping it real.

    I suppose I can get the free-range eggs.

  18. I run WordPress, and some comments need to be authorized. I think your long reply has a word in its that picked it as potiential spam.

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