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36 Years as a Vegetarian in the Midwest

Aug 17, 2007
In 1971, a friend of mine invited me to supper. He fixed brown rice with vegetables that were sauteed in a wok using soy sauce. All of this was pretty exotic to me because I had grown up in a working class family in Illinois. During the meal my friend mentioned there were people who ate like this all the time. In fact, there were people who did not eat any meat at all, they were vegetarians. That sounded pretty cool to me and I decided to live that way.

I really do not know why the idea of being a vegetarian resonated with me. I was certainly attracted to anything that, at the time, was labeled "counter-culture." But really changing something as basic as what and how you eat is pretty drastic. My mother was aghast and figured I would probably die of malnutrition. Looking back at how hard it was to purchase foods that were whole grain and sufficiently nourishing, it is a wonder I was not malnourished, perhaps I was.

To obtain something as simple as whole wheat flour or brown rice we had to drive into St. Louis. There were a couple of places that were then called "Health Food Stores" where you could buy these and other products. I do not recall seeing anything like Tofu, Tempeh, or the array of products that one can find in a Whole Foods Store or the small locally owned food store where we now purchase nearly all of our food. It was several years before a commercially produced whole wheat bread began to be sold in the regular supermarkets in the area.

I did some traveling during the early 1970's and spent some time in Colorado and California. In Colorado there was a store that sold all the stuff we wanted at the time plus a lot more. They even had a bakery and made the most wonderful little pies. We thought we were in heaven. You could just go in an buy what ever you wanted. Our wants were fairly simple at the time. Mostly we purchased brown rice, some beans, flour, maybe some nuts and seeds, yogurt, cold pressed oil, soy sauce to put on everything.

Whole wheat flour sold for 5 cents a pound. I think brown rice was around 10 or 11 cents a pound. Medium grain brown rice now costs us $1.29 per pound. Beans of various types are about $1.25 a pound. So we bought the raw materials and made meals out of it. For a while I made bread that was just whole wheat flour, water, and sea salt. You had to knead it for a long time, bake it, and slice it. It was substantial and very chewy.

Slowly, over the past 36 years, good simple food has become more readily available. I have spent the last 30 years in a rural area of Illinois. We have done most all of our grocery shopping at a food co-op and then, for the last 10 years or more, at a locally owned store that sells a wide array of products the I would have never dreamed of in 1971. Also, during that same time period, I have become a Vegan, thus no longer eating eggs or cheese or any type of animal products. But, now, if I wanted to, I could go into the local grocery store and purchase a package of Tofu, some organically grown whole wheat flour, and organically grown fruits and vegetables.

Today it is easy to find good food to eat. Lots of restaurants in large metro areas offer some type of vegetarian dishes. But, these dishes may often times not be vegan. I generally seek out ethnic restaurants. Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern fare always includes some type of vegetarian choices. The major metro areas have not just little health food stores but medium sized super markets offering products of all types. There are a lot of people who may not be vegetarians but see no need to consume meat at every meal.

Being a vegetarian was quite weird 30 years ago. There were lots of people who simply did not understand what the term even meant. Today the idea of a vegetarian diet is not so exotic or misunderstood and it is a lifestyle that is easy to practice.
About the Author
Michael Dappert is a co-founder of Winco, Inc., a provider of wireless internet access to small communities in West Central Illinois. He also administers the web site Musicgig.us and discusses a wide range of topics at Flyoverfolks.com .
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