The tofu diaries

I’ve always been wacky about diet. I juice-fasted in my late teens, ate carbs in my twenties, and turned organic in pregnancy. And now, in our house, we’ve become vegetarian. I’ll admit this latest was unexpected. We’ve been big carnivores. My husband and son like meat, and I became a protein pentecostal when a dietician told me I was eating enough carbohydrate to feed a village and not enough protein to feed my big toe. Meat is protein for dummies. We love it.

But then I read Karen Joy Fowler’s We are all completely beside ourselves, a magnificent novel, incidentally, but also a reflection on what animal lives mean. I might have continued chomping away, except I followed Fowler with Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. I loved Foer’s novels and thought his first non-fiction book would take a nuanced journey. I was wrong. Foer had already arrived at his destination, the factory farm, and he spent much of the book describing the lives animals now lead, only outdone by the deaths they die. None of it was what you’d wish for creatures as sentient as fish, let alone chickens or pigs. Don’t read it if you have a sensitive digestion. My son had been saying he wanted to become vegetarian, and my husband said we were eating too much meat. We decided, almost casually, we’d stop eating animals.

It was really fun for a week, finding recipes with protein, iron and B vitamins. It was like camping. And then, we were having dahl for the third week in a row and it wasn’t so interesting. Now, it’s what it is, a bit like camping for a REALLY long time. We eat a LOT of tofu and pulses, and just so you know, being vegetarian does make you eat more vegetables.

Not that I’m not trying to convince anyone. It was just that the animal on the plate became quite suddenly the same animal Foer had written an obituary for. I could no longer suspend disbelief, a bit like when they showed the movie Babe on flights and no one selected the pork goulash. And believe me, no factory-farmed animals live like Babe.

After we stopped eating animals, the new Australian food pyramid was released. Carbs moved up, to a new smaller floor of their own, a one-bedder, which put protein, along with dairy, still further up, a studio rather than its former penthouse. The old apex bedsit of “eat-least” junk foods was demolished altogether in favour of good fat.

In fact, vegetarians dominate the new food pyramid, which includes tofu, soba noodles and lentils as well as a bottom floor chock-full of vegetables themselves. I could be smug here, point out that in our house we were ahead of the pyramid. But it’s odd that in Australia a pyramid shows us what to eat. Pyramids were tombs, weren’t they? It never hurts me to remember that no matter what diet I’m on, that’s the destination. For now, I’m just not eating others en route.