Brett Milam
Healthy food doesn’t have to be a chore to eat

I’ve found the surest way to garner wayward glances is when completing my Chipotle order: “Burrito to go, with white rice, black beans and no meat, please.”

No meat? No protein? It’s as if the glances tell me, “You will most certainly collapse before reaching the cash register.”

About a year ago, I would have added barbacoa, steak or even chicken to my order. Nowadays, I abstain.

Yeah, yeah, I know the jokes, “How do you know someone is a vegetarian? They’ll tell you.” Well, I am more of a pescetarian – yes, another label under an already politicized label – which is someone who typically stays away from meat, except for seafood.

While vegetarianism will carry with it certain preconceptions and connotations (liberal, environmentalist, ethicist, etc., etc.), I’m not here to litigate the label or even proselytize to meat-eaters to cease meat consumption.

My only contention with this latest column is to argue for the tongue and its taste buds.

I remember when I first tried a beer. If I recall correctly, it was a Budweiser because duh. Budweiser is almost synonymous with beer in America the way Q-tips are to cotton swabs. And I thought it was gross.

After a few repulsed sips, I nursed that bad boy for an hour or so before my brother, recognizing the Gospel of Beer that, “Thou shalt never let a beer go warm,” relieved me of the putrid liquid.

Then I tried a Miller. It was marginally better. And now I’m one of those hoity-toity types who talks about IPAs and shops at Jungle Jim’s trying to fill a variety pack of obscure and weird beers.

In other words, beer, as they say, was an acquired taste for me.

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, quinoa and everything in between – all of it wasn’t so much an acquired taste, as a newfound taste. I had been missing out.

I’d never tried a strawberry or a kiwi or dates or spinach or kale. Heck, I’d only recently put a tomato to my palate. I’d never even heard of quinoa before embarking in the world of non-meat-based foods. And let’s be honest, avocado is the tongue’s best friend.

My mind was blown that there were these healthy, yet still delicious, foods out there that I’d long neglected because turkey, chicken, beef and pork were the “apple of my eye.”

And believe it or not, Burger King offers a tasty and filling vegetarian burger. Even if you’re a meat-eater, you can still enjoy the tastes involved in munching down on one of those.

Even with the advent of a sort-of vegetarian lifestyle, my sweet tooth persists: I’ve had vegan cookies, vegan brownies, vegan muffins, vegan peach frozen yogurt and vegan chocolate quinoa balls. Vegan means no dairy-based product sourcing, either.

I promise you the vegan deserts taste indistinguishable from traditionally, dairy-based deserts.

Dairy has proven harder to abstain from, however; hence, I would be more comfortable with vegetarian or pescetarian. I did try vegan swiss cheese with mustard the other day and even with mustard attempting to mask it, the flavoring was not agreeable.

If this column so far is making you want to go eat a Big Mac or load up a Chipotle burrito with as much steak as is possible until you must get that second tortilla wrap to secure it, I understand you. Do your thing.

I’m just saying, I love to eat and there are plentiful food options beyond meat that can still titillate the taste buds.

My favorite of the new things I’ve tried are kiwis because unlike other fruits, the seeds are not an impediment to consumption and quinoa because it’s filling, flavorful and flexible, as in, you can put so many other foods with it.

Also, unlike some of the messaging around fruits and vegetables, it’s not always preparation-intensive or time-consuming to whip up. Obviously, one of the strongest appeals of fast food is that it’s, well, fast and convenient. Another selling point of fast food is its price point.

However, let me add a personal counterexample: The other night my girlfriend made a saucepan of quinoa – and it should be noted that quinoa has a lot of protein – that fed three people (her, her daughter and me). It took only a few minutes of preparation and 20-30 minutes of cooking time.

Altogether, the meal cost less than $9. Again, that’s $9 to feed three people, without even using the full bag of quinoa, frozen corn or frozen kale.

If you want to try it out, put one cup of quinoa, half a bag of frozen corn, a whole can of roasted red tomatoes, a third of the frozen kale, some salt and a little bit of garlic powder into a saucepan. Bring it to boil.  Then cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

It’s delicious, filling, cheap and easy to make. Hard to beat that.

Or go get that Big Mac, I’m not going to knock it out of your mouth.

In fact, Mark Twain said the part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.

But I’ll take the quinoa over the Big Mac in the octagon of your stomach since the quinoa does have a reputation as a “superfood.”