It never fails—after nearly 20 years of being a vegetarian, photographer Catherine Murray still gets the same questions whenever she tells someone. Or, rather, the same seven immediate reactions:
If you don’t eat meat, what DO you eat? Just… vegetables?
It’s not easy to sum up my entire diet in a simple two sentence answer, so I’ve always said, “Everything else. I eat everything else.” It’s true, there are very few things besides meat that I won’t eat!
The “why” has grown over the years. It started out as a challenge. I was 19 and my sister had gone vegetarian the year before. I wondered if I had the willpower to do it, too. Turns out, I did! Later, it became about animals. I didn’t want to eat meat unless it was imperative to my health or survival. Money is also a factor. Being a vegetarian is cheaper, especially when going out to eat. With the money I save, I can splurge on other things like Bubble Tea and organic produce. These days, the environment is part of my motivation to stay vegetarian. Meat takes longer to produce, requires more resources, and carries more diseases than vegetarian food does.
You must be really healthy!
Ha! Hahahaha! No. Being vegetarian isn’t the same as being healthy. Some vegetarians ARE very healthy! I am not. I eat Cheetos, fistfuls of gummy bears, mayo on my French Fries—I’m an equal opportunity eater. I love healthy food and I love unhealthy food. I don’t have a balanced meal plan, I’ve gone days without eating a vegetable, and I only read nutrition labels for fun. Healthy isn’t a word I’d use to describe myself.
I could never be vegetarian—I love meat too much!
Vegetarianism isn’t for everyone, and that’s ok. Instead, why not eat some meals with less meat, or no meat? Why not see if your spaghetti and marinara tastes just as good without the ground beef? How about making a grilled cheese instead of a grilled ham and cheese? Every meal is an opportunity to try something new. We’re more adaptable than we give ourselves credit for.
Are you vegan, or just vegetarian?
I’m a lacto-ovo vegetarian, meaning I eat eggs and cheese/milk but no meat. Pescetarians are like vegetarians, except they also eat fish. Vegans eat no animal products at all, including cheese, milk, honey, and gelatin.
Does it gross you out when other people eat meat?
Only a few times have I been grossed out. It usually involves animals with all their parts, like whole lobsters or hog roasts.
Do you miss meat?
I LOVED meat before I became vegetarian. The alternative meat products have gotten so good that I’ve found substitutes I like just as much, if not more than the real thing. Except for fish. I miss fish. There aren’t any really great fish alternatives.
There have been moments in the last 19 years when I’ve worried I would falter and start eating meat again. In those moments, I’ve said to myself “You can always go back to eating meat. No one will think less of you. It’s your choice.” Knowing I could quit was the crutch I needed to keep going.
Well, in response to decades of these questions, Murray decided to do something imaginative and informative—a project that showed off her talents and uncovered her own habits: she photographed everything she ate for one year.
And we do mean EVERYTHING.
Not only did she realize things about her own diet that she was unable to see in real-time, but she made people like myself, a voracious carnivore, more appetized by veggie-based dishes than ever before.
We had to know more.
And show you more.
I have to say, everything you photograph in the project made a meat-eater want to eat it. Is that part of what you were hoping to accomplish with this?
I love that! I definitely wanted to show how being vegetarian doesn’t have to be boring, overly healthy or difficult to maintain. I don’t eat the same thing every day. I have plenty of guilty pleasures. Most of my meals take less than 15 minutes to prepare. There’s a whole world of vegetarian foods to explore—new combinations, new vegetables, new grocery store products, new ways to cook … I think being vegetarian has pushed me to find new and exciting things to try.
What did this give you, in terms of self-reflection? They say writing down what you eat is always a good way to be more cognizant of what’s going in your body. Photographing that is naturally an extreme extension.
Oh yes, the series made me very aware of my food habits! The documentation process did influence what I ate a little bit. Sometimes I’d add in more vegetables, just so the entire feed wouldn’t be a sea of beige food. I’d start to feel guilty about the number of soy products I was eating and would switch to beans and rice for a few days. Even with those small tweaks, this really was a great representation of what I eat everyday. Apparently I eat a LOT of fried eggs. And kale. And Parmesan cheese. And jelly donuts.
What are you some of your favorites? Possibly a tough question for 900-plus photos…
Interestingly, the photos I like the best tended to also be the foods I liked the best. Here are a few favorites from this year:
Mango—fresh mango, mango salad, mango ice cream, mango cotton candy
Fresh Dill—Dill was my favorite herb this year. Egg salad with dill, dill dip, dilled green beans
PB&J—Spicy peanut butter/banana and orange marmalade/peanut butter/marshmallow fluff were two standouts
Zucchini Pronto—a simple dish I fell in love with. Sauteed zucchini with sliced almonds, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper
Tomato Basil Mozzarella Salad—it’s so pretty!
Fresh Peaches topped with Whipping Cream, Sugar, and Lavender Buds—I licked the bowl, every time.
Has it gained you new and interesting followers? How are people engaging with it?
A bunch of friends and followers have contacted me to say how the series has inspired them to try more vegetarian foods, and more foods in general, which was my biggest hope all along. Vegetarianism can be daunting. I wanted to show how easy it can be, and how much you can tailor it to fit your own life. It was fun to share the tricks I’ve learned along the way.
Not surprisingly, I gain the most followers when I post something specific to Columbus. We’re a foodie town, and I’m sure there are lots of other vegetarians in the city looking for hidden restaurant gems.
I got pretty excited when Fabio Viviani from Top Chef and Morningstar Farms started following me, two little brushes with my food idols.
You’ve been a vegetarian for a long time. What would this project look like if you did it closer to when you first stopped eating meat?
Oh my gosh, it would’ve looked like grilled cheese, mac and cheese, potato chips, mashed potatoes, Dr. Pepper, and cookies. When I was 19 and newly vegetarian, I was a horrible example to follow. The biggest shifts came when meat alternatives started showing up at every grocery store, when I started cooking at home, when restaurants stopped treating vegetarians as anomalies, and when the internet became flooded with recipes. Without those things, I may have quit. Looking back on the last 19 years of being vegetarian, I realize it’s hardly been a sacrifice at all. I still eat whatever I want, and I eat really, really well.
To scroll back through Murray’s year of meals, add and follow @photokitchencolumbus.