A vegetarian (n.), is defined as someone who does not eat meat, and sometimes other animal products, for moral, religious, or health reasons. Often vegetarians are perceived as Birkenstock wearing, Trader Joe’s shopping, yoga loving hippies. However, the vegetarian is evolving.  With the Netflix release of documentaries like Food Inc., Food Matters, and Fat Sick and Nearly Dead, the once filet mignon eating plastic water bottle consuming American is going meatless.

This past February, after a Sunday afternoon documentary binge on Netflix, I decided to say no to meat, and not for a lack of taste. Meat, the over idolized protein in the supermarket draws many shoppers in with its “Farm Fresh,” and “Natural” seals of approval. However, with some research into the FDA’s meat inspection acts I realized the FDA administration was blurring the lines of regulatory animal product inspection and population. Food labeled “farm fresh” is often factory produced. And seemingly “organic” lean chicken breasts are injected with a series of hormones to expand the natural size and density of the breast. Now, none of this information is supposed to scare you. I am not trying to cultivate meat-lovers into my meatless cult. However, what I am trying to show you is the reality of grocery shopping.

As a new vegetarian in a proud Italian family, my sans meat diet raised a few eyebrows. How was I going to receive the protein that my grandfather’s famous meatballs surely provided? I decided to set some ground rules for my new dietary choice. First rule, I will eat fish. For how on earthy would I survive a  summer at the shore without crab cakes? Fish contains a plethora of excellent vitamins and minerals. And like meat, can provide the body with necessary proteins. However, unlike meat, it is more easily digested.

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A three-ounce serving of fish, like haddock or tuna, usually contains approximately 90 to 130 calories and 19 to 26 grams of protein. In a similarly sized cut of beef, you receive the same amount of proteins but at a higher calorie and fat content. As a sushi and shellfish lover, I quickly realized how fish could easily provide my body with its desired proteins. But what if fish wasn’t always on the menu? Many other health-benefitting proteins are overlooked for chicken. Beans, quinoa, lentils, nuts, and grains all contain naturally digestible proteins. Everyone can name carbohydrates and dairy products, but many people struggle to identify proteins beyond the butcher counter.

So this summer, don’t be meat lazy. Step outside the comfort of grilled chicken and try something new. I’m not a vegan and I love a good leather handbag, however, I am a health food enthusiast in a processed food world. The human body craves ritual. Everyday make a small change: Substitute a filet from Redstone Grille with salmon, or opt for a salad at lunch instead of the proclaimed Italian hoagie from Wawa. And take a walk after dinner with family and friends.

Soon these small changes will become instinctual. Living healthy isn’t about being on a perpetual diet, it’s about making smarter choices for your body and mind. It’s summer! So have a light beer, grill up some veggies, and never say no to a Froyo date! 

For more health food inspiration, visit DeGennaro's instagram @barelybrewed