"What one has not experienced……"

Fiddleheads for dinner.

Have you ever had fiddleheads? They’re from a wild fern that grows in the American North-East and believe it or not, they’re edible. In fact more than edible. First boiled and then sauteed with some garlic and onion they are delicious and taste a bit like asparagus. They’re seasonal and only available for a few weeks each year. They’re also the kind of new foods I discovered when I decided to eat differently over a year ago. By omitting all meat, dairy and eggs it was time to battle my sky-rocketing cholesterol (something for you twenty-something-year-olds to look forward to).

I was really curious at the beginning. Could I, a German meat eater, who grew up on “Wurst” and “Schnitzel” live on vegetables and grains? Don’t get me wrong, vegetables make a nice garnish on a plate, but surviving on them seemed rather worrisome. Everything I’d ever wanted to eat had dairy and/or eggs except maybe the occasional apple.

Muerbetoertchen mit Erdbeeren
Tartlette recipe here in case you missed it.

What about comfort food? German Kuchen? Would it be hard? Would my cholesterol go down? Could I even do it? Where should I start? I needed a strategy….

First I started to read about food. About food production, the environment, nutrition and health. One of my favorites was Marion Nestle who has written many interesting books and articles about food and food politics.


And then I started to cook. I learned from websites and library books, and our family’s culinary experiences ranged from “barely edible” to “incredible”. I learned to prepare dishes from Africa, The Middle East, Asia and the Mediterranean; places where much of the food is plant based anyway.

After 6 month, my cholesterol dropped 100 points, the migraines I suffered for decades disappeared and I was feeling pretty good. In fact, really good.

I’ve learned a lot in the process and feel so much better now that I wouldn’t return to eating meat, eggs and dairy, even if my cholesterol level was naturally low, and that is quite interesting to me. If you had suggested a few years ago that I would happily eat this way, I would have laughed. Isabella Duncan was right, when she said: “What one has not experienced, one will never understand in print“.

Food choices are very personal, but I ‘m curious: Do you always eat the same meals/food? Does health play a major role? The environment? Do you eat organic – or not?

How do you choose what you (and your family) eat?

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20 Responses to “"What one has not experienced……"”

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  1. TexNan says:

    Interesting! I tell myself I could easily go vegetarian and blame my carnivorous ways on my American-born, German-raised hub. (Can you imagine your father going vegan?)

  2. annekata says:

    @TexNan: Oh no, I can't. Neither my father nor my mother for that matter. It's interesting how ingrained those food habits are.

  3. Leticia says:

    I am Brazilian and my mom used studying nutrition as an excuse to go back to school, so my growing up food was not exactly conventional. We are of German descent, by the way.

    Now I am on the second week of what I call the "baby food diet", imposed by my doctor upon a diagnosis of extraesophageal reflux disease. I am eating little portions every few hours, I still am omnivorous, but i eat pureed fruit and soups and crackers, mostly. Over these days paying more attention to what I eat, I figured I am lactose intolerant, also, so today is the first day experimenting with soy milk.

    Changing one's diet is tough, specially if you are not used to devote too much time to think about what you eat. What I miss most are the dark green vegetables and I'll probably sorely miss the milk. But feeling better for the first time in two years, as they say, is priceless.

  4. Petra says:

    I was raised in a Waldorf kind of family and my mother used to cook in a very healthy, wholegrain, vegetarian, ecologist style. And I hated it! I'm more Nigella Lawson-like myself. I have nothing against 'healthy', and I love vegetables very much, but give priority to 'tasty'.

  5. Ruth says:

    I tried eating vegetarian for a few years, but apparently not good enough, since my weight never changed. What helped me to change was a diagnosis of diabetes, and to avoid going on medication, I had to drastically cut my consumption of carbs. I didn't change much else, I still eat meat and eggs (protein helps me from feeling hungry). We've always, even when I was growing up in Germany, eaten a lot of vegetables and fruit, and that hasn't changed.

  6. nicole says:

    we have been vegetarian for over 20 years now. our teenager is vegetarian as well, but the 12-year-old loves to go to 'oma's haus' for some meat ;) the only meat that i would not be able to resist would be my 'oma's maultaschen'! but she passed away 16 years ago…
    so we try to eat organic, seasonal, lots of asian inspired food, sourdough pizza, a bit of raw vegan in between, green smoothies… but the main thing is that we cook every meal fresh. no left-overs. no freezing and heating up. it's an ayurvedic principle. we also don't believe in being fanatical and we love our lindt chocolate :)
    and apart from eating well we also cleanse our digestive system, which has made a huge difference to our health.

  7. Katie says:

    I am really curious, because I have a history of high cholesterol in my family (and mine is already higher than most twenty-somethings' levels, in spite of a low-fat diet), as to how you keep to this diet and still get adequate levels of calcium. I'm lactose intolerant and thus my dairy consumption is limited to aged products with little to no lactose, and I'm not getting enough calcium as it is.

    I'd love to get my husband and I on a mostly vegetarian, fresh, and local-produce oriented diet, but I don't even have my own kitchen right now, and I doubt he'll ever abandon comfort food while his metabolism is so fast.

    I've never had fiddleheads, but I'm curious to try them. They probably don't grow and aren't available in the mid-south, though.

  8. Mohnrot says:

    I am living dairy-free since March (and told a bit about in in my blog), and I feel very fine! I do this because a medicine has told me to test if my migraine attacs will disappear this way. I eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, wholegrain bread, some eggs and very very little meat. I thought of removing at least the meat, too, but I fear that I don't know enough about balanced diet yet, and I don't want to destroy my metabolism system by such experiments.
    The only thing I really hate on this kind of diet: I always have to ask if there is any milk in it – and thats a hard thing if I am in a restaurant (they often don't know) or even as a guest at family or friends. I don't want me always to be the "Extrawurst", always getting special treatment…
    So right in these days now, after three successful months, I am veering between continuing my strict way or permitting exceptions at eating out or at family and friends… I really don't know how I will decide.

  9. Anonymous says:

    living on a dairy farm with a husband who raises beef cows determines to a large degree how we eat….that said, we do eat beef once or twice a week along with chicken, pork and home grown veggies. i started the "17 day" diet this spring which basically cuts out carbs at first then gradually adds some back in slowly, along with cutting out sugar and limiting dairy and i have been amazed at just how great i feel…no more migranes, sinus and fibro-like symptoms very much improved. i am beginning to think i have sugar and gluten sensitivities….i will be rethinking my love of carbs when i reach my weight goal before i add things back in! sharon at farm and fru fru

  10. Sass Brown says:

    hmm bit of a backsliding vegetarian myself. I started off in my 20's making a lot of far from mainstream choices about my life, my faith and my food, and was virtually macrobiotic. As I have gotten older however, I have mellowed and am not nearly as altruistic or as militant in anything I do, and now eat chicken and fish, although not red meat. I find it much harder now that I am older (50ish) and living in Italy, where the entire cuisine is based on dairy and gluten, to be so rigid with my diet, even though I know the health benefits when I am sand meat, dairy and gluten.

  11. KP says:

    My mother instilled in me that a balanced diet was the way forward. Not too much of any one thing and plenty of variety. So every day I try to ensure everyone eats enough for the energy level of the day, lots of vegetables and fruits, some protein, some fats, some carbohydrates etc.

    We are a low dairy household (which is not easy in Ireland, land of the cow). My daughter is allergic to milk proteins, my hubby is lactose intolerant, and I can have dairy but eat much less now than I used to. We also have to be careful about fibre levels as my husband also has diverticulosis.
    So no dairy, low residue cooking with no wheat when mother-in-law comes to visit. I'd love to go back to cooking with no prohibitions. It is so much easier.

  12. dawnrogal says:

    I love reading the comments and seeing the diversity in people's diets, but the same main point, healthy eating + personal choice.

    Our household has two omnivores, one vegetarian and as for myself, veg-aquarian and lactose intolerant. It makes for interesting shopping and meal planning but we manage. Thank goodness the local farmer's market opened today, it is always easier to eat a healthy diet with all the wonderful options they supply.

    @Ruth – it is just as hard to lose weight on a vegetarian diet unless you do the same things as any diet; eat less, exercise more.

  13. emilysmithpearce says:

    I agree with dawnrogal—so interesting reading these comments and also seeing how many of your readers are living in different countries. I'm living in Germany and trying to eat less meat and dairy these days, though it's pretty hard here, as you can imagine. Especially right now since the veggies may be tainted! We went through a period with one of my children where we couldn't have any wheat or dairy or soy, and although it was grueling and I don't want to do that again, it really made me think about our food more and opened up new possibilities. Right now I'm just trying to cut back on animal products, not eliminate, and it's for health reasons. Loving Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Also loving the German passion for seasonal foods—Spargel and Erdbeer season! Just picked some up from the local strawberry-shaped hut on the corner.

  14. Rosie says:

    Love to hear how other people eat.

    We have lowered my husband's cholesterol levels with no eating of any fat that is solid at room temperature. Basically butter, cheese and fat on meat. Using olive and rapeseed oil and eating loads of oats, walnuts, avocados, pulses, seeds, dried fruit. All added to a prepare everything from fresh life.

    After a year of pottering around the internet picking up ideas here and there I have recipes for cake/pastry/white sauce/oatcakes that all work and we don't notice the difference.

    We always eat like this at home and ignore it when we eat out about once a month.

  15. veryberryhandmade says:

    I was a vegetarian for 14 years but went back to eating meat after my sons were born – we eat it a couple of times a week. I try to eat fermented dairy only – I am a fan of the Nourishing Traditions style of eating.

    We love our food and mostly eat pretty healthily – but family meals are complicated – both my sons have autism and are 'supertasters' which means they are very restricted in what they will try. I attribute my grey hair to that one!!

  16. annekata says:

    Thanks everybody so much for taking the time to make this conversation interesting.

    @Leticia: I love dark greens, too. Have you tried blending dark green veggies with fruit juices? Soy milk and nut milks are infinitely variable and after your taste changes, it does make wonderful dressings and creamy desserts. Hope you enjoy your food experimentation.

    @Katie: I find, getting enough calcium is not a problem at all. There are plenty of dark greens and other foods besides dairy that have high levels of calcium. Dairy is not necessary to cover calcium needs. http://howtofeedavegan.blogspot.com/2010/02/why-we-dont-need-dairy-nutritionally.html

    Again, thanks all for your thoughtful comments!

  17. Anonymous says:

    I loved fiddleheads, when I had them only once in the American North-East! Served with meat, by the way, in a rather posh "Shaker" restaurant. You will not find them here in Germany. But they obviously suited our idea of eating fresh, local, seasonal, tasty and produced fair.

    I gave up being a vegetarian while breast-feeding my oldest and being hungry all the time. And we love our cakes, the bohemian "Mehlspeisen", good cheese and a real Latte from time to time. But up to now we don't have any health problems. Knock on wood; I can not imagine a dairy-free diet.

    Great for you that you found a drug free solution for your health issues! I certainly would prefer that, too. How do you handle the lunchbox for your daughter? I would be lost without cheese and sausages (always accompanied by lots of vegetables and fruits, but still…)

    Greetings from the Erdbeerfeld! Best time of the year for food, in my humble opinion…Elke

  18. coco says:

    Hello, I just discovered your blog. It is very fascinating. We usually go pick those baby fern in spring and had some in April..was so good. Have you tried too?

  19. annekata says:

    @anonymous: Hi Elke, when I had my daughter, I was a meat eater (little meat though), but I never ate much cheese or drank milk. Our daughter makes her own choice, although I wonder if she really can, if our household is all vegetarian. She used to get tummy aches after milk and ice cream and voluntarily switched to coconut ice cream and soy milk. Kids are much more flexible and not that set yet on comfort foods. Lunch boxes are always a challenge. I pack foods like California rolls and seaweed, lentils, rice and beans in any variation hot or cold, which she luckily eats. We always have some sandwich with tapenade or a sweet spread and fruits and vegetables. Hummus works as well or any other dip. I really had toget used to the protein replacement, but the Legumes/rice combination always works (knock on wood). Leckeren Mehlspeisen zu widerstehen waere auch schwer fuer mich. Schoen, von dir zu hoeren und viele Gruesse!!!

  20. Cathy says:

    I have many childhood memories of my entire extended family going to the forest to pick fiddleheads. The back of the station wagon would be filled with bags of fiddleheads! In Korean cuisine, they are normally dried, boiled, and then seasoned with soy sauce and garlic. Not an attractive dish, but quite tasty.

    I just saw the other day that our local grocer is carrying them, although you can get them dried at any asian store.

    It's so great that you're doing so well! I'd love to hear about other new foods you've added to your cooking.

    Oh, and that tartlette looks amazing!

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