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From newbies to lifelong adherents, these 8 are vegetarians all

Everyone has to eat, so the way we construct our diets is among the most elemental decisions in life. For those of us who choose a plant-based regimen, there are myriad reasons, from health to ethics to religion. Everyone has a story. Here are eight.

Muninder Singh, 40ish, Lakewood Ranch

Occupation: Homemaker

Level of vegetarianism: Mostly vegan, but sometimes sneak in some baked goods

Since when: I was a vegetarian before I was born.

What's your favorite restaurant: I like to try different restaurants, but I love the options at Olive Garden.

Are there any special places you shop? I like to shop for Indian food at Apna Baazar (2361 E Fowler Ave.) and Patel Brothers (1251 W Fowler Ave.) in Tampa.

What's your favorite thing to keep handy for a quick meal? Lentils, onion, garlic, tomato, ginger roots, hot peppers, potato

Is your household all vegetarian, or a mix? A mix. I'm the only vegetarian in the house. I cook all the meals, but don't cook nonvegetarian items and do not allow them to be cooked in my kitchen. It's a pretty strict rule.

Any awkward moments? When I got married, I thought my husband was a vegetarian. Boy I was wrong. One time my husband took me to a business dinner meeting, and the only meals were nonveg. I asked them if they could prepare a salad without chicken and eggs. So they took the chicken and the eggs out of my salad and gave the same salad back to me. I got really upset.

Audra Dorsey, 21, Clearwater

Occupation/school or both: Private guitar instructor, YMCA cycling instructor, journalism and media studies major at USF St. Petersburg

Level of vegetarianism: Ovo-lacto and occasionally fish

Since when: September 2009

Reaction of family and friends: I've had all sorts of reactions from, "What about protein?!" to "Mmm, you're really missing out on this nice, juicy steak!" But after almost two years, nobody seems to care anymore.

Why did you become a vegetarian? Health reasons. I was having some minor health issues that I discovered were related to food allergies. Cleaning up my diet led me to vegetarianism. After about two weeks of the new lifestyle, my tastes had drastically changed.

Any typical vegetarian staples that you won't eat: Tofu. Ew.

Favorite restaurants? Dishes there? The Raw Power Salad at Central Cafe and Organics (234 Central Ave., St. Petersburg). I instantly feel stronger after I finish that salad.

Do you have a favorite recipe to share? Sweet potato fries are my weakness. I use organic sweet potatoes and slice them into thin strips, season with sea salt and drizzle some olive oil on top. They bake for about 25 minutes on 400. So delicious.

Bernice Jones, 57, St. Petersburg

Occupation: Preschool teacher

Level of vegetarianism: Vegan

Since when: August 2010

Why did you become a vegetarian? I viewed a video from Mercy for Animals, and it was horrible how animals are slaughtered. It killed my urge for meat, and I never looked back.

Any typical vegetarian staples that you won't eat: No. I love eggplant with Indian seasonings, and I like a variety of nuts.

Favorite restaurants? Dishes there? Leafy Greens (1431 Central Ave., St. Petersburg) because they serve raw food, and I eat 85 percent raw and 15 percent cooked. My favorite dish is the Mediterranean Pizza and Kale Salad.

What's your favorite thing to keep handy for a quick meal? Cabbage and bok choy.

Michael C. McGreevy, 38, St. Petersburg

Occupation: Web services manager for Grow Financial Federal Credit Union in Brandon and an actor

Level of vegetarianism: I don't eat any animal protein, with the exception of eggs.

Since when: May 2011

What spurred decision: I was diagnosed with gout. I was getting frequent flare-ups, and it put a damper on my ability to run due to pain and swelling in my feet. I did research and discovered that animal protein and alcohol are major contributors, so I largely gave up both. I still have a drink on occasion.

What's your favorite restaurant: The Refinery (5137 N Florida Ave., Tampa) and the Taco Bus (913 E Hillsborough Ave, Tampa; or 2324 Central Ave, St. Petersburg).

What's your favorite thing to keep handy for a quick meal? I haven't quite sorted that out yet. Morningstar Farms Corn Dogs are pretty awesome, though.

Is your household all vegetarian, or a mix? Mix. I do the cooking. Dinners, anyway.

Any awkward moments? How to deal with them? Dining out at TGIFridays. Their menu is almost hostile to vegetarians. They don't even have a veggie burger. I ended up ordering two appetizers.

Jim Janolek, 48, St. Petersburg

Occupation: Vegan hot dog cart owner

Level of vegetarianism: Vegan

Since when: 2001; vegetarian since 1996. It took five years to give up cheese.

What spurred decision: Working in an animal welfare organization

What's your favorite restaurant: Meze 119 (see review on Page 5E) is a new favorite because there are lots of vegetarian and vegan options.

Are there any special places you shop? Rollin' Oats (2842 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg) is a great place to find all of our veg needs plus an interesting place to learn about other products. Nice cafe, too.

What's your favorite thing to keep handy for a quick meal? Quinoa, a grain that's full of protein, easy to cook and can be added into anything.

Is your household all vegetarian, or a mix? All vegetarian/vegan

Any awkward moments? How to deal with them? Biting into something, realizing that there is meat after ordering no meat. I don't overreact. It is like any other mistake: I take it back and ask for a new product with no meat, cheese or dairy products.

Jade Caswell, 15, St. Pete Beach

Occupation: Shorecrest Preparatory sophomore

Level of vegetarianism: Ovo-lacto

Since when: Birth

What spurred decision: My parents were both vegetarians, so there was never any (meat) in the house. When I was older, I decided to stick with it. So much has been published about the suffering of animals in the meat industry. There are many health benefits linked to vegetarianism including a lower BMI, lower cholesterol level and longer average life expectancy.

What do you tell classmates who ask for advice about being vegetarian? You can still have your favorite meals. Just substitute tofu. You don't have to completely cut out all your favorite dishes.

What does your diet look like? I am a picky eater. I don't like tomatoes and green salad. Mostly, it's pasta, rice, cereal, some types of fruit. For protein, I eat peanut butter, chickpeas, cheese, dairy, hardboiled eggs.

Favorite thing to keep handy for a quick meal? Any kind of pasta, Amy's all-natural macaroni and cheese, baked potatoes, veggie burgers, rice and lots of peanut butter.

Kim Caswell, 50, and Ken Folsom, 49 (Jade Caswell's parents)

Level of vegetarianism: Ovo-lacto vegetarians (but a couple of times a year, Ken will eat raw oysters, which he loves).

Since when: Kim since about age 13 and Ken, for about 25 years

What spurred decision: Kim's concern for animals; Ken was influenced by John Robbins' book, Diet for a New America.

Favorite restaurants? Udipi Cafe in Tampa (South Indian vegetarian, 14422 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa) for the paper masala dosa (rice crepes stuffed with potatoes and onions); Pizzaiolo Bavaro (514 N Franklin St., Tampa) for the margherita and funghi pizzas; Evos for fast food; and Sweet Tomatoes (multiple locations for each).

Are there any special places you shop? Our favorite is Whole Foods in Sarasota, but we can't get there often. I also go to Earth Origins Market (6651 Central Ave., St. Petersburg). And Ken haunts ethnic (Asian, Hispanic, Jamaican) markets for exotic produce. Recently, he has brought home longans, durian and mamey.

Favorite handy foods: Pasta and fresh herbs from my garden.

From newbies to lifelong adherents, these 8 are vegetarians all 08/23/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 6:20pm]

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