PLATTSBURGH - When Amanda Dagley became a vegetarian nearly 12 years ago, it was a decision that was easy for her - for the most part.
"I think bacon was the hardest thing to give up," she said, laughing. "I think it's one of the hardest things for any vegetarian to give up."
Dagley has taken her experience of "going vegetarian" and put it to use for others practicing the same eating habits and those considering making a change in their dietary lifestyle. She recently unveiled her new blog, "The Pugnacious Vegetarian," designed with the help of friend Corey Collins. The idea behind the site, was simple.
"The Pugnacious Vegetarian blog is my chronicle of my adventures in eating and cooking," she said. "I want to be able to share that with people."
The decision to drop meat from her diet was a personal one, said Dagley, mainly due to concerns over factory farming. However, Dagley also felt it was a decision that would improve her health.
"I would eat a hamburger here or there and I would eat chicken here or there and one day I said, 'Why am I holding on to this? I don't like it. I don't like the way it makes me feel,'" she said. "And, then, one day I just decided I wasn't eating it anymore."
The road to become a true vegetarian wasn't always an easy one, though, Dagley admitted.
"I've learned the hard way, eating some pretty gross things in the process," she said.
However, becoming a vegetarian is something that involves dedicating time to finding foods that are right for you - but healthy at the same time.
"I find a lot of new vegetarians live on the pizza and French fries diet, because it's vegetarian. Really, though, it's not healthy," said Dagley. "And, if you have no idea what to eat, you're going to get sick of it and want to eat like everybody else."
The important thing is reading "every label" on the foods you purchase, said Dagley.
"When people become vegetarian, it can be very hard. You have to have the dedication to want to read the package of everything you put in your mouth," she said. "If something has more than five ingredients, there's a lot of Xs and Os and Zs, and you can't pronounce it, do you really want to eat it?"
Those who've never tried going vegetarian can often fall into the trap of thinking all food for vegetarianism must be disgusting, said Dagley.
"I've had several people assume I must eat gross things. And, if you eat what are called meat analogs, like veggie burgers and dogs, they can be pretty gross because they're trying to be something they're not," she said. "But, if you eat a tossed salad, it's still vegetarian."
Many times, there's also a preconception that restaurants won't have food that will cater to a vegetarian's palate.
"Actually, we're very fortunate in this area there's quite a few places that offer meals that are strictly vegetarian," Dagley noted.
The idea behind The Pugnacious Vegetarian is to show there are healthy and appetizing choices out there, both in local restaurants and in places to buy the foods you eat, said Dagley. The site features recipes and photos of dishes she has created all in the name of spreading the positive message of vegetarianism.
"I try to make it fun. I try not to make it too in your face," Dagley said of her site. "Anything militant becomes old and people won't want to listen to what you have to say."
Through displaying her message in a positive manner, Dagley has learned her blog has helped people become interested in cooking vegetarian-friendly foods or opened their mind to make "a meatless choice." That's encouraging to Dagley, who feels the key to a healthier future starts with healthier decisions.
"The American diet is surrounded around a vegetable, a starch and a meat and it's hard to get out of that. Corn or peas, your potato or French fries and a hunk of meat. The plate is not healthy," she said. "There are so many foods that are full of preservatives and sodium and we wonder why we, as a culture, are sick."
"I feel like I come off as obnoxious sometimes when I talk about what's in food, but I'm not trying to be. It just makes me sad to see people with a diabetes, high blood pressure because of what they eat," she added. "I think a lot of people don't think a vegetarian diet can be a fun diet. But, it can be."
Obnoxious? No. Pugnacious? Well ... maybe, Dagley conceded.
"My husband actually came up with name for the site," said Dagley. "We were joking around when coming up with a name for it and he said, 'Why don't you call it The Pugnacious Vegetarian?"
"It does fit. I am kind of exciting by nature, kind of quarrelsome," she added, laughing.
The one thing that can't be argued is Dagley's passion about helping others help themselves, if they so choose.
"I'm not judging anybody for their diet. I'm just wishing more people would make better conscious decision to eat healthier," Dagley said of her reason for creating the site.
"That and I've always wanted to write a cookbook, but, I'm lazy," she added, laughing.
(Editor's Note: The Pugnacious Vegetarian can be found on-line at www.thepugnaciousvegetarian.com. Dagley also has a Facebook page, found at www.facebook.com by searching the keywords "The Pugnacious Vegetarian.")
Amanda Dagley's recipe for "Basil, tomato, and mozzarella salad"
1 package grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch of fresh basil, chopped
1 container of fresh mozzarella balls (I used the small ones), drained
Pepperoncini peppers, seeded and chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Sea salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste
First, wash your basil and tomatoes well. Next, halve the tomatoes and cut up the basil. I find that using kitchen shears to be the easiest way to chop herbs. If you have some pepperoncini peppers lingering in the fridge, you can also seed them and chop them up to throw in the mix. Finally, add the mozzarella balls, giving everything a good stir.
I generously sprinkled the mix with sea salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Then I drizzled the oil and vinegar over everything. After stirring the salad well, I covered it with plastic wrap and let it marinate for at least two hours.
This is good on the first night, but it is even better the next day as all of the flavors melded together.