Being a Vegetarian Is Not Such a Chore
October is National Vegetarian Month
For 2.3 percent of Americans every month is Vegetarian Month, but October has been specifically named as such. Being that this is the case, I thought I would share my journey towards Vegetarianism, as I've been a member of that 2.3 percent for about 14 years. And I promise not to lecture.
I realize I don't fit the stereotype of what people expect when they meet a vegetarian. I don't wear sandals. I don't have a ponytail. I'm not from Maine. I'm not razor-thin. Most people are surprised when I tell them I'm a vegetarian. If I'm at a restaurant, I just order the meatless option. And if during the course of the meal someone asks me, I tell them and leave it at that. I usually don't volunteer it. If they want to know more, I tell them. I realized a long time ago that people don't like having a finger waved at them, literally or figuratively.
I almost never get a negative reaction when I do tell someone that I don't eat meat or fish. I don't think that's always been true for vegetarians. Pronouncements of meatlessness used to be met with eye-rolls or snickers, but I've never gotten that sort of response. If I have, at least they waited until I wasn't around any longer.
Converted Fast Food Junkie
I don't know for sure, but I think most vegetarians choose the lifestyle because of health reasons or to save animals, not necessarily in that order. Those are definitely factors for me, but the main reason I'm a vegetarian is because of the effect of meat farms on the environment. Methane gas from meat farms are the single largest source of carbon on the planet—more than auto and plane travel combined. Look it up. But, I didn't know this statistic when I made the switch.
Like most Americans I ate a steady diet of meat growing up. I do recall being grossed out by chicken when I was a child, but that was due to the way it looked on my plate more than anything (sorry, Mom). It just looked nasty. But I ate it anyway. I also lived on a steady diet of fast food, again like most Americans.
I fell prey to the very sophisticated marketing campaigns of the fast food chains. My favorites were the cheeseburgers from McDonald's. The local branch had a special on Wednesdays where you could buy cheeseburgers for 49 cents. So, I would buy three of them.
And when I quit chewing tobacco (possibly a more disgusting habit than eating fast food) I started to pack on the pounds. The only thing that prevented me from eating more was having a dip in my mouth. So when that went away…
One day—I don't know where and don't even know exactly when—I looked at one of those cheeseburgers and finally noticed all the grease and fat that had somehow escaped my attention. It also occurred to me that this thing jammed between the sesame seed bun was alive at one point. I couldn't abide by that. And that's how it started: I stopped eating fast food. And in short order, I stopped eating beef and pork. And then chicken. Which made it easy to stop eating turkey. It took a while for me to stop eating fish, but I eventually did. The change to my diet resulted in a loss of 35 pounds.
Easier Than It Seems
This is not to say I haven't had wavered. The worst slip-ups came when I spent an entire day working a basketball camp and the post-camp meal consisted of two choices of pizza—sausage and pepperoni. The other time was when I was invited to a Fourth of July cookout and was offered, my choice, either hot dogs and hamburgers. In both cases I ate the meat because I didn't want to offend the host. In both cases I became violently ill. I've also had a crab cake or two when no vegetarian options were available.
In general though, being a vegetarian is not that hard. I hear people say they could never do it, as if meat is all but forced down their throats. Recently, restaurants seem to have made a special effort to include at least one vegetarian entrée on their menu. I've definitely noticed an improvement in selection at grocery stores. If I'm being honest though, I have to say, it is a bit of challenge being a vegetarian in Lorton. My diet doesn't have much variety right now. I moved here from Greenville, South Carolina, which had many options for vegetarians. There were several restaurants whose menu consisted mostly of vegetarian options, plus there was a Whole Foods and an Earth Fare nearby.
What would be a challenge to me would be to go to a vegan diet, which does not permit any animal products at all—no dairy, no fish. This is more of a principled choice than a health one. Being a Vegan would be rough for me since I like cheese so much (see cheeseburger addiction mentioned above).
As people have become more aware of what they eat, so have the variations in diets. Some people don't eat fish, some don't eat fowl, some don't eat dairy. The most challenging to me would be the Raw Food diet. This means no processed or cooked food. I did an article on Raw Foodists a while back and was amazed at how committed they were to the lifestyle. I met one woman who brought her own food with her when she traveled. She had reason to be committed. She went from being debilitated by fibromyalgia to the picture of health after switching to Raw Food.
People do ask me, "Don't you crave a thick steak every once in a while?" To which I answer, "No." And then they ask, "So what do you eat exactly?"
The answer? Mostly vegetables, pastas, and grains. I eat lots of pizza. I'm far from where I want to be in terms of diet. I still eat too much sugar (I drink soda) and I don't cook nearly as much as I would like. I would definitely like to exercise more than I do. To compensate for the shortage of protein in my diet, I take protein supplements.
A More Knowledgeable Diet
While I won't preach vegetarianism, I will wave the flag for making good choices about food. There used to be a commercial (for a product I can't remember) that stated, "We pay more attention to what we put into our cars than what we put into our bodies."
Obviously, with obesity rates being what they are, we still have a long way to go as a culture of food eaters. But books like Fast Food Nation, and movies like Food, Inc. and people like Michael Pollan have shown what the repercussions of our food choices are. More people are aware of where their food comes from and increasing numbers of people want to buy their food locally. Just look at the rise in popularity of farmers markets.
Is a vegetarian diet right for you? I don't know. But it's been proven pretty much unequivocally that a meatless diet is healthier. I can definitively say that since I've been a vegetarian, I feel better. There's mountains of research out there and if you're interested you'll find it. Here's some.
My favorite bit of research? That vegetarians are smarter. Really, it's true.
Happy, healthy eating.