October is Vegetarian Awareness Month, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for me to share my story about becoming a vegetarian.
This December I will have been a vegetarian for 5 years. I’ve learned a lot about health, wellness, and nutrition since giving up meat. And I’ve also learned a lot about the livestock and meat industry. All of what I have learned has only helped me confirm that I made the right decision to give up meat.
My journey to vegetarianism was a somewhat gradual one. I started eating healthier at the age of 14 and took small steps in the direction of becoming a vegetarian such as giving up red meat. For those of you that don’t know, between the ages of 14-16 I went through what could probably be considered an eating disorder. I severely restricted my calorie and fat intake, ate the same fat free foods every day, and lost a lot of weight. Anyway, it wasn’t until I was 17 going on 18 that I started intentionally eating healthy.
In the summer of 2011, I checked out a book from the library on vegetarianism. It was a short book, and while it was interesting, it certainly wasn’t life changing. But, in a sense it did change my life. After I read that book, I secretly decided that I would give up meat for a while and see how it went. I say “secretly” because I didn’t tell my family that I was giving up meat. And the reason being is that I knew they would kind of freak out, not understand why I was giving up meat, and give me a hard time about it. So, I simply kept it to myself, because I knew that it was something I wanted to do for myself.
It wasn’t always easy, but I ended up going a month without eating meat. I opted for meatless side dishes when my mom cooked dinner, and I actually did get in the kitchen and cook some of my own meals and try new recipes like homemade hummus wraps. For me, this was a crucial turning point in my journey to a healthy lifestyle after going through some dark days with my eating disorder. I was finally trying to eat healthfully for every meal and I wasn’t feeling guilty about eating. I even ate peanut butter for the first time in years, a food I had sworn off of because of its high fat content.
I could have gone longer than a month without meat, but I was starting my freshman year of college and moving into a dorm, which was a big change for me. My dad wanted to take me out to eat at Red Lobster for my first (and only) time the day I moved into my dorm, so we went together and I ordered shrimp scampi. My dad didn’t know that I had been avoiding meat for the last month, so instead of trying to explain it to him, I just ordered the shrimp. And it was here that I kind of fell back into my old ways of eating (meat that is). I went back to eating meat (chicken and turkey) for the next 3 months, because the dining options on campus were new to me and I was always going out to lunch and dinner with friends and other girls on my hall. I just didn’t want to have to worry about always finding something meatless to eat.
When December rolled around and I was finishing up my first semester of college and about to go home for Christmas break, I decided that I had had enough of meat. So on December 14th I ate my very last piece of chicken in a salad from a restaurant on campus and I’ve never looked back.
To be honest, I don’t remember when or how I told my family that I decided to give up meat. But I remember that my brothers gave me a really hard time about it and made fun of me, and my dad went from thinking I was silly, to generally being concerned for my health. I remember one day he walked in the room and was telling me that I couldn’t NOT eat meat, because I would die! He said he knew a lady at work who was a vegetarian, her skin turned green and she got really sick and almost died because she wasn’t getting the nutrients and protein she needed. Another time, dad said he was concerned that I would become anemic because I wasn’t getting iron from red meat. I tried explaining that I had done my research and read up on the foods that were important for me to eat to get the nutrients I needed from dairy products and plant sources, but he didn’t seem convinced. And to be honest, it upset me that nobody seemed to believe me or care that I wanted to be healthier.
I brushed off my family’s negative reactions and continued to educate myself on nutrition and a vegetarian lifestyle. As people found out that I was vegetarian I would get asked questions like “But why did you give meat up?” and “Are you one of those weird vegetarians that does it for the animals?”, and I couldn’t help but laugh. I would always respond with “I gave up meat for health reasons. And no, I didn’t quit eating meat ‘for the animals”. Years went by before I had a better, more educated response than that.
I said I gave up meat for health reasons, not because I was allergic to meat or anything drastic like that, but because I had gone a month without it and I knew that I felt physically healthier without it. And as much as I love animals I didn’t quit eating meat because I felt guilty for eating them. I didn’t get upset that my friends and family still wanted to eat meat, I just knew that I didn’t want to and I didn’t want my family judging me for it.
Over the past 5 years, I’ve learned a lot about health and nutrition, and I’ve slowly been incorporating more vegan foods into my diet and avoiding dairy when I can. I’ve stopped using cow’s milk, I no longer buy yogurt, and I’ve almost given eggs up (about once every two months or so I might buy local organic eggs from the farmer’s market). I would love to go fully vegan someday, but for now I am listening to my body and only eating dairy every now and then. I have thoughts I would like to share about veganism, but I will save that for a separate post.
What started out as something new to try just to see if I could do it, became a lifestyle. As time went on, I realized how easy it really was to be a vegetarian and opt out of eating meat dishes. I have gotten more creative in the kitchen with the ingredients I use and the dishes I make, and have even gotten my husband’s approval on some of my vegetarian meals (which is a huge win). I know becoming a vegetarian isn’t for everyone, but I highly recommend going meatless for at least a couple meals a week. Not only could it save money, but you might just be surprised at how tasty meatless meals can be!
If you have any questions about going vegetarian, or would simply like to know some great meatless recipes, feel free to let me know and I’d be happy to share.
Happy Vegetarian Awareness Month to all of my veggie lovers out there!