This is me with my fellow herbivore, Mr. Triceratops.
Two years ago I cut out the meat, and about nine months ago I started to cut out dairy and eggs too. While I’ve adjusted to these changes and find it very easy to be a vegetarian/ocasional vegan, starting out was daunting. Here’s my story!
The Meat-Eating Days
For a long time I kinda sorta wanted to be a vegetarian because I Liked Animals and Stuff, but when I was twelve I consumed a dreadful veggie burger, and because of this one unfortunate veggie burger, I never thought I’d be able to do it. I didn’t love meat, but I did love my American comfort food. What would the 4th of July be without hot dogs?
Years later, I tried another veggie burger, and to my astonishment it tasted amazing. Better than meat burgers, actually! Furthermore, in college the dining option is simple: the meat option or the vegetarian option. I found myself preferring the vegetarian option, and therefore calling myself a vegetarian with increased frequency. I started to opt for the meat-free option whenever possible due to preference, but didn’t think much of it.
At the same time, during that first year of university, I was also perpetually ill. The usual nose ‘n throat cold with constant fatigue. After a few months of this I decided to take action. I had been following health and lifestyle blogs like Oh She Glows, Kris Carr, and Zen Habits, and had been meaning to incorporate healthy changes into my life, but just…hadn’t. So I decided that I’d had enough of feeling groggy, and decided to cut out the meat and cut down the dairy.
Considering Ethics and the Environment
What finally sealed the deal was attending an Oxford Hub talk on the ethics of the food and fashion industries. I attended for the fashion part, but in the end it was the food part that shocked me. I listened to experts in biology explain the repercussions of the expanding food industry. I thought vegetarianism was about feeling sorry for animals, when really it’s more complex than that. For instance, raising one kilogram of beef uses up about fifty times more tonnes of water than a kilogram of vegetables (source). And what shocked me is that meat today is generally not as nutritious as it was only decades ago due to poor living conditions of animals. During the discussion we started referring to them as “happy” and “sad” chickens depending on how they are raised, concluding that it’s better to eat “happy chickens” raised in free range and cageless conditions. This conclusion hit me – since I don’t love chicken, why eat it at all, happy or sad?
The talk was not trying to convert us into vegetarians – in fact, they pointed out that one person going vegetarian does not make a huge difference. But it makes me feel better, in mind and tummy.
How I made the switch
But how do I get enough protein?! is the question I asked myself at first, and the one most frequently asked of me. The thing is, the vegetarian protein deficiency is a myth. When I first cut out meat I was especially careful about my diet, using My Pyramid (now Choose My Plate) to track my intake. To my surprise, I was still getting plenty of protein, but needed to eat more vegetables and fruit and less sugar. Animal products were not the problem at all!
At first I was worried that vegetarianism would be boring, but it has been the complete opposite. I ate foods I had never heard of before, and sampled a wider range of cuisines, including Mediterranean and Indian, which are now among my favourites.
I’ve been led along the way by my Vegan Guru Ania. I also signed up for the Vegan Easy challenge, where I was paired with an excellent Vegan Mentor, Catherine, who answers my questions by email. Vegetarians tend to be friendly and empathetic, so help is available along the way!
As a Sorta-Vegan I struggle most with being a guest. I’m happy to accommodate myself, but in the parts of the world where I live, not eating cheese or drinking milk can seem super-strange to many. Some people see me as fussy, and it’s difficult to justify my habits without sounding pretentious or accusatory. I do the best I can to offer to help cook and to be as non-picky as possible within my eating restrictions (for instance I trained myself to like mushrooms and olives, both of which used to make me gag).
It’s still a tricky situation, and I’m still learning, so do say if you have any tips!
What about you? Are you a herbivore, or would you want to be?
P.S. Follow me on my learning-to-cook journey!