Thursday, May 20, 2010
Vegetarianism, According to Someone Who Never Thought She'd Take the Plunge
I've always loved animals. I've always been interested in their welfare, and since a young age I understood that animals had to die in order for me to eat a burger. As a got a bit older, I understood that animals not only died, but suffered greatly-- as sentient, feeling beings-- in the process of arriving at my dining room table. Once I got to college, I learned that factory farming is not only cruel, but takes an awful toll on our environment: a place that I really think is important to, you know, give a darn about. I always thought that I could deal with the idea that creatures died to feed me, because that's how nature works, right? Whenever I would think about it, I felt a twinge of guilt, though: I like to think I'm a person who has strong beliefs, and I knew deep down that eating meat and believing animals should be treated well was a bit hypocritical, since, frankly, even at some "local" farms, animals are treated with unnecessary cruelty.
I never did anything about it, or took those twinges seriously-- especially because I can be a pretty picky eater and had convinced myself I could never survive without plain ol' chicken-- until a couple of distinct events catalyzed a real urge for change. Firstly, I went to a poetry slam featuring Jared Paul, a vegan activist who made some amazing, compelling points about living ethically. I interviewed him that night for my school magazine, and at the end he handed me a business card for a local vegetarian restaurant. I didn't tell him I wasn't a vegetarian, but he'd gotten me thinking-- did I want to be? Would it be a good choice? Could I do it?
Then one day last March there was the final straw. I forget why, but I watched a video at Meat.Org (the link brings you to the video I watched, but I warn you that it's very graphic-- I do think you should watch it, though) that made the decision for me. Watching footage of animals going through completely unnecessary, awful, inhumane treatment was, at that moment, too much for me to handle. I had arrived at a fork in the road: live according to my ethics and my gut instincts, or ignore the tears in my eyes and the lump in my throat. After watching the video, I started researching how to have a balanced vegetarian diet.
I never thought I'd reach that point. But just like I'd never wear fur because I've watched their suffering, I didn't want to eat meat anymore. I didn't feel I could honestly say that I cared about their welfare while still buying into that system.
For months I was vegetarian off and on, just trying it out. When I got home from college, I decided to go for it full time. It has been about two weeks since I've eaten meat-- save for one instance when it was my sole option-- and I've been pleased so far. I wanted to share my "findings" of sorts, because this new lifestyle really excites me. I'm not here to belittle you about your choice to eat meat, if you do so choose, but I'd love if everyone would consider alternatives.
And just so you know.... Right now, I would be classified as lacto-ovo vegetarian. I still have some dairy in my life, and I am willing to eat some foods containing eggs, but I have reduced my consumption of both things greatly. I don't know if I'll ever go completely dairy free-- I'm hoping I'll find a place to buy milk and cheese from that I can be certain is humane-- but hopefully I'll cut out eggs entirely in the very near future. Actually, the only time I ate an egg-thing recently was a cookie.
So anyway, why go veg?
I Feel Awesome
Let's start with the thing that excited me the most: for once, I'm full. I get hungry before meals, and then I'm usually full until the next one. This was rare for me back in my meat-eating days. I eat far fewer calories than I did before, and probably than at any time when I was actively dieting-- but I feel full. I've also noticed I haven't been doing my typical ravenously-searching-for-sweets-at-midnight thing (last night I wanted a snack and I ate carrots with some hummus. I shocked myself). It's absolutely miraculous to me. I haven't felt tired, either, and I'm someone who believes napping is a totally legitimate hobby. Like really? I feel great, and it thrills me to know that once I put a meal down into my belly I won't be tempted to mindlessly shovel snacks into my mouth in ten minutes.
Perimeter Shopping Maven
It's pretty commonly known that the healthiest foods are usually found around the perimeters of supermarkets-- you know, the stuff that isn't boxed or processed. I've been learning to pick out fresh fruits and vegetables for myself. Since I'm looking at labels to check ingredients and nutrition facts now, I've also become more conscious about wanting to eat natural foods. Chances are, if there's no natural version of it, you shouldn't eat it.
Tip: if you decide to go vegetarian, you can't look at enough recipe blogs or cookbooks. I did a lot of research trying to find meals that I could see myself eating before I really started, so a lot of times I have an idea of what I want to make. I think I'd feel really lost about what to eat without getting bored if I hadn't done that. There are only so many peanut butter sandwiches and salads you can eat before you give up. That's boring. But I've been finding awesome, easy recipes to keep me thrilled about eating meatless. (I've been getting a lot of inspiration from Vegalicious, and I'm dying to make some of BitterSweet's desserts).
Queen of the Kitchen
I'm learning to cook! Before I went veg, I ate what my mother made, but now I make each and every meal myself-- nor would I have considered myself cooking-inclined. I look up recipes online and then buy the ingredients. I love knowing that I can actually survive, foodwise, on my own-- and without feeling blah about food, either! The food I've made so far has been tasty, not so hard it's discouraging, and cheerfully colorful. One day I made oatmeal for breakfast with flax and blueberries; a spinach, edamame, strawberry, beet, homemade-poppy-seed-dressing salad for lunch; tofu in a coconut curry sauce over brown rice for dinner; then a vegan brownie for dessert. Even when I'm making dishes that take little preparation, there's a certain satisfaction that comes with mixing my own ingredients and making something yummy happen.
I feel a lot less picky and difficult now. I've been trying new foods and really learning how... not-so-picky I really am. I refuse to cook with onions still. I hate onions with a passion. Other than that, bring it on! That weird fruit over there? I'll try it! That unpronouncably-named vegetable I've never heard of? I'll find a recipe to put it in! The possibilities feel endless. And that sounds corny, but I'm not exaggerating.
One thing that I love about my new, far more balanced diet is that I'm consuming a lot less fat, sugar, and sodium. I'm especially happy about eating less sodium without even trying since high blood pressure runs in my family. Also, I've been reading quite a bit about HAES lately, and I'm really interested to see what changes my happen to my body as I move toward a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle.
Going veg has been one of the better life choices I've made in my 21 years. I feel fulfilled because I'm eating great food with lots of variety and learning how to actually take care of my body without meat as a crutch (and in fact, most Americans eat far too little "plant food" and way too much meat, according to cancer research). I feel fulfilled because I feel like my lifestyle is more in tune with my ethics. I know changing to a vegetarian diet is not going to be for everyone, but I'm seriously someone who thought that I could never do it and like it. But I do, and unless there are some serious unavoidable circumstances that interfere, I'm not going back to eating meat anytime soon. I'm not one to argue with results, and this feels damn good.
Have you ever tried vegetarianism? How did you feel? Would you ever try it? Why or why not?