I haven’t been keeping track or anything, but it occurred to me today that it’s been about one year since I became a vegetarian. I know, I know – others may find fault in my “cheating,” which I have done just a few times, primarily to try unique foods, i.e. escargots. That, however, leads me to the first thing I’ve learned as a vegetarian – thou shalt not judge. It’s amazing how judgmental both vegetarians and omnivores are. When I first decided to go veg, one of the most common comments was “We’ll see how long that lasts,” or, “Are you still a vegetarian?” For some reason, people seem to think that it’s either too difficult to maintain, or that no one could possibly want to maintain it for too long. But as I clearly recall, I used to be like that too! When I was younger, I secretly hoped my vegetarian friends would capitulate and start eating meat, or admit that they missed meat. Why did it matter to me what they ate or didn’t eat? Why did I care?
In keeping with this line of thought, I also don’t think it makes sense to judge anyone for not being a “pure” vegetarian, as I guess I am not. Vegans think we are soft, whereas some of us non-meat-eaters can’t understand “pescetarians” or people who typically don’t eat meat but occasionally indulge in chicken or what have you. Again, we all have different reasons for giving up meat altogether, or for reducing our consumption, so can’t we let each other be?
My main reason for giving up meat was, and still is, the health and environmental costs, as well as the inhumane nature of animal slaughter in the US. This does not mean that I think killing animals is immoral in principle; I just don’t think animals should be kept in teeny cages in which they can’t move, be made to crawl in their own feces (which also can harm human health!), etc. Clearly, animals can be raised in conditions that are good for their and our health, as well as not detrimental to the environment. Thus, if given the option, I think it’s possible that I would eat meat raised in this way. However, I think the most interesting thing is that I don’t really crave meat anymore. I can objectively say that a burger or a piece of raw tuna looks amazing. But do I want to gobble it up? Not really. I’m not sure why… but that desire has gradually faded.
Another reaction to being vegetarian is that it means I have a very limited selection of foods from which to choose. Quite the contrary! I have become so much more educated about the wide variety of foods we have available to us. This is quite a dramatic change for the girl who grew up on meat and potatoes and treated vegetables as if they were poisonous. Now there is almost no vegetable that I don’t LOVE, and I’ve discovered the deliciousness that is grains (quinoa, farro, barley, bulgur, etc.) and beans, which are all essential for a vegetarian’s health. It’s not just tofu and granola anymore folks! Probably the key thing is that it is difficult to find a large variety of foods when eating out, so the best way to stay healthy is to cook a lot. But even in Wooster, I feel like there are more and more interesting vegetarian options, and more people are trying to reduce the amount of meat they eat. I don’t want to pass judgment on anyone for eating meat – but you may as well branch out and expand your food options beyond the typical meat + side dish meal!
I don’t know if I’ll be a vegetarian forever. I would like to think that even if it is just in a minuscule way, my eating habits are having a positive effect on how animals are raised in this country. I don’t want to preach to anyone, but I think it is important that we raise awareness of the practices of Big Ag. I am heartened by the surge in appreciation of local foods and naturally-raised meat, and I think the trend is here to stay. I do know that when I travel to Hungary this fall, I will have to swallow my pride and eat meat, for the sake of being a polite guest in my relatives’ homes. I may not be anyone’s idea of a perfect vegetarian, but I’m enjoying the lifestyle immensely, and I’ve learned so much!
Filed under: Dining |