When I made the decision to become vegetarian (roughly 3 years ago), little did I know that by choosing to give up meat, I was going to fight more battles than I bargained for.
Oh, the path to vegetarianism is paved with good intentions, silly jokes, and a cold plate of prejudice. Who would’ve thought that people would care that much about what I didn’t put inside my mouth!
Let’s rewind the tape and go back to simpler, more carnivorous times, shall we? Although twig-like in stature due to a combination of high metabolism and genetics, I loved me some bacon, steak, chicken wings, and ribs. The flavour. The way it smelled. The way it padded my stomach. Oh, it was heaven!
I didn’t become vegetarian because I didn’t like the taste of meat. In fact, I was one of those people who thought that she couldn’t give up meat and questioned why anyone would. Animals are for humans to eat. How can anyone live on salad? “I love meat too much to stop eating it.”
But then a guy shared this documentary with me called Earthlings. It’s long, propagandist, and has a very comatose Joaquin Phoenix as the narrator. In Earthlings, you learn more about the role of animals, how meat production negatively affects the Earth, and how by simply eating meat, you may be subscribing to animal cruelty.
But what made me second-guess my consumption of meat was a gruesome scene of a cow being slain inhumanely as it cried out in pain. Blood rained from the beast as it was hung to die. Then there were the chickens who had their beaks cut off and who were forced to live in confined, dirty spaces that drove them to insanity as they pecked at each other and inflicted wounds. And there were plenty more hard-to-watch scenes – to this day, I still haven’t been able to watch the entire documentary because it’s so unsettling.
So I tried the gradual approach and gave up seafood first. I didn’t much care for it (except shrimp, lobster, and muscles), so I figured it was the easiest elimination. Plus, it was just a trial run to see if I could do it. It had always been my intention that if it felt like too much or if I ever felt unhealthy because of my new diet, I vowed to turn back around. But if all these celebrities could be vegetarians, then so could I.
Well, guess what? I did it, and it was way too easy. Okay, hot shot. What about chicken? Could I give up that? Did it. Easier than I thought, too. To make a long story short, the last ones on my ‘assassination’ list were beef and pork. And I felt great physically – had more energy.
But this story wouldn’t be a good story if there weren’t some villains, right? [Cue the gang]
Here are the challenges I faced:
- Eating Out at Restaurants – Lots of my old favourite places cater to meat eaters. Finding appetizing and filling vegetarian dishes was much harder than anticipated. Most places had salad, but I’m not the type of person who considers salad a proper meal.
- Finding Meat Alternatives – Substituting chick peas, lentils, tofu, and the like made it easy to get my protein. And I discovered Tofurkey and soy products created to imitate things like ground beef, chicken nuggets, and even bacon (believe it or not – although the ‘facon’ as I call it tastes horrid).
- Defending Myself – Every single time I refrained from eating meat and had to tell someone that I’m a vegetarian, I’ve been poked and prodded to justify my choice. It’s not like we ask, “Why do you eat meat?” But when you’re a vegetarian, you get bombarded with questions like: “Don’t you like meat?”, “How can you get full just from eating vegetables?”, “How do you know that vegetables don’t feel pain, too?”, and (my favourite) “What’s wrong with you? You used to eat meat and were fine with it.” My abbreviated answers?
- “I liked eating meat, but I gave it up.” Just because we like something doesn’t mean we have to continue doing it. You like ice cream, but do you have to eat it every day?
- “I don’t just eat vegetables.” Being a vegetarian requires that you eat smart and balanced meals that may include rice, bread, noodles, pasta, etc., and not exclusively vegetables.
- “I don’t know if vegetables feel pain.” But let me ask you something back. How do you know that the animals you’re eating don’t feel pain?
- “There’s nothing wrong with me for wanting to cut out something that has been linked to a number of health problems and environmental issues.”
- Cooking without Meat – Since a lot of recipes call for meat, I was forced to dig deeper and research new dishes to make. And instead of relying on meat to provide the flavour, I had to incorporate herbs and spices. Because of this, I believe I’m a much better cook than I was before. My culinary repertoire consists of a nice variety including (but not limited to) the following: shepherd’s pie, lasagna, sushi, falafels, pizza, stir fry, Pad Thai, veggie burgers, Tofurkey roasts, ‘chicken’ Parmesan, spaghetti, cannelloni, salads, cookies, brownies, and muffins. Even so, I’m still trying to test out new recipes now and then and put my own spin on them. I’m also proud to say that I make a mean veggie lasagna that even several avid meat-eaters have told me that they think it’s the best lasagna they’ve ever had! And even my dad (who will never give up meat because ‘it tastes good’) enjoys my shepherd’s pie and homemade pizzas.
- Thanksgiving Feasts – Having a turkey at Thanksgiving is a family staple, but I have to sit out and just have my Tofurkey roast. As great as my mom makes turkey, I have to say that I look forward more to the stuffing she makes – that’s my favourite part about Thanksgiving dinner!
- Cravings – Every now and then, I think about beef jerky, sizzling bacon, and juicy steaks. Sometimes even run-of-the-mill hot dogs at an outdoor vendor makes me salivate when before it was nothing. But I rein in the urge to backpedal. I remind myself why I became a vegetarian, and then I go make myself something yummy to eat.
- Not Letting Other People’s Prejudice Get to Me – Some people may see my being a vegetarian as a weakness, a stupid conversion, or me just being a picky eater. Well, we all have our preferences and quirks. Some people won’t eat bread crusts. Some people pick out the olives from their pizza. Some people enjoy drinking prune juice. The world’s made up of all sorts of people.
Becoming a vegetarian might not have been the easy path for me, but I’m sticking with it (as long as I still feel healthy and happy). If holding true to your guns even when the going gets tough and standing up for what you believe in isn’t feminist and empowering, then I don’t know what is.