Last year, just before Thanksgiving, I decided to become a vegetarian. Not ideal timing, to be sure, as my mother pointed out, sighing. So I caved for that one day, as any good daughter would, but over the next month I slowly cut out meat, and by New Year’s Day 2010 I was 100%veggie/pesce-tarian (I ate fish occasionally)!
WHY? I made the choice for several reasons:
Health benefits, ethical treatment of animals, and environmental impact. I’d been thinking about the health reasons for some time, then I heard Alicia Silverstone (yes, the actress) speak at the Boston Book Festival while promoting her vegan cookbook, The Kind Diet. She consulted nutritionists and doctors before writing and shared their perspectives, as well as her own experiences, and a lot of audience members spoke up about their lives as vegetarians/vegans, too. The negative environmental impact of factory farms is often discussed by the (leftist) media sources I follow. Then I saw the “Pandora’s Box” episode of the This American Life‘s television show (season 1 episode 6), which offered a glimpse into the workings of a modern hog farm. One of the camera men became vegetarian on the spot, as well. I don’t cry often, but I was sobbing by the end of the show. It was the clincher. The next week, I bought the book The New Becoming Vegetarian by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis.
BENEFITS. I’ve struggled with skin problems since puberty and it was remarkable how much my skin cleared up, especially after I also cut back on my dairy intake over the year. That was actually harder for me, being of strong Midwestern stock (born in Madison, for peets sake!) with a healthy addiction to cheese. But the stomach cramps after eating pizza convinced me to cut back, and soy milk is really tasty! Clear skin was great, but I also slowly dropped the 10 pounds I had put on in the 3 years I had a desk job. People complimented me, I felt fantastic, I bought veggie cookbooks and got creative, and things were great.
AND THEN… I got lazy and started relying on the vegetarian burritos from Chipotle (across the street from me), frozen vegetarian entrees, and whole wheat pasta. I also really don’t like tofu and I wasn’t as careful about protein intake anymore. I started feeling tired and run down more often. I was having a hard time lifting the stretcher at work and I felt more out of shape, weaker. I thought it was just my new job as an EMT and the shorter days of Fall.
The final straw was when I went to visit my friends in California, one a nurse practitioner and one a doctor. After a day out bike riding on Venice Beach (in shorts), I took a nap since I was tuckered out. At dinner that night (the one night I ever liked cauliflower and tofu- thanks, Eric), they both sat me down and told me I had to change my eating habits, or else!
They had both noticed that my legs were covered in bruises. Okay, at my pre-employment physical the doctor may have asked me if I felt safe at home… I just laughed it off since I’m a clumsy, pale Irish lass. My friends prodded me and managed to wheedle out of me that yes, I did feel run down a lot lately; yes, my protein intake was diminished; yes, I had a history of anemia when I was a child(and a picky eater). My mom (who went to medical school) and the pre-employment physical doctor had also mentioned that I should work meat back into my diet occasionally or make a more conscious effort to eat good vegetarian sources of protein.
Then these same friends took me to a California landmark, In-N-Out Burger. Since it’s one of those “when in Rome” situations, this being a famously delicious burger joint, I caved in and got a cheeseburger (breaking all the rules). And it was a near religious experience. My body was SO happy. I made us go back the next day.
Since then I’ve tried to eat meat at least 3 times a week, mainly white meat. While my skin problems have come back a bit, my bruises are gone, I feel less lethargic, and I’ve seen better results in my weight training now that protein is back in my diet.
I still love veggie meals. I am really glad that I learned to eat all kinds of new foods over the last year. I forced myself to eat veggies I didn’t like prepared in different ways, and I discovered that I LOVE zucchini and cauliflower! I’m addicted to lentils and my love of Indian food has only been enhanced. I know that if I ever choose to take the time to do things right, to plan and shop and cook, I could be a healthy vegetarian. One day, I hope to try again.