This month marks 9 years since I decided to stop eating meat. It’s not something I talk about much since it’s not really something I think about much (the last time I briefly blogged about it was over four years ago. Whoa.). But after listening to a really interesting debate on the matter on one of my favorite podcasts, I thought I’d chat a little about it.
1. People aren’t sure what the difference between vegetarian and vegan are. Almost every time I mention that I’m vegetarian, someone asks me if I eat eggs and dairy. I do! I love cheese! If I didn’t eat those things, I’d say I was a vegan. Now gimme that cheese.
2. It’s popular to try out vegetarianism. Until it’s not. Over the years, a dozen people have asked me for advice when trying out the whole vegetarian thing. Which is cool! I love to help people. About 90% of them decide to not be vegetarian, which is probably why older people think that my vegetarianism is just a phase. Like, “Oh yeah, my daughter did that for a while.” I am pretty sure I’m going to be a vegetarian forever, so this isn’t a fad diet for me. But I just smile and nod. The popular diet right now is sort of the opposite of vegetarianism (paleo), which means being vegetarian seems to be less popular. But, hey! I’m still here for the long haul.
3. Most of us aren’t crazy or militant. I’m not going to tell you why the meat you’re eating is terrible. I don’t care if you eat meat around me. I’m not constantly thinking about how terrible meat is. I have lots of vegetarian friends and family members, and none of them are crazy about being vegetarian. As long as you don’t give me a hard time for not eating meat, I won’t talk about factory farming. (Actually, even if you are jerk about me not eating meat, I’ll probably just walk away from you. That’s my brand of confrontation.)
4. Speaking of factory farms, awareness of sustainable food is on the rise. Thanks in part to documentaries like Food, Inc. and popular books by authors like Michael Pollan, it’s getting easier and easier to be intentional about food choices than it was nine years ago. It’s easy to find a CSA (our small city has about half a dozen options), more dairy is rSBT-free, and many more people are aware of factory farming methods. The means grassfed meat, cheese, and dairy is available, and more people are being conscientious about their food choices.
5. It’s absolutely possible to conceive, grow a healthy baby, breastfeed said baby, and train for half marathons without consuming animals. Nine years ago, I was a sophomore in college living in Hawaii. A lot has changed over that time, and being a vegetarian hasn’t been a problem in any of the stresses on my body. I had an easy pregnancy, birthed in a tub like a hippie, and (also like a hippie) nursed that child for almost two years while training for two half marathons. In fact, some serious athletes, like my friend Nicole, say that going meat-free makes them a better athlete.
6. It’s not all or nothing. For me, it is. It was easier to just say, “I’m a vegetarian” than saying, “Well, I don’t really like meat,” so I made the choice. But do what you want! Be a flexitarian. Be a vegetarian. Be a pescatarian. Eat meat on the weekends and be vegetarian during the week. Be vegetarian on the weekends and vegan during the week. Don’t get obsessed with labels – just eat what feels good to you and aligns with your values and your budget. Done.
7. Don’t get caught up in rules. Some vegetarians just don’t eat animal flesh. Others don’t eat broth made with meat. Others won’t eat gelatin. Again, don’t get caught up in being concerned with that you’re “supposed to do.” Personally, I choose to not (knowingly) consume fat or broth from animals (it mostly grosses me out to think about beef fat in my soup, so I opt for vegetarian soups), but I’ll eat Lucky Charms and Frosted Mini Wheats which have gelatin in them. It’s all a personal choice. Don’t get discouraged – just do what you want.
8. It’s easy to eat out. Usually. You don’t need to think about me when we’re making dinner plans. I can find something to eat just about everywhere, though there are some pathetically limited selections at major chains like Applebee’s and Chili’s. Which is fine, because I’d rather use my restaurant money for food that’s not just a salad.
9. Kids don’t need meat. I haven’t blogged about our decision to raise Gabe vegetarian (with him getting to choose as he gets older, of course), because people have Opinions about what you do with your kid. However, I will say that Gabe is an incredibly good eater (my dad, who raised five kids of his own, is always exclaiming over how not picky he is) and we have his iron tested twice a year. He’s always grown well and sports a little potbelly that lets us know he’s getting plenty of food. In fact, it’s probably better that I can’t fall back on kid staples like hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and bologna!
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Hard to believe it’s been nine years since I sat in my little apartment in Honolulu, called my mom, and said, “Hey, I think I’m going to be vegetarian.” It feels like it was yesterday in some ways, in other ways, another lifetime. That girl would be surprised to learn she married that guy who wrote her letters while she spent a semester in Hawaii and is pregnant with their second child.