I’m a vegetarian.
Cue the collective eye roll, and the pause as you wait for me to lecture you on the atrocities of the meat industry, and the benefits of “clean living,” now that I’ve taken this selfless, meatless, tasteless road. And here we go…. just kidding!
If it comes up in conversation, people have a few standard statements they like to toss out there, most of which I respond to with a quick and hilarious (I think) answer, because, let’s be honest, all vegetarian stories kind of end up being the same, right? And who wants to hear that story about seeing Food Inc. and how it “changed my life,” and how “I cried watching those poor animals” for the fifteenth time. Not to seem awful, but my experience with Food Inc. was a little less sympathetic.
The only time I watched Food Inc. was on a sleepy Friday morning in high school. Sitting there in the dark, being lectured by the wheeled-in T.V. on the hidden world of cows, my stomach grumbling, all I could think about was getting to the cafeteria for a sausage-egg-and-cheese sandwich. I was not persuaded by the documentaries staggering data and terrifying images, because, as a rebellious (lazy) teenager, there wasn’t a movie in the world that could convince me to change my lifestyle.
Except for Fight Club, which filled me with self-righteous disdain for anyone who followed the status quo.
After watching Food Inc., I subsequently made my way to the cafeteria for that sausage-egg-and-cheese bagel that I ate with no remorse. I couldn’t imagine a world without meat. Which brings us to the first standard response to “I’m a vegetarian.”
Standard Response #1:
The Mentality Behind the Choice
I did not decide to become a vegetarian until two years after watching that documentary, when I was dissecting a cat for my Comparative Anatomy Class. I realized within the first ten minutes that I could easily compare the muscle of a cat to the chicken breast I had eaten for lunch that day. So I decided to take a break from chicken for a short while, due to the churning in my stomach when I saw “chicken salad sandwich” on the menu. Not two days later did I (not by my own choice) see the way cows were slaughtered on a different documentary (those things are the worst). That image convinced me I could go awhile without beef as well. And from then on, I never looked back.
Okay I looked back. But only a few times. And I only looked. Because even though I craved that cheese steak, and those chicken wings, and that delicious taco, I didn’t allow myself to indulge. I was testing myself. I wanted to see how long I could go without meat. Every morning as I ordered my delicious breakfast bagel, I left the most beautiful word in the english language: bacon, out of my order. And it was hard. But what kept me going was the sympathy I had acquired for that poor cat I dissected, and the fact that it seemed like an impossible feat. So I would begin every day thinking “I can probably go another meal without eating meat.” And that’s how I got through the first week, month, year, all the way up to the last meal I ate.
And so here I am, 1,566 days without meat. Pretty cool, I guess. God I want a cheeseburger.
Standard Response #2:
“You’re going to die.”
Surviving without Meat
The second thing people like to say to me is that I’m not getting enough nutrients. To which I respond: “I’m fine – I just forgot to put on makeup this morning.” Living without meat is actually not that hard. You’ve just got to be up for the challenge. It’s also a lot cheaper to leave meat out of your diet, and it’s been shown to lighten your carbon footprint. Alright, enough of my sales spiel.
The way I live without meat is actually pretty easy. I eat a lot of Mexican food.
They’ve got it figured out.
The protein that meat provides us can be found in the collaboration between rice and beans, (as well as other simple food combinations) which is in pretty much every Mexican meal. I also eat a large amount of salads! Ew! I know! Salads are like the food equivalent of documentaries: they’re packed with wisdom, information, and sunflower seeds, but they are so boring and tasteless that you avoid them until you feel so terrible about the way your life is going that you force yourself to endure them just to purify yourself from all the Bachelorette, Kardashians, burger and fried stuff that you’ve been gorging on for the past two weeks. Salads aren’t actually that terrible. You just have to learn to make them right or order them right, depending on how you’re planning to cleanse your junk food palate. Speaking of which:
Standard Response #3:
“That sounds like no fun.”
The Fun(?) of Food without Bacon”
Ordering at a restaurant can be difficult for vegetarians, unless you have a “sides” section of the menu to order from! A side of coleslaw and another side of brussels sprouts with a third side of sweet potato fries please! Who said I wasn’t eating balanced meals? Look who gets to eat three things you get in tiny dishes next to your meat and doesn’t get to eat the meat! This person, that’s who. Okay maybe it’s a little more difficult to order as a vegetarian. Unless you check out the growing number of vegan restaurants throughout the U.S. However, being forced to look at a part of the menu I honestly didn’t know existed introduced me to foods I would never have tried before. I have learned to like mushrooms, quinoa, avocado, and squash. Becoming a vegetarian has helped me to step away from childhood comfort foods like chicken fingers, cheeseburgers, and the various meat-infused spaghetti that I had come to count on anytime I went out, and gravitate toward a new type of meal that I used to consider “rabbit food.”
Thanks Ron Swanson
Since quitting meat, I have become more receptive to new things and have come to appreciate the subtle tastes in a dish when the overpowering meat section is left out. I have made several vegetarian meals myself, my favorite of which is Julia Child’s artichoke with lemon butter.
The choice to be a vegetarian, despite what it may seem, is much less a sacrifice, and much more a challenge. A challenge to explore the unexplored, to test your limits, and think outside of the box. Now, at a restaurant, I can look at that bacon cheeseburger and, though I may salivate, I think I will continue to choose the black-bean imposter every time. And it’s partly because I feel it’s right, but mostly because it’s a hail mary conversation-starter on bad dates.
I’m not trying to guilt you into going meatless. That’s up to you. I am however going to attempt to guilt you into signing this petition that asks congress for more clean, renewable energy, because that won’t cost you a thing. So while you’re eating that burger, maybe take a second, to sign this petition to help reduce carbon emissions in other ways. Just think about it…