Confessions of a New (and Struggling) Vegetarian
At the time of writing this, I’ve been vegetarian for exactly seventeen days — or less than that, if you consider me accidentally eating non-vegetarian fries a week and a half ago.
I’m excited about it. I’m definitely more excited now about eating than I used to be. I’ve been lobbying my parents to let me go vegetarian since I was in middle school, and I finally won out. But it hasn’t been without its surprises so far.
Back to the fries incident. Those were McDonald’s fries. Typically you don’t associate those with meat, right? I definitely didn’t when I ate them, but the next day I was informed by a vegan classmate that they do in fact cook their fries in beef fat. It’s been a rude awakening as to just how many foods actually contain meat: both Worcestershire sauce and Caesar dressing usually contain anchovies; refried beans generally contain animal lard; Jell-O, nearly all marshmallows, Starburst, Skittles, Welch’s fruit snacks, and many, many more snacks and candies contain gelatin, which is sourced from pigs and cows. The list goes on and on, and it’s definitely something I wish I would’ve researched beforehand. The good news? There’s a vegetarian or vegan alternative to nearly any food if you look for it, and also, Oreos are vegan.
It’s not just knowing what I can and can’t eat, though. According to the parameters of my diet, I could eat solely Oreos since they contain no meat or animal products and be considered vegan. Unfortunately, it’s rather unlikely that I could survive off of Oreos forever. In fact, just eating the same things as I used to without the inclusion of meat and fish probably won’t cut it either. Protein drinks are disgusting, but I’m going to have to learn to love them. There are plenty of alternative protein sources for vegetarians, including yogurt, eggs, and cheese; and, there are quite a few vegan-friendly ones too, such as quinoa, soy, beans, buckwheat, hummus, lentils, and green peas. You can definitely get your protein naturally if you try hard enough, but for those of us who aren’t as health-conscious and don’t have that kind of time (read: me), supplements can be helpful too. Some other things to be careful of: iron, vitamin B12, and just getting enough calories.
Prepare yourself for a lot of questions from people. Every vegetarian or vegan has their own reasons for their dietary choices, whether it’s based on a moral or religious belief or simply a health choice. I’d like to say my own vegetarianism is based entirely on concern for animal rights or the environment or my own health; and, while to an extent it is, it’s mainly because I’m just really not a fan of eating meat, and now I have a legitimate excuse not to. But no matter your own reasoning, your omnivorous friends out there are probably going to have some criticisms or doubts. Your particularly omnivorous friends will find it necessary to continually remind you that they think it’s nice you’ve gone vegetarian, but they could never do that themselves as they “just love [insert type of meat] way too much!” Nine times out of ten, after that statement they will proceed to describe eating said type of meat in rather graphic detail.
There’s a number of reasons people tend to react like this: If you believe that vegetarianism is an ideologically better choice or that it’s the best health option for you, people are of course prone to be a bit defensive regarding their own ideology or health. And if it’s a family member or close friend who may be responsible for feeding you, then your own choice may inconvenience them to an extent. My parents, while still quite fond of meat, have been pressured by my own choice to adopt a much more vegetarian diet in our household. That’s why it’s a good idea to consider this decision carefully before you choose to begin; it will have significant repercussions not only for your own diet but also for the diets of those close to you.
It’s overall been a very positive choice for me so far, and I’d certainly recommend vegetarianism (or veganism, if you’re very daring) to all of you who may be on the fence about it. However, please, please, please don’t follow my terrible example and jump into it without a proper amount of planning or consideration. And just prepare yourself to be eating quite a few more vegetables than you’re used to.