I’m a vegetarian. I never thought I would actually say that out loud, or in this case write it out in a full declarative sentence. In a lot of ways, I’m still defining what being a vegetarian means for me. Sometimes I’ll even use the term flex-etarian because in the last year I have had some moments of weakness. I’ve struggled with trying to be a full blown vegan, allowing myself the occasional “cheat” meal, trying out a pescatarian diet, and just giving up all together. It’s been a challenging but rewarding 11 months (I hit the full year mark on November 5th), and I’ve been sort of itching to write a blog post about it.
This isn’t a rant about not eating meat. I don’t want to change anyone’s mind (okay, maybe I do a little). But every time it comes up in conversation I feel like people are waiting for my judgment, or for me to pull out charts filled with facts and figures wearing a preachers robe and shaming them for the burger they’re eating in front of me. That’s not me. I am however, unable to ignore what I have learned about being a carnivore and there are things I wish we were all more open to knowing as a society.
I have had people I know and like pass judgment on my decision to stop eating meat. I had a regular at my work become noticeably irritated at even the mention of it. The inconvenience of finding a place to eat that is both suitable for me and my meat loving friends is not lost on me. But the idea that we are “designed” or “supposed” to eat meat is not something that I am fully on board with anymore. It is however an easy crutch to lie on in order to hold onto bacon cheeseburgers.
Why I personally chose to go on this ongoing and never ending journey into vegetarianism has a lot of parts to it. I’m still not an expert on the subject but I’ve chosen not to shield myself from the information anymore. I know some meat eaters will read this and roll their eyes, and some vegans will read this and say I need to do more. This is, however, my personal journey and how to do it right is completely up to me.
If you’re wondering what made me take the leap, it’s pretty simple. It all started with a binge session of documentaries about the environment, health, and factory farming. Whether you’re on board with the idea of being a vegetarian or not, I still hope you’ll keep reading.
With the spotlight on the climate crisis now more than ever and with environmental activists stopping me up and down the length of Broadway in Manhattan, I often wonder how many people are actually doing what they can to help save our future. Not just marching in the streets and calling out politicians, but actually walking the walk. I don’t want to get political so I’ll pull as much as I can from my Public Relations degree and try not to offend anyone too much. I know it’s going to sound like I’m preaching, but it’s not my intention. I’m also not trying to be a martyr – I’m far from a perfect environmentalist.
It isn’t exactly a secret that animal agriculture is a huge contributor to the crisis facing our planet. But did you know that it’s actually the second largest contributor to human-made greenhouse gas emissions? Did you know that it takes roughly 2,400 gallons of water to grow a pound of beef? Did you know that it’s the leading cause of deforestation? Our planet’s resources are being exploited for animal agriculture and in return the industry is destroying our planet.
I never wanted to look at the numbers before because I love hamburgers. While it’s great to cut down on plastic use, ride my bike to work, ban straws, and start composting, it doesn’t seem right for me to ignore the other information and pretend that animal agriculture isn’t affecting our planet on a large scale.
I’m not super political and I don’t really know how I can stop the use of fossil fuels or shut down plastic factories but I can choose to order something different off the menu and that’s at least a start. The environmental documentaries I watched that got me fired up about taking action were Cowspiracy and Wasted.
There’s a quote from Paul McCartney that goes something like, “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.” I never really had a problem separating the animals on my dinner plate from the living, breathing creatures I’ve encountered in my real life – and then I watched Dominion. I saw the slaughterhouse with the glass walls that Sir McCartney suggested they have and I couldn’t un-see it.
Dominion, an Australian made documentary available to stream for free online, changed the way I look at everything on my plate. It’s the most gruesome and eye-opening expose on the factory farming industry and I think everyone should have to watch it. Every electric bolt, every kick, every obscene slur, and every painful cry coming from all types of animals being completely exploited for the benefit of humans was probably the single most important thing I’ve ever watched.
Watching this movie is what truly tipped the scale to vegetarian and made me want to try to take it further and become a full blown vegan. If you dare to watch it you can get the full movie here.
I’ve watched my grandmother struggle with diabetes my entire life. My mother was diagnosed with a severe case of pulmonary hypertension not too long ago. Both are diseases that are directly related to diet and lifestyle and both my mother and my grandmother have a poor quality of life as a result. They are both hooked up to oxygen most of the time and struggle to get around. Seeing it first hand served as a wake up call for me.
I’m not seriously unhealthy, but I know there is a lot of room for improvement. In the past few years I have woken up more aware of my body. I have sciatica that flares up regularly, not to mention energy problems and aches and pains in my lower back. Regularly I wake up stiff and completely out of tune with my body. I feel like at this point in my life, I should know a lot more about how to take care of myself.
Now I am no scientist and I usually have trouble completely digesting anything scientifically related. But I’ve seen the headlines about red meat, the on again/off again relationship the food industry has with eggs (are they or aren’t they good for you?) and the constant warnings about high cholesterol diets. The major diseases our nation is dying from (cancer, diabetes, heart disease) are highly linked to eating meat.
I watched Forks Over Knives on Netflix and the idea of a plant-based diet being the recipe for a long and healthy life just made sense to me. I started reading The China Study and Omnivore’s Dilemma to further educate myself on the idea that eating animal products is just not good for me. I eventually want to strictly eat a plant-based diet, but I’m not quite there yet.
Yes, I know meat is delicious.
I understand that eating meat is a part of our culture and it’s not an easy thing to give up. It has become so much a part of our diet on such a large scale that the demand is only growing to keep up with our increasing population. It only makes me worry more for our planet and the future of our overall health as a society. I don’t even want to think about what it means for the animals that will continue to be bred and exploited for the benefit of our taste buds.
With all that said, I never actually thought I would be as successful as I have been in giving up meat. I work in a bar that serves Buffalo wings and BBQ pulled pork sandwiches and queso dip topped with chorizo. I serve that to people everyday. I am confronted daily with food trucks tempting me with smells of bacon and chicken over rice with that creamy white sauce that seems to be the Halal cart guy’s best kept secret.
I’m telling you all of this because I know for a fact that if I can do it anybody else can too. vegetarian and vegan food is delicious and adopting a diet with no meat or even just less meat does not have to mean a life of deprivation. I’ll definitely share a post soon about some of the tips I have learned in making the transition easier. I also already have a post started for some of my favorite vegetarian restaurants in the New York that will have you questioning why you ever needed meat in the first place.