There is not a single week that goes by for me without hearing a statement like, "Oh, but I don't think what you do is very healthy." People give me the same old arguments: As humans, we have been eating meat for millions of years. Plants feel pain, too. Eating organic meat is not bad. Blah blah blah.
My friends made fun of me the first time I refrained from eating meat in their presence.
"What are you trying to do now?" they said. "Save the animals?"
"Doing my bit," I said.
I've been a vegetarian for two years now. I am not anemic; I am not suffering from hair loss, and my bones are as strong as ever. In fact, I've been so healthy that I haven't become sick even once during my vegetarian years, which is a surprise, given that I live in British Columbia.
My purpose for writing this post is not to preach about the advantages of vegetarianism. I don't want to elaborate on the reasons why I am a vegetarian, either. (You only need to know that there are three main reasons people decide to adopt a plant-based diet: for the sake of animals, for the sake of environment, and for the sake of their own health.) I don't want to talk about the immorality of slaughtering animals, or the inefficiency of raising livestock, or the research on the health benefits of a veggie diet. You can find all of this information online. I'd rather talk about my own experience of my counterculture lifestyle, of being a vegetarian in a carnivore world.
I was 13 when I first considered going veggie. My reason, at the time, was quite idiotic and unjustifiable: I only wanted to look intellectual. I started the actual transition when I was 14, by going meat-free for week-long periods. After six months, I realized that I hadn't been eating meat for at least five weeks. I was officially a vegetarian. My parents had chicken or beef everyday. I only knew two other vegetarians at the time.
I started as a junk vegetarian, as most vegetarians do. I had cheese sandwiches for lunch. With my pasta, I only had tomato sauce. When my friends had fast food, I ate their French fries. I only wanted to eliminate meat and didn't know any better. When I went to people's houses for dinner, I was always too shy to tell them that I was a vegetarian, wondering what they would think about me.
After a few months of experimenting with beans and vegetables, I began to understand how this whole thing worked. I read books on nutrition and started buying vegetables I had never seen before. I learnt different ways to make tofu. I spent more and more time in the cereal and bread aisles of stores, looking for whole grain products that had the highest amount of protein and fiber. I was learning the tricks. I was loving the lifestyle.
We now have a "Paniz's kitchenette" in our kitchen, a cabinet full of packages of quinoa, sprouted bean trio, milled flax seed, and Hemp Hearts. I always make sure to meet my required daily intake protein, calcium and iron. I sometimes get frustrated with myself at being so health-cautious.
As I felt more confident about my diet, I noticed that, quite unconsciously, I had omitted eggs and dairy products, too. I would not call myself a vegan, though. I don't intentionally add dairy to my food, but I wouldn't mind having some feta on my Mediterranean pizzas or cow milk in my Starbucks coffees every now and then.
It can definitely become challenging at times to be a vegetarian in North American society. Most restaurants offer a limited number of vegetarian options, or they don't offer anything at all. It can get really embarrassing when I go to people's houses for dinner. I sometimes have to starve on flights because the airline's website has not registered my request for a special meal. But stil, it's all a choice. Some people choose not to study and get bad grades. Some people choose not to get into a serious relationship with the opposite sex. Some people choose not to watch any TV. Muslims choose to eat halal and Jews choose to eat kosher. Life is all about decision-making, and this is my decision.
People often ask me if I miss meat. I do not. In fact, the smell of it makes me sick. I enjoy finishing a meal and knowing that no being has suffered in providing it. I enjoy knowing that my blood will never have any LDL cholesterol in it. Others chew their hamburgers and I enjoy my salad, feeling connected to nature, knowing that I'm doing something good for myself, for animals, and for the future of our planet.