“Where Do You Get Your Protein?” and Other Questions I Get Asked As a Vegan-ish Vegetarian

  1. 1.  “Where Do You Get Your Protein?” and Other Questions I Get Asked As a Vegan-ish Vegetarian  


        In the middle of the summer of 2017, after attending a summer program called Girls State, getting dumped by my highschool boyfriend of 11 months, and joining my high school’s varsity dance team on a whim, I decided to become a vegetarian. I overloaded myself on documentaries that explained why I should eat less meat and eat more plants until I was finally ready to change my eating habits and make the switch to vegetarianism. What I was not ready for was everyone’s questions as to the why and the how could I survive without eating meat. Here are some of those questions and my replies. 


    Where Do You Get Your Protein?

    We had to start off with the OG plant-based diet curiosity question. When I first became a vegetarian, my mother was legitimately concerned that I was going to drop dead of a protein deficiency. I happily informed her that there are a multitude of plant based sources of protein. Notably beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, nut and seed butters, whole grains, tofu, tempeh, and seitan. I swear everyone suddenly becomes a nutritionist when you decide to switch any sort of plant-based diet. While protein is not a problem while being a vegan or vegetarian, it is recommended that you ensure that you are getting enough iron and vitamin B12. Black beans as well as spinach, and other leafy greens, are great sources of iron. As for vitamin B12, vegans and vegetarians, and everyone really, should take a vitamin B12 supplement. B12 is not a vitamin that is found in meat or plant foods. It’s actually found in bacteria. Because of modern food and sanitation standards, a significant source of B12 is hard to come by regardless of your dietary habits.


    What Made You Decide to Become a Vegetarian?

    I’ve had digestive problems my entire life. The cramps, the discomfort, the bloating. They were all just too much. Watching all these documentaries got me wondering if my eating habits had something to do with my digestive issues. That and the fact that I was diagnosed with high blood pressure at the age of 14. My pediatric nephrologist (kidney doctor) told me that I would be on blood pressure medication for the rest of my life and there was nothing I could do about it.  The medication made me feel weird; I started getting headaches and feeling tired from being on the lowest dosage that specific medication was made into. High blood pressure runs in my family and I’m Black. According to CardioSmart.org, a website run by the American College of Cardiology, many racial differences in the development of high blood pressure are present before adults turn 30, with Black people much more likely to develop high blood pressure. With statistics such as these floating around scientific literature, this may have prompted my doctor to tell me that I will be on medication for the rest of my life. What she did fail to address was my diet, sleep patterns, stress level, and other lifestyle habits that may have influenced my high blood pressure. Determined to prove my doctor wrong and take some semblance of control over my health, I decided to turn to vegetarianism. 


    What Do You Actually Eat? Can You Still Eat Fish?


    My personal brand of vegetarianism is closer to veganism, with the exception of my regular use of honey to flavor my tea. I’ve been lactose intolerant for my whole life, so I don’t really do dairy and I’ve never been big on eggs either. I think the texture of eggs, no matter how you cook it, is weird. However, these rules strictly apply to the food that I make for myself. If I’m eating out I may relax my rules on eggs and dairy if they’re baked or cooked into something like a cake or cookies, made into a sauce, or cooked into a breading. But, I will admit that I usually ask for my pizza without cheese and choose to omit the shredded cheese that usually comes on tacos. Pizza without cheese? Yes, it’s still satisfying to me but I know it’s everyone’s cup of tea. You may be wondering why I don’t just call myself a vegan. To put it simply, I don’t want anyone trying to call me out on eating a cookie that was baked with butter, milk, and eggs. The label of vegetarianism allows me the flexibility of enjoying foods that may not be vegan without feeling like I’m breaking some rule that comes with how I label myself. And for anyone who gets all the branches of plant-based eating confused, here’s a quick rundown: vegetarians don’t eat fish or the actual flesh of any other animal, vegans don’t eat anything that is a product or byproduct from animals, and pescatarians don’t eat any other meat than fish and seafood. Vegetarians usually eat dairy and eggs, but not actual meat. 


    Don’t You Get Tired of Eating Vegetables?


    Not really. But, I did have to teach myself how to cook since no one else I knew was able to teach me how to make vegetarian food. I meal prep a dinner dish that will last me the whole week and I spent my week eating some pretty sad dinners when I was first starting out, but with the help of some vegan recipe blogs I got it together. Some of my favorite vegan recipe bloggers and vloggers are Jenné Claiborne, creator of the blog Sweet Potato Soul, Mina Rome, and Liv B. I also have come to really enjoy cooking. It’s a lot of work and practice, but when I’ve been slaving away in a kitchen for hours it all seems worth it when I have a week’s worth of dinner (and now lunch thanks to some more meal prep work I’ve recently started doing) that I can just pop in the microwave when I’m ready to eat. 


        I recognize that veganism, vegetarianism, and strict plant-based lifestyles are not for everyone. My best advice is to work in your fruits, veggies, and some nuts and seeds when you can. Be adventurous and open when it comes to trying foods that aren’t normally part of your diet. The world is full of fantastic, beautiful flavors. Don’t let a vegan or vegetarian label stop you from bringing some joy to your taste buds, your heart, and your soul.