When I tell people I am a vegetarian, I’m almost always guaranteed one of the following responses. How do you get enough protein? Oh, I’ve always wanted to go vegetarian but I like meat way too much! And my favorite, how can you be vegetarian when cheeseburgers and bacon exist? The truth is, I don’t miss meat that much and I am not a rabbit, so I eat foods besides vegetables that provide me with the nutrients I need. Being a vegetarian is simply an extension of the liberal political and social views I hold, as it is beneficial for the environment and for the animals. And while it isn’t for everyone, it is certainly achievable, as I have discovered in my relatively short time as one. Plus, with all the meat alternatives these days, you can easily get that cheeseburger that is holding you back from your vegetarian dreams.
I stopped eating meat in January of 2019, so my life as a vegetarian has been relatively short thus far. It was honestly more of an accident than anything else, as my sister at the time also stopped eating meat. I went cold turkey and cut it out of my diet completely when I decided, which was easier than slowly stopping. What they don’t tell you is that the first few weeks are the worst. You are hungry all the time. I found myself eating apples and peanut butter late into the night or first thing in the morning. The morning one was extra strange for me, as I have never been one to eat breakfast right when I wake up. But by cutting out meat, I had lost my main source of protein, so my body had to adjust to it. Once you get through this, however, it just becomes a part of everyday life.
A main concern of mine was figuring out what to eat. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on how you look at it), I didn’t eat a wide variety of cuisine to begin with. My pre-college diet consisted of mainly pasta, fruit, and vegetables. I despised broccoli before going vegetarian, but it is one of my favorite foods now. Broccoli mac and cheese is my go-to. I also ate a peanut butter sandwich almost every day for lunch during my senior year of high school, out of both ease and necessity. It is a misconception that all vegetarians are healthy, as junk food vegetarians 100% exist. Just because you don’t eat meat, doesn’t mean that you always eat salad and vegetables for all of your meals. When you don’t have the option of fresh meat as a source of protein, it is really easy to turn to frozen, processed meals and snack food like chips and cookies. I have never been a snacker, so the latter wasn’t an issue. But between my busy theatre and school schedule and my job, it was much quicker to just pop a pre-made dish into the microwave. This is fine every once in a while, but the amount of sodium in the frozen meals is enough to make you rethink your food choices. I am glad to say that college has made being a vegetarian a lot easier, something I am genuinely surprised about.
Living in DeHority complex, I have the luxury of Woodworth dining and its many different food stations being just across the lawn. The pasta and salad bars definitely take the cake in my opinion. I have taken to getting a side salad, and soup, pasta, or a sandwich depending on what I am in the mood for that day. I see it as a low budget Panera You Pick Two. With the salad option, my eating habits have gotten healthier, with the caveat that my portion sizes are much larger. The “freshman 15” can affect even vegetarians. Either way, it is nice to have plenty of options without the stress of having to prepare anything.
All jokes aside, there are many real reasons why I decided to go vegetarian. Climate change has become inevitable as our planet has gotten warmer and natural resources have become strained. The meat industry is not friendly to the environment and livestock is the source of 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2016 Time article by Justin Worland titled “How a Vegetarian Diet Could Help Save the Planet”. Worland explains that a vegetarian diet could cut these emissions by almost 63%. There is also the amount of water the industry uses to take into account as well. John Vidal explains in his 2010 Guardian article, “10 Ways Vegetarianism Can Help Save the Planet”, that rice only uses 27.22 litres of water to produce, whereas a pound of beef uses 9000 litres. Cities already have to compete with the agricultural sector for water and the added burden of livestock has put everyone in danger. As someone who deeply cares about the issue of climate change, this is one way that I have found myself able to help make a difference.
Since I have gone vegetarian, I have begun to barely notice it as a different or unique diet. It's not an active choice to avoid meat, I just do. I won’t lie though, there are some less fun parts about it. Fast Food is not your friend and vegetarian bacon is just not the same. But I believe the benefits outweigh the costs and I encourage anyone who is thinking about it to take the leap and try it out. Whether it is meatless Mondays or full-blown veganism, every little bit counts. So even if you know you can’t permanently go vegetarian, next time you reach for that bacon cheeseburger, try switching it out for an Impossible burger or a nice salad. That one small act can help make a difference on a global scale in terms of securing our future and the safety of the planet.