Being a vegetarian for three years now, you probably wouldn’t believe me when I say I used to love meat. I could hardly fathom the idea of giving up The Keg’s steak or burgers from McDonalds. I shaped my meals around having meat as the main course. Though I knew I wanted to challenge myself to avoid meat simply to see how long I could go, oftentimes I lasted one or two days and would then cave into the temptation. One day, though, I became serious. I ate my last bite of meat and haven’t looked back since.
The most asked question I get when I tell people I’m vegetarian is: Why? For most meat-eaters, it seems like daily torture in trying to plan meals around the absence of such a significant food group. Personally, there are so many reasons to be vegetarian that I began to ask myself: How could I not?
Environmentally, the meat and dairy industry accounts for a significant portion of issues related to deforestation, climate change, and water use/pollution. It contributes to about 18% of human produced greenhouse gas emissions; this is more than emissions produced by all forms of transportation worldwide combined. One study found that farming uses up about 92% of our freshwater, with animal products accounting for one-third of that. The over-production and consumption of animal products is undoubtedly an environmental issue; simply looking at statistics related to the meat and dairy industry will show this.
Another argument for stopping meat consumption is a health-based one. Firstly, red meat greatly increases your risk for heart diseases, strokes, and diabetes. Not only that, but a vegetarian/vegan diet is associated with higher life expectancy, with women and men living on average 6 to 9 years longer, respectively. The list goes on; there are many other health benefits that you may not be aware of. Try checking out Schwarzneggar’s The Game Changers on Netflix (this is the documentary that convinced my meat-loving boyfriend to try a plant-based diet) or What the Health on Netflix.
Where Do I Start?
Certainly, the hardest part of leading a vegetarian lifestyle is simply knowing where to start. It can be incredibly overwhelming to take on this new way of living, and you may be wondering what to do. Here are some tips.
Start off slow and don’t stop cold turkey. As with every habit (and even addiction), it is almost always recommended not to completely stop right away. Ease into vegetarianism to see how your body adjusts and to create a smoother transition. Start with Meatless Mondays, and then slowly increase the duration when you feel ready. Sooner or later, meat will be out of your diet and it will become second nature to you.
Don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t commit right away. You might slip in the beginning stages of your vegetarian journey. You may last a week and then accidently eat a hot dog without thinking about it (I know from personal experience). This happened to me about two or three times until I finally got the hang of it. Remember, this is YOUR journey, and any reduction in meat consumption is a step in the right direction.
Develop a meal plan that works for you. Start researching meat alternatives that will allow you to maintain a nutritious diet. Vegetables, legumes, beans, tofu, veggie patties, and soy products are always a good place to start. You’d be surprised to learn the amount of delicious meals that can fill you up just as well (if not better) than a slice of chicken breast.
How Do I Feel Now?
After three years of vegetarianism, I can truly say it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I have mastered cooking meals that I personally like and as I stated, avoiding meat feels like second nature to me. No, I never crave meat and to be honest, the sight of it sometimes makes my stomach turn. Sometimes it is difficult eating out at a restaurant that does not explicitly provide vegetarian options, but I have yet to find a place that has refused any sort of alteration I’ve requested to a menu item. I will add that I do hope to become vegan someday, but as I said, this is a journey and it is your own personal journey. Good luck!