My vegetarianism started in a more unconventional way because it wasn’t for health or environmental reasons. Rather, in my senior year of high school I was bored watching the ball drop for New Year’s of 2019 with my best friend and I mindlessly mentioned I was going to become vegetarian. Of course, we both laughed it off at first, but I decided to stick with this one New Year’s resolution because I had never done one before and thus, I started my vegetarian journey. But, much like the rest of life, it comes with many ups and downs.
I’d like to start off with the negatives because overall, I think it’s important we all understand the difficulties that come with choosing not to eat meat in a culture that often places meat at the center of most meals. I started in high school, so lunch was either pack your own or buy the school lunch. Usually, I would wake up early enough to pack my own, but on the days that I just couldn’t roll out of bed, I had to get a school lunch which was quite limited in its plant-based options. I found this to be challenging because it meant I always had to rely on my ability to pack something before school with the necessary nutritional balance that I would get from a meat-based meal.
This type of problem extended to eating out as well because of how meat-centered our American culture is when it comes to most meals. Bacon in the mornings, deli meats for lunch, chicken or beef at dinner, and many variations of classic dishes that always contained some sort of meat product. I would spend so much time looking through menus at restaurants trying to find something that looked good but didn’t have any meat. Even the salads would be contaminated with chicken or bacon bits. It was like I couldn’t escape. But even if I did get a salad, usually they were small or didn’t have the proper nutrients to keep me full for the rest of the day.
The nutritional value of plant-based meals isn’t always up to par with what we should be getting daily. I was often lacking in protein and would feel sluggish. I didn’t have anyone to help me prepare my food or tell me where I could get certain nutrients from, so I relied on the internet, which isn’t always the best source. Starting out, I found myself snacking more because I would never feel full. When you become a vegetarian, you need to be more conscious of what you’re eating and how much of it you need to meet your daily intake goals.
Straying away from the negatives, I’d also like to highlight the many positive things vegetarianism has done for my life. Although I started this journey with a less-than-admirable objective, I do feel like I’m still making an impact on the environment by limiting my animal product consumption. Even though I’m just one person, my lifestyle choice does have a positive impact on the environment like reducing the effects of climate change from animal farming, conserving animals that are being killed in overabundance, and preventing pollution in clean water from animal by-products and waste on farms. Emissions can also be reduced as there’s less from meat transportation and preservation, as well as limiting the methane produced from cows because there’s less demand. Cows are the leading producers of methane, which is a big factor in climate change. Overall, there’s this sort of positive regard that comes from your actions as a vegetarian that feels like you’re making a difference in this world for the better.
Although there is some risk of lacking nutrients from a vegetarian diet, there are still great health benefits that can outweigh those costs and there are even ways we can easily avoid it. Vegetarianism can have many key health benefits if the diet is performed properly. You can have a lower risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and overall lower body mass index (aka a lower, but healthy weight). You can also avoid developing type 2 diabetes. But, as many doctors and trained nutritionists will tell you about any diet, you need to make sure it’s done properly with the proper food intake as listed by the CDC calorie intake chart for your body weight. With great health comes other benefits like improved physical activity performance and improved skin health, especially when it comes to inflammation.
The world is opening up the vegetarian and vegan diets more and I’ve noticed an increase in restaurants becoming more flexible to these diets, which can open up an entirely new avenue for vegetarians. You don’t have to do what I did and quit cold turkey, though, because that can be a tough decision to make. Rather, you can start off slow with a vegetarian day every week and build your way into the lifestyle.