I'm a vegetarian. I know right?! It's terrible! Horrible! I mean... what do I even eat!?
Actually, I was a vegan for over a year. I still try to eat as few animal products as I can, but recently, I found out that I'm gluten intolerant as well. Cutting out all gluten and all animal products is unbearably high maintenance, so I still eat a little cheese here and a few eggs there.
Often, I'm asked, teased, and ridiculed about it. I am called things like "tree hugger," "hippie," "weird." (I take no offense to any of these names). While everyone I know is blathering on about how it's strange, different, and not healthy my diet is, I travel inward to a quiet place until they're finished. "What's the big deal?" I think. "It's not like I'm affecting them at all. It's my life, my body. It has absolutely nothing to do with them."
The fact that it's none of their business never passes through these people's minds.
Meat is an idol. People love it, cling to it, and defend it with all they have. A few years back, I met a man who took me and a few others to a steakhouse for lunch. It was his treat, and we could order anything. I ordered a salad (what else can I eat at a steakhouse?). He looked at me quizzically and asked, "Don't you eat meat?" (Because of course, if you choose not to eat meat for a meal, you're automatically suspect).
I replied, "No" with no attitude, no accusatory tone of voice, no anything.
"Well, what are you? Some kind of tree hugger?!"
I sat there stunned. Are you kidding me? I literally just met this man 45 minutes ago, and he's judging me because I don't eat certain foods? And he's treating me like I'm the freak? What the hell?
This is the kind of thing that vegetarians deal with. Vegans are treated even worse.
Meat is a religion. It's "American," though don't ask me how it's remotely patriotic. It's in every tradition; every holiday has its own special meat. Turkey, ham, hot dogs: anyone can tell me what holiday is connected with these meats. People practically worship their foods, especially here in the United States where obesity is such a problem. Look at how bacon is a fad right now! It's just meat, smokey and salty and delicious, but people practically worship it. Why? What is the big deal? It's dead, decaying flesh, just like every other piece of meat out there.
So, the big question. Why do I choose to not eat meat? Why do I try my best to stay away from animal products? Well, I have numerous reasons for it.
First, it's unhealthy. The only foods that contain cholesterol are animal products. This is why vegans have such low levels; they only have the cholesterol that their body makes. Most animal products also have ridiculously high fat content. Also, fiber is non-existent in animal products. Numerous kinds of meats are linked with cancer (think hot dogs and colon cancer). Tell me this: have you ever heard of anyone increasing their cancer risk by eating broccoli? Apples? Carrots? Yeah. Me either. Look at the number one killer of men and women in the US- heart disease. You know what this is caused from? High blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol (1) ... all things related to animal products. Vegetarians have a 32% lower risk of getting heart disease. (2) And I'm not even going to divulge my thoughts about hormones, antibiotics, and steroids.
Next, eating meat is killing the environment. (3) The UN came out with a study about how animal poop, methane, and feeding hurts the environment worse than all modes of transportation put together. (4) Yes, that's all planes, trains, cars, boats, and anything else you can think of. If that doesn't blow your mind, I'm not sure what will.
My third reason is world hunger. Every hunger person on earth could be fed if we grew plants for human consumption instead of animal consumption. (5) If we used the land to grow crops for people and not animals, NO ONE would go without a meal. SEVEN BILLION PEOPLE. FED. Wow.
Lastly, I don't like killing things. I can't stand knowing that I took something's life, whether it's a bug that freaks me out, a frog that I hit with my car, or a cow that I want to eat because I think it's delicious.
Einstein said, "If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals." Paul McCartney is attributed with saying,"If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarian." Whether you find the killing of animals to be moral or not, look in the face of an animal about to die. They're not stupid. They know what's going on, and they're TERRIFIED. They're stressed. They're hurt. They are supposed to be stunned to not feel pain, but many times, they're electrocuted in the wrong place and still feel the pain of being sliced open. Even if they are properly stunnedand feel nothing, they can still be conscious enough to know what's going on. (6) For me, this isn't worth it. I don't want to be the cause of anything's death, and I don't want to ingest the cortisol from these scared animals.
I am a vegetarian for every last one of these reasons, and more. Since figuring out about my gluten intolerance and eating vegetarian, my body has never felt better. If I do eat meat, which I have done occasionally in the past few years, I feel sick, heavy, and sleepy. I like to eat and feel almost immediate energy. I like knowing that my diet will lower my risk of heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. (7) And yes, I get plenty of protein. Vegetables, rice, and beans are full of protein, and soy and quinoa are complete proteins within themselves. Whenever I'm asked about protein, I think about how the average American eats twice their daily recommended amount of protein. (8)
When someone "pokes fun" at me for my diet choices, I'm expected to smile and blow it off. They're just teasing, right? Well, what if I start "teasing" them back? Maybe I could say, "No, I don't eat hamburgers, but I bet I also won't die of heart disease like you." Or perhaps, "No, I don't think this meal would taste better with meat. I don't like food soaked in blood." What about, "Yeah. Well, at least I have a much lower risk of dying from cancer than you!" It's funny, right? What? What's wrong? I'm just TEASING.
My family seems to think that this is a phase that I'm going through or that I'll grow out of it someday. I'm telling you that's not going to happen. I've been a vegetarian for almost four years, and I plan to be one until I die. When I have a family, we're all going to be vegan. What I put in my body is my issue, but when there are children depending on me, I'll start them out with the healthiest diet that I know. Will it be hard? Absolutely. But a focus on health, on knowing your body, is the core of building who you are.
For more information on cutting out animal products, I highly recommend the documentary, Forks Over Knives, and the books, Skinny Bitch and The Kind Diet.