Disclaimer: Please note that this post is only meant to share with you my personal opinion and experiences with vegetarianism. I’m in no way condoning or judging anyone who has a different opinion or lifestyle than I.
Disclaimer Part 2: This post is kind of long, but worth the read.
April 23rd is my husband’s birthday. Last year instead of giving him a tie, some fancy electronic gadget, a new golf club, or even a card (okay, I might have given him a card) I gave Aaron the news that I was going to become vegetarian. Not the greatest news to this meat-loving man. And I didn’t purposefully give him the news on his birthday; it coincidentally bombed itself down like a giant water balloon falling from a ten story building. I had been grappling with the idea for a long time. Growing up I always felt I could be a vegetarian. I’ve never really liked meat and in the back of my head I always felt really bad about it. I ate meat because that was the only thing I knew. Even when I was a kid I would bring up my reservations about eating animals and my parents would always justify it by the same thing I hear from everyone else, “Animals are here to be our food.”
One of the reasons I was hesitant to make the change for so long was because I was worried that it would be an inconvenience for everyone around me. If someone were to reach out to us and invite us over for dinner I didn’t want anyone to feel like they had to cater to my dietary demands or feel like they were walking on eggshells around me. I didn’t want to put anyone out. I was so nervous when I told our families that I was no longer eating meat because I didn’t want anyone to think that this was just another fad or whim of mine. I felt like they would take bets to see how long it would take before I couldn’t take it anymore and would come crawling back to Outback Steakhouse like the prodigal son. Thankfully, there was no judgment. And shame on me for expecting it. I was met with curiosity and support and have been treated the same ever since.
After wrestling with the inconvenience reservations I decided that the issue was bothering me enough that I had to do something. I had voiced my concern to Aaron and he was willing to compromise (bless his heart) and buy only organic, farm-raised meat but the quality of the animals’ lives was not the only issue for me. I had to give it up. Completely. I had come to the place where I couldn’t separate a living animal between what was on my plate. I was carrying around a tremendous amount of guilt and I had to make the decision.
I had spend months reading and researching. However, on that joyous day of my husband’s birth I found a little documentary called Meet Your Meat. I’m not even going to go into what it’s all about because you can watch it for yourself, but after watching that, I was done. No more meat for this girl. Aaron came home from work after I had cried my eyes red and innocently asked, “What are we doing for dinner?” “I don’t know but nothing with meat for me because I’m never eating meat again.” I could have said, “I want a divorce” and would have gotten the same reaction. As a matter of fact, I was afraid he might would want that D-I-V-O-R-C-E after dropping that bomb (*that’s a joke, folks. See disclaimer 3 at very bottom). It was such a source of tension for a while. It felt like I was changing my religious beliefs; Here we are believing the same Christian principles and I want to run off and become a Buddhist? How does that even work?! At times I thought it wouldn’t but we worked through it together as a team. God bless Aaron because even though he was frustrated and confused, he supported me.
Another reason I’ve had a life-long reservation about eating meat was when I was three I came down with e.coli poisoning from eating contaminated meat that was later under recall. The e.coli quickly turned into hemolytic uremic syndrome and within a month I was on my death bed and given no hope. The only hope that my parents were given was that if I were to make it through this illness, I would live the rest of my life as a vegetable. If you try and convince me that miracles are bogus you’re falling on deaf ears, bro. I was seriously, miraculously healed within one night and I’ve never had any complications arise from what happened to me when I was three. I have about five lovely surgery scars on my body that remind me every day that miracles happen.
I don’t tell that story to try and scare anyone away from meat. I’m not one to convince by fear. It’s just an experience that has lived with me my entire life and has played a part in my decision.
I’m asked a lot if not eating meat is hard. It was at first. Once it became official I started remembering all the places and meals that I loved that contained meat. The reality hit me. I was giving up a KFC mashed potato bowl, for goodness sakes! I could have eaten that every day of my life! But I quickly found alternatives at restaurants. Once I figured out how to eat out, it became easier. And there’s veggie alternatives at almost every place. I’ve also learned not to be shy when I order. Aaron and I have learned to make jokes out of the crazy ones. His least favorite is Panera. We’ll say, “I’m warning you that this is a nutty order. I’ll have a bacon turkey bravo, no bacon, no turkey, extra tomatoes, extra bravo.” It always gets a chuckle if you laugh at yourself first. And everyone around me can tell you what the “Hannah Burrito” is all about. It’s not on the menu but I know it’s possible and a cinch to make.
My eating has turned into a team effort. People think of me when they are out eating and let me know things I could try. Friends and family have been happy to make veggie alternatives to dishes. My mother-in-law’s green bean casserole and baked beans were two things I was most sad to see go. But she surprised me and made me a smaller portion without any meat products. My parents grill veggie chicken along with their fajita meat so I can enjoy the same meal. A friend who was bringing lunch for a scrapbooking event made me a personal veggie lasagna. My girls night girls were willing to compromise and use no-chicken broth for the pot of taco soup we made for one event then spooned me a portion before adding meat. Everyone has been so very sweet and thoughtful. Being a vegetarian is so much easier now than when I first started. It’s like second nature. Do I miss it? Sure, at times. But to me, it’s not worth it to cave. I can appreciate the smell of a good steak and I’m not ashamed to say that Aaron’s burger looks good. I’ll be honest and say I miss fish the most and having a salmon filet is the most tempting. Fish are lowest on my totem pole of sympathy but when I said no meat, that meant all meat because yes, fish have feelings too.
Okay, I couldn’t say that without smirking.
I’ve been met with criticism too, which I find very surprising. Want to know why I put a disclaimer at the top of this post? Because people interpret my reasons for not eating meat and my experiences as preaching. When someone asks why I don’t eat meat, I tell them, then they begin debating with me, I’m flabbergasted because in no way was I trying to change someone’s meat-eating ways. If someone asks, I’m willing to tell. Otherwise, I’m keeping my mouth shut. But if one does ask I’m happy to share why I’ve made this choice because it’s something that’s close to my heart. I don’t make it a confrontational subject with others convincing them that my ways are right so I don’t understand why the idea of being vegetarian is met with such animosity from certain individuals. I love animals, therefore I don’t eat them. That’s that.
The situation that frustrates me is when someone says tounge-in-cheek-like when I show any sort of frustration about anything in life, “You wouldn’t be so frustrated if you’d just have a steak.” For future reference, that zing is not funny. It’s not really a joke. If you’re going to zing someone make sure that the joke is good. If it’s not, you just look like an ass. And no, having a steak does not solve the world’s problems. I’ve only had a few instances with this so a nasty attitude is in the minority.
With all that said, giving up meat has been one of the best things I have ever done. Sure, I have waves where I’m not eating as healthy as I should because it’s easier to ask “chips and pasta and fries are vegetarian, right?” than to cook for every meal. In general I feel I’m eating healthier than I ever have in the past. I’ve tried food I grew to love that I never would have tried had meat been an option. Not only do I feel good about the health effects, but I’m also proud of myself for keeping this going for a year. I stuck to something. I’m going to continue to do so. I’m pretty proud of myself for that.
Now, with all that talk about not trying to convince anyone to stop eating meat I do have a few points I’d like to make. I talk a lot about how my reasons for not eating meat is for animal cruelty reasons but an equally important issue at hand is the role that the factory farm and meat packing industries plays on the deterioration of the environment.
According to both the UN Report on Climate Change and Global Warming and an independent study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, animal agriculture – even on small farms – contributes more to global warming than does automobile use (4). In the 2000 National Water Quality Inventory conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), agricultural activity was identified as a source of pollution for 48% of stream and river water, and for 41% of lake water (1). The USDA estimates that more than 335 million tons of manure are produced annually on U.S. farms, factory farms being the worst since they hold a higher number of animals in such a confined space. The manure is stored for long periods of time in giant tanks or lagoons, the creation and disposal of such enormous quantities of waste has a devastating effect on the air, water and soil surrounding factory farms (2).
While manure is the largest contributor to air pollution from factory farms, industrial animal feed also plays a role. In 2004, the EPA estimated that 20 percent of all man-made methane production resulted from livestock digestion, primarily cows,which on factory farms are kept alive with low-quality grain-based feed that their bodies were not designed to digest (2). The natural order is for cows to feed off the land then produce waste which comes back around and fertilizes the grass the cows were eating in the first place. Industrial farms disregard that need for balance. Whereas on a sustainable farm animal waste can be a tool, in factory-farm amounts it becomes a major pollutant. (3)
I’m not asking you to give up meat. “What are you asking me then?” I’m asking you to take a few small steps to help out our environment and give mother nature a high-five.
What are those steps? If you’re motivated in helping protecting the environment there are a few ways you can help sustain this ‘ol planet we live on (5):
1. Try and go meatless 1-2 days a week.
2. Buy organic or sustainable food with little or no pesticides.
3. Support family farms by visiting your local farmer’s market.
4. Read labels. Know where your food comes from.
Even if you don’t feel the same way I feel about animals, we all owe it to our environment to try and be a little more kind. These are just a few ways to do that.
My favorite veggie meal at my favorite veggie place – spanakopita and yalandji dolmas at Niko Niko’s.
*Disclaimer Part 3: Aaron (and I) wanted me to clarify that even though I made a joke about divorce, we don’t take the subject of divorce lightly. It’s not in our books as an option ever and he wanted me to let you know that he would never divorce me no matter what. Ditto for me. No divorcing from these hooligans. Period.