My aunt once called me meatless...she had been a vegetarian for years and declared that my dietary choice simply made me meatless and not a vegetarian. I'm pretty sure I was indignant about her statement and got defensive, but have since conceded that ah, she was probably right!
I've been "vegetarian" most of my life. When my mother became vegetarian, I decided around age 5 that I too, wanted this lifestyle. I remember inquiring about a meal, and stopped eating it once I learned it wasn't vegetarian. She informed the rest of the household (my grandmother); that evening she came home to find me chewing on fried pork courtesy of my grandmother. Yeah that message wasn't received!
Many studies/reports like this one and this one and for good measure this one assert that vegetarians live longer, have better health outcomes, and are possibly happier. A recent study from Austria rocked this a bit, suggesting that the opposite was true of the Austrian vegetarians studied: those vegetarians are in fact "less healthy" than their meat enjoying counterparts. The vegetarians had elevated risks of cancer, allergies and mental problems (depression, anxiety, etc) and were more likely to avoid preventative check ups and vaccines. From a public health standpoint, this is a very confusing message and there are so many confounding factors that could contribute to these findings. From a real life vegetarian experience, this study probably rings true.
There's a myth that vegetarians are automatically healthier and will probably outlive meat-eaters. This has the potential to be true, however being a vegetarian in a meat-filled world means compromise and lots of carbohydrates.
As a child, I did not like any cooked vegetables...at all. I preferred my veggies raw or nonexistent.
When I signed onto becoming a vegetarian, this didn't change. But it was fine growing up in the kitchen of a vegetarian caterer - my mom incorporated veggies as I would tolerate them. Outside of her kitchen however, things were slightly different. My best friend in 2nd grade shared a meal of corned beef and rice every lunch period, for the whole year. She knew I was vegetarian; I didn't know I was eating corned beef. For her birthday, she brought cake which she assured me was vegetarian...yeah ok. We laugh about it today. I didn't spend much time in other people's homes because what would they feed me? And the few times I did, I had to pack an extra bag of food...really, what child wants to do that. In a land of meat and more meat, I was firmly the odd one out.
I thought, as most of us assumed, that the U.S would provide me with more vegetarian options. I soon learned what those options were. My lunch at school consisted of french fries, cheese pizza and soda. I don't remember very many other choices, but I was also very drawn to foods that I had only experienced in books! When I started packing lunch, it was granola bars, bread, crackers, chips and maybe a fruit. Oh bread, a vegetarian's staple! Then off to college, the land of unlimited trips to the cereal bar, ice cream bar, pizza bar, taco bar, all the french fries you can eat, potato with anything you want on it, and yeah the salad bar, but who goes there? In the dorms I became champion of cooking pasta in the microwave. When I would go out with friends, it was always a challenge and we often ended up at the one Chinese restaurant that had tofu which I often ate with....very white rice.
The reality of being a vegetarian is that we are often faced with choices that might lack meat, but do not contain vegetables. And though health-conscious, we often have such limited choices that we end up carbohydrated out! We are often told to just "eat around the meat", or "have a salad". I remember going out for breakfast, and the only option I had was an "vegetarian" omelet without the eggs...which left me with....onions and tomatoes!
When done properly, being a vegetarian ushers you into a world of healthy, tasty choices that doesn't weigh you down and keeps your organs functioning at their best, which I will discuss in the next post. However, in a world filled with meat and more meat, sticking to a strict vegetarian diet requires some creativity and eating at home before heading out with friends!
So have you tried being a vegetarian? Was it challenging? Did you change much in your diet other than dropping the meat? I would love to hear from you.