When I first made the decision to change from an all-American, meat eating diet to a vegetarian diet, I was met with a lot of hostility and resistance. Travis, who put this thought into your head? or Since when did you start this nonsense? Another favorite was If you don’t start eating meat again, you’re going to get all skinny and weak!
I was 20 years old when I made the decision to switch to an all vegetarian diet, and looking back, it wasn’t the smoothest transition ever. I decided to forgo the gradual method and instead change from being a meat eater to a vegetarian overnight.
It certainly wasn’t easy, especially those first two weeks. Because I had decided to jump head first into vegetarianism, I wasn’t properly equipped, both in knowledge and actual food stores, to make a smooth transition. For about a year prior to my actual transition it was something I often thought about but never consciously went through on, it just seemed too unrealistic and I had my doubts about its benefits. I didn’t have any close friends who were vegetarian, and nobody around me was really that supportive of the idea. Even today, despite vegetarianism gaining popularity and becoming more and more accepted, to a lot of people it’s still outside the “norm” of things.
When I initially made the switch it seemed like I was being interrogated at every turn. At first I found this frustrating, but then as time went on I realized just how little most people knew and understood of vegetarianism. How many rumors and myths were floating around, and how many people absorbed these types of things as fact. Now if people ask me questions about vegetarianism itself or about why it’s a choice I decided to make, I explain to them as best I can its benefits and usefulness. I still notice a lot of people will try and attack it or belittle it, but I also notice more and more people opening themselves up to the idea, especially younger people. Instead of getting defensive, they see the many positive roles it can play in their life and the environment around them.
Reasons to go Vegetarian
With all that being said, my thoughts above weren’t meant to dissuade anyone from choosing a vegetarian lifestyle, rather I just wanted to be honest and open in my experiences of it. If you’re the type of person who places more value on what others think of you than what you yourself think, then you may want to re-evaluate your decision to become a vegetarian. It can be difficult in the beginning and you may notice a lot of friends and family members pressuring you to change back into a meat eating diet. However, if you want to choose a lifestyle you feel could potentially help your health, help the environment, and make you feel better about your impact on the world and animals around you, then continue reading.
Why choose a vegetarian diet? For one, it offers a lot of advantages over a typical meat eating diet, although it can also be a lot more challenging too. In the United States especially, most meals are planned around meat, and so if you’re not sure what to make, fixing and planning your meal can be an especially difficult task. Think about how most meals are setup today, Steak with potatoes, Hamburger and fries, Chicken breast with corn and coleslaw. The meat is the center piece of the meal, and so when you take that out, it gives the illusion of having a big open spot left on your plate. This was especially hard for me because I really didn’t know what to eat. Not only that, but I wasn’t making the healthiest of choices either. I was in college at the time and I didn’t have a huge income to be spending on food, so I had to rely on what was already in the house. Of course, because nobody else in my family was vegetarian, it was hard to make my meals nutritious, since most of the food we had was centered around the meat.
The truth is, once I became vegetarian, I wasn’t cutting back on what I was eating; I was actually expanding it in a lot of ways. I opened myself up to new types of foods I would have never dared try before. About a week after I became vegetarian, I went out and bought a few books on the subject, which talked about how to plan meals, proper nutrition, and how to survive amongst carnivores. If I were to do it all over again, I definitely would’ve bought something before jumping head first into it. While I still think the overnight route is the best way to go, make sure you’re properly prepared before you make the transition; otherwise you may be in for a rough ride.
Once you get more accustomed to making vegetarian meals, this process gets a lot easier. I found that once I was able to make properly balanced meals that I had a lot more energy than I previously had before with a meat eating diet. I felt lighter on my feet and more refreshed when I woke up in the morning, I also got hungry less and spent more time being active. To some people this sounds “too good to be true,” but in reality it makes a lot of sense. Instead of eating high fat foods, I was eating more nutritional foods, and after meals I felt like I had just received a boost of energy instead of feeling sluggish. I’m sure we can all relate to getting excited about a particular meal and then afterwards wishing we had never eaten it. We feel so full and bloated that we spend the next few hours just lounging around. That isn’t to say that being a vegetarian represents some kind of miracle diet, as it requires more hard work and planning than a typical American meat based diet does, but you’ll feel a lot more energized throughout the day. I could live off potato chips, twinkies, and soda, and still be considered a “vegetarian.” A lot of vegetarians actually gain weight and become unhealthier than they were when eating a meat diet. Why? Because they don’t know what to make or what to plan, so their diet becomes unbalanced and they either end up eating too much junk food, or they simply don’t eat enough to begin with. The first two weeks I was a vegetarian, I made the mistake of not eating enough. I was hungry, don’t get me wrong, but I just didn’t know what to make, so a lot of meals were pretty scarce and I grew hungry a lot of times.
Now however, I’m able to make a ton of delicious meals using variety as my biggest ally. Once you get over that initial transition phase, being a vegetarian opens up a whole slew of doors for you. You can experiment with different food groups and cook with ethnic foods you had never previously tried. Instead of rotating around beef, chicken, and pork, you can use almost anything as your meal centerpiece. Not to mention there are a plethora of vegetarian cookbooks out there, a lot of them even designed for fast, cheap, and easy meals you can make on the go. Just remember setting up a meal is only as hard as you make it to be, and that when you make the choice to switch your diet over to a vegetarian one, if you’ve done all your research and gotten some good books on the subject, you should have no trouble at all finding meal ideas.
The Effects of Vegetarianism
A vegetarian diet drastically helps to improve three main areas: your health, the environment, and the well-being of animals.
Sadly, to a lot of people the environment isn’t something they consciously make themselves aware of. They just view it as something that’s simply “there,” something that always has been and always will be. Whatever your view of the environment, maintaining a vegetarian diet is definitely one of the strongest ways you can go about preserving it. That isn’t merely my opinion, but fact. Think about how much meat is consumed, and the billions of animals slaughtered each year to keep up with this demand. Those animals have to eat something, and that something results in the grazing of millions and millions of acres of land each year. Want an example? Here’s something to think about:
One acre of prime land can produce…
– 30,000 pounds of apples
– 40,000 pounds of potatoes
– 50,000 pounds of tomatoes
– 250 pounds of beef
Seems like kind of a waste doesn’t it? In fact, in the United States alone, we destroy so much land in the process of feeding these animals so we can eat their meat, that if Americans were to cut back on meat by just 10%, they could produce enough food to feed 100,000,000 people. Quite a lot! (Something I learned from attending a vegetarian convention in Washington D.C.)
Another big reason to look into vegetarianism is the ethical reasons involved. I can bet you most meat eaters have never visited a slaughterhouse; if they had, chances are they wouldn’t be eating meat. Seeing dead animals was never anything intense to me, besides, members of my family loved to go hunting, so seeing the meat cut out of a deer was never something that particularly scarred me. That isn’t to say I found the sight pleasant, but it wasn’t enough to disturb me either. What did disturb me however, was seeing the inside of a slaughterhouse. It’s funny because so many people still think of animals as being raised on farms, with pigs hanging out in the mud, chickens clucking around in a field, and cows grazing out in the open. If you truly think this is how animals are raised than I suggest you get with the program and keep up to speed.
Most animals live in cages their whole life, are pumped full of growth hormones, and slaughtered in some of the most inhumane methods known. This really shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially when you think about just how much meat is consumed. Animals are literally send down a conveyer belt to get slaughtered one right after another. The average slaughterhouse kills hundreds of thousands of animals a week, if not millions.
Chickens are generally kept in cages for so long that their claws begin to wrap around the metal bars. Some chickens are put under forced conditions in which they’re made to lay eggs, while others are sent off to die. The ones designated to die have their throat slit, are sent down a conveyer belt, dipped in scalding water (to remove the feathers) and then butchered. One issue with this method is that a lot of chickens don’t bleed to death by the time they reach the scalding water, and they’re literally burned to death by this water. Even if they are killed, lying on a conveyer belt bleeding to death with my throat slit isn’t exactly my idea of fun. I find it humorous when people try and tell me that these methods aren’t inhumane, and that the chickens “don’t feel any pain at all.” If you’re truly ignorant enough to believe that, take 5 minutes right now and google “chicken slaughterhouse” and see what comes up. Warning: you may be disturbed by what you find.
As bad as chickens are, I think cows have it even worse. Adult cows are kept in pens and fed intense amounts of growth hormones and food, this way they plump up and are able to produce more meat. Baby cows, otherwise known as veal, are kept in pens where all light and sound is shut out. What’s especially disturbing about cows is that they’re kept in their pens until they’re so heavy their legs break, at which time they’re designated “ready” to be slaughtered. When this time comes, they’re placed on a conveyer belt one right after the other with their head locked into a steel mechanism. When they get to the end of the conveyer belt, they’re tied and hung upside down. A steel rod is then driven through their head, sometimes killing them, sometimes not. Regardless, the cow is left hanging upside down with its broken legs to let all the blood drain out. Any cows still alive are eventually killed due to loss of blood. The problem with this method however, is that because cow skulls are so thick, often times the rod doesn’t penetrate enough to kill the cow, or it gets reflected and takes off part of the cow’s brain or face. Cows are also a lot bigger and bloodier, not to mention they become so terrified, that any opportunity that presents itself for escape they’ll take. Can you blame them?
Pigs are butchered in a very similar manner to cows, except after having a steel bolt forced through their head, they’re stuck with a metal hook and hung upside down to drain all the blood. Where as cows are usually hung up by rope because of their weight, pigs are just stuck with a metal hook. The problem with this is that just like cows often don’t die when being struck with the metal rod, pigs too often live through this procedure. Usually having massive head trauma and bleeding from their ears and mouth. The “dead” pig is then lifted into the air via a metal hook stuck into its stomach, where it’s sent down to be cut up. Because pigs squeal and wiggle around so much, a lot of times the pig, still alive after having a bolt put through its head, will get stuck by this metal hook but end up falling off. If that doesn’t happen, usually it’ll end up moving around so much that the hook gets stuck deeper inside of the pig, or that it makes an enormous tear in the pigs stomach, causing all of its intestines and other insides to fall out while its being hung from the ceiling.
When I was first exposed to how barbaric these slaughterhouses were, it was hard for me to just pretend it didn’t exist and continue eating meat. You’d be surprised at just how many people are able to simply block something out of their mind when they don’t like it. I realized that this was no longer a process I wanted to be a part of just for the sake satiating my taste buds. Don’t think for a second that just because you don’t work in a slaughterhouse that you’re not a contributor, everyone who eats meat is a contributor to these types of places. Even if I wanted to sugarcoat that fact and try and hide the reality of things, I simply can’t. There just isn’t any other way to put it; if you consume meat then you’re directly responsible for what goes on inside of these slaughterhouses.
And why else should someone choose a vegetarian lifestyle? How about because it makes you feel great in the morning, refreshed after meals, and energetic throughout the day? If setup and planned properly, you can easily get more than the required amounts of nutrients (and yes, protein too) while keeping yourself fit. Not to mention a vegetarian diet contains very little to no cholesterol at all, as cholesterol is only found within animal products, mostly meats. Even if you consume dairy products, aside from eggs, they only contain minute amounts of cholesterol compared to meat. The biggest benefit for me though is that I just feel refreshed and ready to go each morning, and as much as I wish I could explain it in better detail than that, there’s really no way how. The thing is, until you’ve been there, you’ll go each day thinking you have a steady diet, and that you truly know what being energetic means, however once I was about a month deep into being a vegetarian, having worked out all the kinks and gotten used to easily planning my meals, I had so much energy I didn’t know what to do with myself. When I had a poorer diet, feeling a bit sleepy or sluggish after meals was something I was accustomed to, just as most people are, and I thought that this was simply because my body was using up energy to break down the foods I was eating. This is true, my body WAS using energy to break down these foods, but it was more so with what I was actually eating. Foods high in calories, fat, and sodium left me feeling weak and exhausted instead of refreshed and energized.
While it depends on how well you can personally transition to vegetarianism, once you’ve gotten the hang of things and become accustomed to making vegetarian meals, you’ll begin noticing the energy boost right away. I don’t rely on any multi-vitamins or supplements for my diet, everything is completely natural. When I eat a meal that’s high in vitamins and nutrients, while low in sodium, calories, and fat, then of course I’m going to feel great. This isn’t rocket science or some kind of magical diet; it’s just the facts of life. If you eat well and treat yourself well, then you’re going to feel well too. Of course, I could dedicate an entire web page to vegetarianism and write twelve books on the subject if I wanted to, but my main goal here is to just open people’s eyes to the idea and mindset of what vegetarianism is. Realize the role you play in the environment and in not supporting slaughterhouses, as well as the role you play in keeping your body healthy and nutritious.
For those of you seriously considering the transition from a traditional meat based diet to a vegetarian diet, I recommend setting up a one week timeframe to do so. Go out to the library or bookstore and check out a few books on the subject, both in meal planning as well as how a vegetarian diet works. During this time frame, come up with some meal ideas and develop a basic understanding of what types of food groups give you what types of nutrients. Once you’ve come up with some meal ideas, go out and purchase the foods required to make these, and make sure you have enough variety so that you can experiment a bit, not becoming overly reliant on eating the same few things. Also keep in mind that a lot of people have a tendency to focus on dairy products when converting to a vegetarian diet, but try and keep dairy down to a minimum if you can. Focus instead of finding a way to incorporate at least one vegetable or fruit into each meal, as well becoming familiar with different food groups you usually don’t eat. Two big ones are pastas and soy, you can do a lot with pasta, and if you’re eating whole grain then it can work out to be a pretty nutritious meal in almost any setting. Soy is also very easy to work with, whether you’re buying fake meats or simply combining soybeans into your meal, soy is easy to cook and I usually find it tastes great.
When the day comes to transition out of your meat eating diet to your new vegetarian one, it should go smoothly, as you should be well stocked with food to make as well as possessing a basic understanding of what to eat and what not to eat. Besides, a vegetarian diet is one of the most exciting things you can do, and you get to plan meals that are outside the box. Experiment a bit; see what you like, have fun with it, and realize the positive effects you’re leaving on yourself and the Earth around you.