My Path to Vegetarianism

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We all have different stories about why we became vegetarian and the difficulties we faced as we took that path. Some of the Veg Blog readers are new vegetarians, some long-time vegetarians, some vegans. And I know that some readers of the site aren’t vegetarian, but the fact that you’re here and reading this says that you’ve considered it for yourself or are at least interested. This is my story, and I invite you to submit yours (you can be vegan, vegetarian, or a meat-eater to submit).

Just like any other average American kid, I grew up on meat. Not obscene amounts of it, but “normal” amounts. I never really questioned my diet or the ethics behind it until I was in high school. My sister was a vegetarian for a number of years after seeing a movie on meat production in a sixth grade class. She stuck with it for five years and always impressed me with her commitment. There was also Rebecca, a girl I knew from online (back before the Web), who was a vegetarian for a number of years. I gave it a try a few times, but never made it more than a few meals before I had the urge to have some chicken or some meat. By the time I finished high school, it wasn’t unusual for me to have two Big Macs for dinner. This was back when I had a metabolism that could handle that sort of thing. :)

Fast forward a few years. I went through the rest of high school and college as a “normal” meat-eating American male. I knew a few vegetarians along the way and despite the fact I ate meat on a regular basis, felt some sort of distant connection. By the time I graduated college and was living on my own, my eating habits started to change ever so slightly. I started replacing hamburgers with Boca Burgers (actually preferring the taste and health benefits) and started thinking more seriously about the importance of what I was eating to my health.

In July of 2000, I decided to eat vegetarian meals for 10 days a month. Why 10 days a month? In the CaoDai religion, members are required to eat vegetarian meals for varying amount of days, depending on their rank in the church. It seemed like a good place to start, so, I began marking off days on my calendar when I was meat-free with a “V.” It was surprisingly easy, even without much research. My main lunch meal was a Subway vegetarian sandwich.

After just two months of following this 30% vegetarian diet, I took the next step. On September 8, 2000, I went to lunch with a co-worker for some pho (Vietnamese beef soup, my favorite meal). After that meal, I realized it was only the second time in the last three weeks that I had eaten meat. Somewhat anti-climactically, I said to myself, “I can do this,” and decided that from that point on, I was a vegetarian. At the beginning, I was quite uninformed about what was involved in a successful vegetarian diet (or a successful omnivorous diet, for that matter), but even so, it was a surprisingly easy transition.

Early on, I ate a lot of mock-meats. Boca Burgers, Morningstar Farm burgers, soy sausage, etc. Looking back, mock meats are the perfect transitional food for someone interested in moving from a standard American diet to a full-time vegetarian diet. I don’t rely much on mock meats too often any more since I’ve grown to love and appreciate the diversity of vegetarian cuisine, but coming from a diet that was certainly meat-centric, they were a Godsend. Going cold turkey (pardon the pun) without mock meats would have made it much more difficult for someone like me.

A month later, I posted an entry on my personal weblog about my decision. It’s interesting to look back at that entry and see what I was thinking after my first month of being vegetarian after nearly 25 years of the standard American diet. In that entry I discuss how “I’ve surprised myself” by starting like vegetables I hadn’t cared for before, like squash, zucchini, and eggplant. “Apparently, there are all these things that I might like that I never did before. It’s kind of a cool thing to realize there are a lot of other opportunities, actually more than when I was eating meat.” In the next paragraph, though, I mention that “there are a few things that I still do not like, though: peppers, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes.” Oddly, since then, I’ve grown to like each and every one of those things.

On November 30, 2000, I decided to start the Veg Blog as a separate blog on my personal site to explore vegetarian issues. I realized that there weren’t any other blogs that dealt strictly with vegetarianism, and I thought that if I shared what I learned along the way, it would help others who had recently become vegetarian or who were considering it. But the reasons were also partly selfish. I figured that if I was putting information out there for people to read, I’d be forced to try new recipes, read recent health-related articles, and inform myself about the many facets of a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle beyond just diet. It’s worked.

16 months after becoming vegetarian, I haven’t had a single “lapse” and I feel stronger about my decision than ever. It hasn’t been all sunshine, though. I am still irritated by meat-eaters that feel like I’m attacking them by my own, personal decision to be vegetarian, even though I never say a word to them. It makes me wonder: if they’re so secure in their reasons to eat meat, why are they so threated by someone who doesn’t? I’ve found that bringing up vegetarianism with someone who doesn’t want to discuss it causes nothing but problems, but if someone approaches me first, I’m happy to discuss it with them.

I’ve enjoyed talking with various people in “the movement” and learning from everyone from people just dabbling with the idea of becoming vegetarian to people that have been vegan for more than a decade. Everyone has a different take on this issue and I love learning new facts and perspectives. Who knows… maybe someday I’ll be the one writing a book.

My current diet is still not what I’d consider “optimal” (I still snack on less-than-healthy foods too frequently), but I’m very proud of how quickly I’ve picked up some cooking skills. I’m willing and able to try new recipes to the point I have to force myself to use the same recipe twice. The meals that I make are with health and taste in mind, and I find myself leaning towards vegan dishes more often then not. My dairy intake has decreased signficantly. I use soy milk in my cereal and in most dishes that call for milk. I, do, however still eat cheese occasionally, though when I have soy cheese, I look for the brands without casein. I rarely cook with eggs, though I still occasionally eat those as well. Lifestylewise, I find myself bothered by leather more and more and winced this morning when I saw a commercial for furs. I try to make changes where I can (I’ll choose non-gelatin caplet versions of pills if I have a choice), but I don’t beat myself up about everything. I feel like I’m moving towards a vegan diet, though I’m not ready to fully make the switch yet. I’ve learned that, for me, it’s a progression, and that while the change to a meat-free diet was relatively simple and quick, the change to a vegan diet and lifestyle may take a little more time and preparation.

My story doesn’t involve any “becoming vegetarian saved my life!” lines or anything dramatic, but I can say that it has changed the way I look at food and the food industry.


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Related Links

Veg Pledge
Start by shifting to a plant-based diet over a 60-day period and get materials to support your attempt. And look at a picture of Kevin Nealon. :)

Vegetarian Resource Group
The VRG has a wealth of information about going vegetarian to help you.

Vegetarian Starter Kit
A guide from the Physician’s Committe for Responsible Medicine. Includes the “3-Step Way to Go Vegetarian.”

Open Directory: Going Vegetarian
A large selection of sites to help you make the switch.

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