Deciding to become a vegetarian 25 years ago was an impulse decision that I have never regretted making. I didn’t like the way eating meat made me feel, nor did I like the slaughtering of animals. And so one day, while separating the raw chicken breasts in a value pack into smaller portions, I stopped and thought about what I was holding in my hands and asked myself if this, if eating meat, was really something I felt good about. My wife didn’t need any convincing and just like that, we became vegetarians. We’ve never looked back, and year by year, as the research on the benefits of living a vegetarian lifestyle increase, I feel proud of the choice that we made.
In my day to day life, I like the fact that I’m reducing my risk for heart disease and cancer, I’m avoiding ingesting toxic chemicals, I’m strengthening my bones, I have greater energy, I may live longer, and I’m saving money. And beyond myself, I like that I’m reducing global warming, I’m not expending additional health care costs for our country, I’m reducing both pollution and famine, and I’m having compassion for animals. Those are all compelling reasons for me to not only continue vegetarianism but also encourage others in my life to make the switch to protein-rich alternatives to meat. There are so many easily available in our local grocery stores, such as tofu, edamame, lentils, spinach, sweet potatoes, nuts, seeds, oatmeal, and the list goes on and on. Additionally, there are hundreds of thousands of resources available to help you learn how to do it simply, economically, and immediately.
There are many types of vegetarian diets and to be honest, I don’t really know what type we are since we don’t eat meat and poultry and we do eat dairy, eggs, and fish. Could we be flexitarians, maybe semi-vegetarians, or better yet lacto-ovo-pescatarian vegetarians?! Whatever our distinction is, it works for us.
When it came to raising our two children, we decided to see how our vegetarian diet would work for them. We consulted their pediatrician and due to the broad range of protein, calcium, and iron-rich foods in our diet, it was supported fully. It was very easy in the beginning and became harder as they were exposed to meat outside the home. As they got older, they were given the freedom to include or exclude animal-based products in their diets. For our daughter, she took easily to our style of eating and didn’t enjoy eating meat as much as plant-based alternatives; she even chose to exclude fish from her diet when she got a little older. For our son, he loved meat from the beginning and did not take to any of the alternatives that we plated for him. Denying him meat at home turned out to not be a good idea as we saw how he’d eat any and all meat whenever we were at someone else’s house. As they both get older, we see their interest and openness to trying new foods increase greatly.
When Julia was in the throes of an eating disorder, we were able to confidently feed her at home what she needed to get better. She had sadly moved away from so much of the good nutrition we had to offer, but in time, we reintroduced to her and helped her return to enjoying foods with fat and oils, nuts and butters, salts, and sugars. It was a process that took years of slow and steady acceptance of herself and the food she needed for health and wellness. For the most part, she can eat freely now. Through creating Nourish, she has added to her meal choices so many recipes that she didn’t realize she used to enjoy, such as bowtie pasta primavera, stir-fry rice, sesame peanut noodles, and more.
While overcoming and recovering from the eating disorder at home worked better for Julia, it was difficult for her when she had to be away from home. Most settings geared towards helping youth with eating disorders reject their clients having vegetarian diets. Too often, kids turn to vegetarian diets as a way to promote their eating disorder. It took a lot of convincing and helping nutritionists in treatment centers and programs to understand that Julia had been vegetarian well before she had anorexia and with the right foods, she could get all that she needed nutritionally. It was far from ideal, but we all got through it. College away from home too was a very difficult eating experience for someone in recovery. A person with eating challenges typically needs a relaxed environment to eat in, supportive people to eat with, and food choices that are easily available and fit their nutritional needs. That does not describe a dining hall at a city college. Even though there were some vegetarian options offered in the dining hall, the ability to put it together while surrounded by many others wasn’t possible for Julia.
There is an extra challenge for vegetarians when they eat away from home since they aren’t in control of how their food is being prepared. A little preparation can help, such as letting your hosts know you’re vegetarian, checking out the menu on-line, and selecting vegetarian-friendly restaurants. Back to why I became a vegetarian, it was for my health and for the animals. It takes effort and vigilance, and it’s worth it. For all of you out there reading this, today is another day to do what’s best for both yourself and the world you live in.