A few weeks ago, I celebrated my 13th anniversary as a vegetarian with black bean enchiladas and a vegan carrot cupcake. I felt strong, healthy and – to be honest – shocked that I had made it this far.
I grew up happily eating hamburgers, roast beef, and fried chicken. It wasn’t until high school, when I got my first job in a public library and came across a stack of books about vegetarianism, that I dared to question my diet. But the books intrigued me, and so I pushed my cart to the darkest corner of the library, sat on a stool, and began slowly turning the pages.
What I saw shocked me. Pigs hanging from the ceiling, their stomachs slashed opened. Cows with bullet holes in their heads. Chickens missing feathers and eyes because, tormented by their too-small cages and terrible living conditions, they had plucked one another to near death. I thought about the pork chops I’d had for dinner the night before and my stomach turned. In that moment, I knew I had to become a vegetarian.
As it turns out, deciding to be a vegetarian was easier than actually doing it. But through trial, error, and these three tips, I survived and even thrived, and so can you!
I went vegetarian in stages, meal by meal. First up: no meat at breakfast. This was easy, since I mostly ate cereal and milk in the morning, and wasn’t in the habit of throwing a slice of bacon on top of my Cheerios. Step two was packing peanut butter and jelly for lunch – also easy, and even delicious. By the time I was ready to tackle dinner, I had a few months of meat free meals under my belt, and I felt confident. This was key, especially since my family didn’t exactly approve of my dietary choices.
Experiment with new recipes.
For years, I lived on veggie burgers and grilled cheese. Not a bad way to get by, but not exactly the picture of health. I knew learning to cook was the next step, and so I took a deep breath and headed to the kitchen. To my surprise, I found that I enjoyed experimenting with new ingredients and spices. While I had some spectacular disasters in the kitchen – raw carrots on a pizza, for example, or accidentally using silken tofu (best for creamy dishes) in a stir fry – my skills slowly grew, along with an appreciation for fresh, unprocessed foods.
Be confident in yourself.
Even after 13 years, my family still makes fun of my vegetarianism. At Thanksgiving, my father always puts the turkey at my seat, and they’re convinced that I will get sick and die, even though I’ve run two marathons without the aid of animal flesh. I’ve learned to take their teasing in stride. If I ever start to question my choices, I think of that day in the library years ago, when I first saw the terrible photos that changed my life, and I remember that I’m not doing this for my parents, or my friends, or even for myself. I’m doing it for the animals that want to live a life free of suffering, just like the rest of us. When you put it that way, it’s easy to smile, push away the platter of turkey, and sweetly ask my parents to pass the sweet potatoes.