I am consistently surprised at the reaction I receive when people discover that I am a vegetarian. To me, it is not a big deal. I simply do not eat meat. and haven’t for the past 20 years. In that time, I have witnessed vegetarianism go from fringe (I was called a sadomasochist is Italy) to mainstream (I see relevant articles and recipes weekly). But still, most folks seem shocked that I don’t eat meat.
There are three questions that usually follow my pronouncement of flesh avoidance:
1) “Oh, I could never give up meat. How do you do it?”
For me, I never liked meat. It is probably a texture issue. I remember slathering my tiny chunks of very well-cooked steak in Thousand Island just to choke them down. I know that is not the norm. I don’t ask anyone to give up meat, but I would encourage people to make it less of a focus. Try eating a vegetarian dinner once a week or making the meat the side rather than the main dish. I view vegetarianism as a continuum, with vegans (no animal products at all) on one side and bacon-loving Atkins devotees on the other. Most of us exist somewhere in the middle, with the majority of Americans leaning towards the carnivorous side. There are a myriad of benefits (health, financial, and ecological) to sliding more towards the vegetarian side. If you do not think in terms of absolutes, it is an easy shift.
2) “How do you get your protein?”
This question always makes me giggle when it is delivered in person, as I carry quite a bit on muscle on my frame. It’s not just me. Tony Gonzalez, a tight end for the NFL, proves that you can be big, strong, and fast while eating a vegan diet. I’ll be honest, I do have to put some thought into protein to make sure I get enough at each meal, but it is not difficult to obtain. My primary sources of this macronutrient are beans, nuts and seeds, tofu and tempeh, whey protein powder, Greek yogurt, and egg whites (as you can tell, I am not vegan). Even the small amounts of protein found in vegetables really add up once you start ingesting larger quantities of them. I also get asked about protein combining, as most plant foods taken alone do not contain all of the essential amino acids. Research has found, and my body seems to agree, that this is not even worth worrying about as long as the diet is varied.
3) “Is your husband/boyfriend vegetarian?”
Nope. Neither my ex-husband nor my current partner are vegetarians. It just means that I have gotten used to not looking at the plates of my dining companions and sometimes I request that the toothbrush is paid a visit before a kiss. Oh, and even though I do the grocery shopping, he has to buy his own meat.
I fully believe that what we choose to eat is a personal choice. Just as I would not want anyone to hogtie me and force me to eat a chicken wing, I am not going to push my choices on others. I do see myself in a role to help educate people about the benefits of eating a more plant-based diet and helping them overcome any barriers they perceive in shifting towards the herbaceous side of the continuum. I don’t see it as “us vs. them,” like many people on the message boards seem to. After all, I can spell “chicken,” even if I can’t cook it.
If you’re interested: a plant-based diet for beginners.