Today marks 20 years I’ve been a vegetarian, and there are five things I’ve learned from it. I was 15 when I became a vegetarian, so I couldn’t even think 20 years into the future. I started with a plan to be vegetarian for one week, and 1,040 weeks later I’m still hanging on, with no plans to ever stop.
I became a vegetarian for ethical reasons. Growing up in Iowa, I could see cows at the edge of my development from my kitchen. I was surrounded by cornfields and understood the process food takes to get to our plate, and it didn’t sit right that animals were sacrificed for us. I have always understood and respected that it’s a personal journey and decision as to what one eats, and for me that means keeping animal products off my plate.
What has been a growing and learning experience goes beyond food, shaping me into who and how I am today. These are the five things being vegetarian has taught me.
In a way this was already a trait, as it’s the reason I became vegetarian. But like I said, I was 15 at the time, so my world scope was pretty narrow. Being vegetarian and attuned to the needs and rights of animals has made me more aware of others suffering. There really is so much suffering, and I try to always look and think of others needs ahead of my own—not to be confused with at my own expense.
Do I need this extra fancy coffee or can I donate 5 or 10 more dollars to the charity I’m giving to now? I won’t enjoy that coffee as much as someone suffering. I love giving and receiving gifts that have a story behind them or the money goes to an artist or organization. I tend to think about things like this.
Being vegetarian often means being the odd one out or minority. Going to restaurants or events, you have to request something and often get creative with the menu: Can you substitute/leave off this? Does this contain this hidden ingredient? How large are the sides so I can make a meal?
Even at home, I like to replicate dishes I’ve had or seen, vegetarian or otherwise. The entire reason for this blog was built on my creativity: I wanted to show others they too can lead a minimally processed life without sacrificing time or money. I enjoy recipe creation, thinking of new ways to make classic dishes and coming up with new flavor and texture combinations.
Both in eating and life, I’ve learned to say yes more, in both food and life. I used to make sure I knew how things would turn out or what to expect, but now I jump in more. I don’t want to miss opportunities just because I don’t know the answer or outcome beforehand. This has always worked out in my favor, and related to food, I’ve gotten to try and love many foods that people who eat meat don’t seem to eat often, or go to vegetarian/vegan/raw food restaurants in neighborhoods I would otherwise not visit.
Education is always needed when a vegetarian. Staying on top of what is in foods is never-ending: Prepared foods and restaurants can change recipes at any time and it’s important to know what is in your food. Views on a healthy diet have changed a lot in the 20 years I became a vegetarian; in 1996 people thought complete proteins needed to be eaten together for the most benefit and now we know that isn’t true and fad diets have come, went and sometimes come again. Keeping up and staying educated is important.
I’m not a patient person by nature, and it’s something I’m always trying to get better at, but being a vegetarian presents many opportunities to practice my patience. Many people ask a lot of questions that, to me, seem obvious or straightforward, but I put on a smile and use it as an opportunity to explain explain my stance and beliefs, and why I stand where I do regarding animals.
It’s never been easier to be a vegetarian than it is now. It’s very common for people to not be vegetarian and eat less meat for health, there are so many resources, celebrity chefs are making meatless cool and menus in restaurants are often clearly marked as to what kind of diet can have that meal, among other things.
To learn more and get started, some good websites for more information include:
- Meatless Monday, a campaign to go meat-free on Mondays
- The Vegetarian Resource Group, including a kit to get started being a vegetarian
- PETA, the largest animal-rights organization in the world
RECIPE: Get started with this simple chickpea patty recipe, the first recipe I made as a vegetarian and still one of my favorites.