My Journey to and Beyond Vegetarianism–Part 1

I’ve been a vegetarian for about 17 years–but I’m currently experiencing an inner earthquake of thoughts on health, ethics, nutrition and more–and I need to write about it.  The next few posts are going to chronicle my thought process and dietary evolution up to the precarious, interesting point of view I’m at now.

I first went veg as a teen, along with my mother, who was becoming veg again for the third or fourth time in her life (she had a habit of not staying true to herSelf in the face of ridicule or opposition from those closest to her).  I remember wanting Long John Silver’s chicken strips, and fish sandwiches from Burger King (we ate out a LOT), and then feeling so guilty after eating them.

I had collected a bunch of propaganda buttons with animal rights messages on them:  “Go veg!”, “Animals are our friends”, “Love animals, don’t eat them”, and so on.  I had one that was black and red with big block letters proclaiming “Meat is MURDER”.  I wanted to use that button too, but I felt like a filthy hypocrite every time I’d cave and eat meat again.  I knew I’d be inviting scrutiny of my choices by going “public” with my belief in a veg diet, but I didn’t care.

Finally, the summer after I turned 14, I succeeded with staying veg.  I felt so proud of myself–like I was really making a huge difference in the world.  I even went out with flyers and distributed leaflets a few times.  I organized a library display for our town, highlighting famous vegetarians–and drawing the connections between environmental, ethical and health concerns.  The next year at school, I was made fun of for my new choice, but I didn’t waver.  I also met a few other veggie kids, which really surprised me. I even organized a protest when the school’s science wing installed a new exhibit:  a real-life, dissected, spread-eagled cat.  I had to walk past that thing to chemistry twice a week, and it bothered me deeply.  I collected signatures and got the school paper to write a piece about why we felt it was unethical, and that we wanted it gone. We succeeded in getting it removed.  I wrote a piece on vegetarianism for my school paper, and also got a letter to the editor of a national magazine published that year.  The topic?  Animal rights.  Of course I included vegetarianism as an extension of that concept.

I initially tried to go vegan, but being an already-thin person who had a very sensitive palate, that didn’t last long.  I’d restricted my diet so much that I was hungry all the time, but refused (or couldn’t deal with the textures/flavors) of many healthy vegan foods.  I made peace with being an ovo-lacto vegetarian for the time being, and enjoyed many processed meat alternative foods along with lots of fruits, veggies, pasta and rice.

By the time I was 21, I had read loads of vegan ethics and nutrition books, and I decided that it was time to get serious about my health.  My animal-rights zeal that prompted going veg was now a shared focus with health and proper nutrition.  I decided to cut out milk and cheese (which I already ate only in limited quantities), and eat more raw, whole foods.  While I still ate processed foods without thinking much of it, I felt that my diet was congruent with my ethics, and I also felt that I was eating really well.

This was the status quo for about 2-1/2 years.  What I wasn’t yet aware of is that comfort is sometimes a form of complacency–and mine was about to get disturbed profoundly.

Here’s links to Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.

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