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.