I remember the day, ten years ago, when I told my grandmother I was going vegetarian. I made the decision in mid-November but I didn’t have the heart to break the news to her until after Thanksgiving. I was gnawing down some bits of turkey when I announced to her that it would be my last day eating meat. She returned with a reaction of shock and horror—I may as well have told her I was moving to the east coast (I didn’t do that for another 5 years).
Then came the question: “Why?”
Since I was a teenager, I have been obsessed with food. While friends read Harry Potter, I read Anthony Bourdian and Fast Food Nation. So I thought I would be well prepared with some quick yet thoughtful explanation. While I don’t remember exactly what I said to her, I do remember the feeling of botching it.
Since then, I’ve been asked the same question countless times from family, friends, strangers, and just about anyone I happen to share a meal with. I should be honed in on a captivating elevator pitch preaching the good word of vegetarianism. But instead, I botch it.
So when Spyce asked me to take a break from building software and write about why I’m vegetarian, I immediately thought, “Finally! This is my chance to not botch it!” Everybody loves a comeback story.
What is Vegetarianism?
It astounds people to learn that vegetarianism is not a blood pact. I didn’t join a church or sign a contract, nor was I given a specific rule book to follow. Generally, vegetarians don’t eat lots of animal flesh and generally, I follow that methodology.
Have I had a bite of bacon in the last year? I think so, though I don’t make a habit of documenting each roguish event. When I’m a guest at someone’s dinner table or when I’m simply out of other decent options, I’m more than happy to eat what is in front of me instead of creating a scene.
However, when I’m around non-vegetarians who know I’m vegetarian I have to be really careful about what I consume. Everybody suddenly becomes a gotcha-journalist, excited to break a headline story if they see meat come even close to my mouth.
I’m still not sure why this is. Maybe they want to protect me. Maybe they think that if I have the smallest taste of meat I’ll quickly spiral out of control into a meat-eating frenzy and before I know it, I’ll be on the streets trading tricks for ham hot-pockets.
But I don’t view my diet that way. Instead of a lifestyle shift, I simply think of vegetarianism as a choice I make each time I eat. When I have lunch today, I’ll quickly weigh the pros and cons about what’s going on my plate and decide if it’s going to include meat products. (Spoiler alert: It will be The Umami Q with ramen noodles and roasted tofu)
7 Reasons I am a Vegetarian
1. Climate Change
Working together to reduce the world’s greenhouse gas emissions from 51 billion tons to 0 will be our generation’s biggest challenge. 19% of that 51 billion tons comes from how we grow the things we eat and animal-based foods have a larger carbon footprint than plant-based foods.
Humanity’s ecological footprint is 20% larger than the planet can sustain. In other words, it takes one year and two months for the earth to regenerate the resources used by humans in a single year. And livestock activities are a huge contributor to that ecological footprint both directly (pasture and cropping) and indirectly (CO2 emissions and fisheries)
3. Growing Population
As the human population continues to grow, and as more of the developing world grows out of poverty, it will be more important for us to grow food more efficiently than we are today. In the United States alone, plant-based replacements for animal foods can produce 2 to 20 times more nutritionally similar food per unit cropland. Replacing all animal-based items in the US with plant-based alternatives can add enough food to feed 350 million additional people.
COVID-19 likely came from an animal origin, specifically from a wild-animal market. In late 2020, a scary COVID variant emerged in Denmark from a mink farm, and in addition, bird flu can travel miles from their chicken host. This is all to say, raising animals is equivalent to having giant, uncontrollable Petri dishes of diseases ready to jump to humans and cause suffering.
If I had to personally shoot the next animal that I wanted to consume or eat a veggie burger, I would choose the veggie burger.
The idea that animal-protein is required for healthy bodies came from marketers, not scientists, and it’s just not true. Everyday, many of the world’s best athletes are proving that their plant-based diets give them an advantage. Moreso, people that eat meat show increased levels of cholesterol and have a higher risk of cancer.
I know that my diet alone won’t make much of an impact on climate change, the environment, or reduce the spread of new diseases. What I do know is that by being vegetarian I have spawn conversations and thoughts of my friends and family to eat less meat. Some have even taken up vegetarianism themselves. Assuming this causes a chain reaction, my diet as a form of passive advocacy will make the biggest positive impact overall.
3 Vegetarian Challenges
I don’t deny that bacon fat melts in my mouth in a special kind of way.
It surprised me that the biggest challenge of not eating meat is the culture. Every American holiday converges around a tradition of eating some kind of meat and it never fails to be a whole debacle to figure out how I can fit in.
3. Avoiding Grandma’s Disappointment
She’s slowly coming around to the idea that her grandson won’t eat chicken wings but if you ask her she’ll say it’s just a phase.
Vegetarian Tips and Tricks
Resistance is Fruit-ile
OK, that’s a lot—so maybe I don’t weigh every reason each time I eat a meal. But when I first changed my diet ten years ago, I did! Probably because back then, each meal took more energy for me to stay committed to my new diet.
Change is hard, especially when that change means not being able to order a cheeseburger at a drive-through. So when I first became a vegetarian, I ate horribly. Most of what I knew how to cook or what to order centered around an animal protein. It wasn’t until months in that I realized I have been surviving off of waffles and peanut butter.
If at that time, I had a menu as friendly as Spyce’s available to me, the transition would have been much easier. Not only would I have had a vastly healthier diet but I would have learned how to adapt different styles of cuisines to my diet without sacrificing flavor.
Zest It Up
Looking to make the jump painless? I recommend learning some easy go-to recipes. While I enjoy trying ambitious recipes, I also find it exhausting. It takes a lot of my energy to buy and learn everything to create a brand new meal—far more energy than I have when I’m just hungry. But it’s those moments when I’m hungry and feeling low-energy when I wish I had more fallbacks to mindlessly follow.
One recipe I wish I picked up sooner is cold ramen. Now I measure the quality of my life by how much soy vinaigrette I have left in my fridge, waiting to zhuzh up a batch of cold noodles with some veggies and eggs.
And never, ever underestimate the power of tacos. After buying all the ingredients for some exciting recipe, I always find myself left with a kitchen full of estranged foods racing to spoil. But I win that race by fitting those ingredients into a corn tortilla and chowing down while standing in front of my sink. To be honest, I often enjoy those tacos more than the meal I set out to make in the first place.
Food for Thought
Reflecting back on the last ten years, I’m happy that I switched to a vegetarian diet. It helps make me feel more thoughtful about other everyday decisions in my life, and it makes me sleep better at night. I mean that literally—I don’t long for the days of painfully crawling into bed after eating late-night chalupa supremes.
One regret? Maybe I should have lied to my grandma. I could accept her offerings of turkey with a smile, sneakily feed it to the dog under the table, and we both would be sleeping better at night.