Why I Became a Vegetarian

Helloooo and happy Friday, y’all.

(I’m not Southern, but when I teach Latin and Greek, I use “y’all” to distinguish from “you” singular…so now it slips into my everyday life and usage, naturally.)

A mini-roundup for you on this frigid morning in January, then on to a bit of storytime to take you into the weekend…

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Couldn’t care less that my hair smelled like onions and peppers for hours after sauteeing this.

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Doused in some organic TJ’s apple cider vinegar to mix it up from my usual olive oil routine.

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This week was so busy that I couldn’t make granola bars 😦 hopefully on Sunday, because it sure ain’t happenin’ before then. Larabars to the rescue!

I doused this in rosemary olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The salad bar also had some raw curried veggies, so naturally, I threw them into the mix.

I doused this in rosemary olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The salad bar also had some raw curried veggies, so naturally, I threw them into the mix.

It feels so good to be back to a veggie-packed eating routine.

This week has been hellishly packed: two nights of dorm duty in a row (Monday and Tuesday), which means I stay up 2 hours past my usual granny-panties bedtime of around 10; a track meet yesterday; a department dinner tonight, and a LONG track meet on Saturday (plus one class to teach that morning). I didn’t come back from break going 0-60…I went about 0-200 mph. Workouts have been sparse, but I was happy to work a bike in on Monday morning and some sweaty elliptical time and a core workout on Tuesday. Sleep and veggies have been the priority fo’sho.

On to the main event:

Last week, I received a message from a good friend seeking advice, and I thought it deserved a post:

So this is a very strange request, but I am considering going vegetarian for a month (I do monthly resolutions as opposed to yearly resolutions). Do you have any resources about making the switch?

This, I told her, isn’t a strange request at all. In general, and especially since I started this blog, I’ve received many questions regarding my vegetarian lifestyle, eating cleanly, etc. I love answering them, and find that they reaffirm my reasons for eating and exercising the way that I do. My path to vegetarianism was abrupt and strange (sounds weird, but stick with me), but my reasons for remaining a vegetarian have only grown stronger as I have entered the working world, become a runner, and finally gotten a grip on my stomach’s wily ways (thanks in most part to a lack of meat in my diet).

I went vegetarian cold-turkey on a chilly, windswept New England day in April of 2009, right before Easter break in my freshman year at College of the Holy Cross. The reason I went veg was not, believe it or not, because I had any inkling of the effect vegetarianism would have on my stomach issues.* In reality, I had borrowed the book Skinny Bitch from a friend, read it in a day, and freaked out over all of the added hormones, growth additives, antibiotics, and pesticides in meat, fruit, and veggies in the U.S. I remember sitting at my desk in my dorm with a hastily-grabbed, post-class to-go lunch (a “boxed lunch” from Lower, for you Crusaders reading this), and thinking, “this is my last roast beef sandwich…ever??”

In reality, I didn’t know if I was actually going to remain a vegetarian forever. I think I had really expected to let the images of pesticides dancing around in my head that I had conjured thanks to Skinny Bitch die a natural death, and then I’d be back to meat without feeling like I was going to hurl. I remember not really liking meat all that much anyway in my high school years (I was frankly tired of it), so I felt kind of free when I declared my meatless intentions. So I returned from my long Easter weekend still a vegetarian, having massively confused my parents, who had no idea what to put on the table for me that trip. Nearly six years later, I still fly the veg flag.

Why is that? Or, as a colleague so eloquently put it on the way to a department lunch, “Why live??”

He meant, of course, why live without meat. (This is the same colleague who asked me if I was wearing a kimono to work one day…it was a paisley-patterned dress.)

I can live without meat because within a week of eating a plant-based, rather than a meat-and-potatoes-based diet, my “episodes” tapered down to a point where they essentially never occurred anymore. I can’t remember the last time I had to eat blandly before a car ride, or had to pull off the road to a jenky town to find a gas station restroom. I can live without meat because I no longer wake up in the middle of the night with a severely displeased stomach, or have to leave class and find a deserted bathroom, or (my favorite) rush home from a restaurant at which I JUST ate; the number of times the latter has happened in my life is unreal. I can live without meat because now, when I do indulge in a slice or two of greasy pizza, or some ice cream– and I’m still trying to figure out exactly why– I don’t feel even remotely as badly as I once would have. I think that has something to do with having enough fiber in my system, but either way, I’m not complaining.

I’ve also (and this is important) found that the better I become at including a wide variety of plant-based foods in my diet– the more colors on my plate, so to speak– the more energy I have, the better I run, and the more “clear” my head tends to feel. Excluding meat from my diet might not have directly caused all of this (although due to the inflammatory nature of meat and its effect on my system, it might have a larger impact than I give it credit for)…but going vegetarian steered me to this place. I am fully aware of my body as a temple which runs– literally– on good, clean fuel.

This might suggest that I think all omnivores do not embrace a clean diet. That’s completely false! I’m in the minority in my family, my lovely fiancé is a definite meat-eater, and I myself still salivate over cheesesteaks. There is evidence, however, that shows that we can link many of our major health problems as Americans– heart disease, in particular– to increased fat (and thus, increased taste) in mass-produced meat. If I chose to eat meat again (which really isn’t likely), I would do my very best to buy local, farm-raised meat. This is a loaded issue about which I’m passionate, and you’ll be sure to hear more about the injustice of it alllllll ahem….just kidding…more about my views on the state of food and the State of the Union.

Phew.

With all this in mind, back to my friend’s question: if the inclination to go vegetarian for any reason should strike, is there any good way to go about it?

For me, the issue really is the why (above), rather than the how. The “how” is what this blog is all about: me bumbling through learning how to cook with a minimal amount of inflammatory processed foods, exercising to keep my head on straight, and mixing as many greens and other good things into my day as possible. The how just sort of…happens, as you can see in my response to my friend:

I sort of freestyled my switch to being veg…but I found that as long as I ate tons of veggies and got some fat and protein with each meal, I was fine. Just quit cold-turkey and make sure you have lots of eggs, veggies, beans, cheese, and quinoa on hand (if you’re into that). You can pretty much “replace” the meat in anything you’d normally make, anyway…like veggie lasagna, a homemade veggie burger (which are suuuuper easy btw), etc. Just try to stay away from too many frozen veg products, because it totally defeats the purpose.

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Happy weekend! And to all you potential vegetarians out there, get your glow on!

(A friend posted this on Facebook and I had to snag it. Check out her blog at http://itsavegworldafterall.com!)

*I have IBS, by the way, and I react to absolutely everything a person with IBS could react to: dairy– eggs, cheese, milk, cream, ice cream 😦 😦 — grease, certain wheat products, alcohol, meat– both red & white. It’s not nearly as bad as Crohn’s, but became intolerable in college (because I was away from home/my routine) and led to some REALLY ridiculous and embarrassing situations in my freshman year of college.

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