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Your lifestyle, your quirk
I grew up eating meat at nearly every meal. Both of my parents are originally from the Midwest, so meat and potatoes were a staple in our home. (So was hotdish, unfortunately.) I didn’t know any differently.
I only knew one vegetarian my entire childhood – my fourth grade teacher. I just remember her being tall, very thin, and out sick a lot. Whenever I told my mom that Mrs. Zackerson was absent, mom blamed it on her being a vegetarian, saying the diet made her sickly. That led me to believe being a vegetarian was not a wise choice.
It was ten years before I thought seriously about vegetarians again. As a college sophomore, I was sitting in my Environment 101 class, learning about the amount of grain it takes to feed cattle, which then feed humans, versus how many more humans could eat if they cut out the middleman (or cattle) and just ate the grain. The equation seemed like a no-brainer to me. Why not go with the option that feeds more people – especially in a world where so many are going hungry?
The professor challenged the students to reduce their environmental footprint by going vegetarian for just one week and to record their experience. I easily could have continued with my normal eating patterns and just made something up for my paper (as the majority of the students did), but I was inspired to really give it a go.
My fear that I wouldn’t know what to eat if I cut meat out was soon forgotten, as I realized just how much variety there is in food. The empty spot on my plate where the meat usually went was easily filled with more vegetables, legumes, beans, greens, and grains.
Making the decision to open myself to a new type of diet also awakened my willingness to try new foods. I became an adventurous eater, and realized foods didn’t have to be eaten one at a time – they could be mixed and matched to create completely new tastes and textures. Food became…fun! I was also eating considerably healthier, lost a few pounds, gained muscle, and all the while knew in the back of my head that I was making a smaller environmental impact. I had never felt so good about eating!
I extended my one-week experiment to a month, then two, then three…and finally admitted to my friends and family that I was converted. I was a vegetarian. My friends didn’t seem too surprised (they had seen my food revelation unfold before their eyes in the school food hall), but my family received the news with eyebrows raised in skepticism. After much hesitation, they decided to humor me, assuming it was some kind of weird college phase and would pass soon enough.
I’ve been a vegetarian for ten years now, and don’t imagine I’ll ever return to being a carnivore. I don’t crave meat; I don’t even miss meat – and I still love having the extra room on my plate for other things.