It's Not Easy Being A Veggie Head: The Good And Bad Of Vegetarianism
Five years ago, I was a naïve teenager looking for a cause to support or something to define me.
I was (scratch that, am) impressionable and passionate, and when I read "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer, I found my calling: vegetarianism.
The problem with this decision was I hated vegetables. I was a classic picky eater, and my diet consisted mainly of meat and grains with the occasional side of corn.
My first month, I replaced all the meat in my diet with more grains. Basically, I was living off pasta and peanut butter sandwiches. I hated it.
But my stubborn personality wouldn't let me back out of my decision; I had something to prove.
I stared longingly at everyone's hot dogs and burgers at summer barbecues, while I picked at my black bean burger I was too proud to admit I didn't like.
Five years later, after careful thought and consideration, I've decided the vegetarian life isn't the life for me. And it's not because I can't live without bacon — the reason so many people mockingly threw in my face over the years when they heard about my diet.
There are all sorts of misconceptions when it comes to individuals who follow vegetarianism and similar diets like veganism and pescatarianism.
Vegetarians are always asked whether we eat fish, how we're getting enough protein or if we would we eat a steak if someone paid us, among other things.
So, after half a decade of cautiously asking, "This doesn't have meat in it, right?," here are the real pros and cons of leading a meat-free life.
Pro: It's healthier.
...If you do it right. My early days of spaghetti and and spoonfuls of peanut butter were not doing it right.
Various studies have shown that meat-free diets lead to lower risks of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, among other health ailments.
While a diet including meat can also be healthy when done correctly, a vegetable-rich diet allows for easy avoidance of fatty or unhealthy foods, like red meat.
Con: It's hard to dine out.
This problem is slowly improving, as more restaurants include vegetarian options on menus.
But choosing a vegetarian diet is full of nights at restaurants where you'll undoubtedly look over the menu, and sadly tell the waiter you'll have the side salad.
Then you get to watch your friends eat steak or chicken, all while pretending that the plate of iceberg lettuce in front of you is really just as delicious.
Pro: It's cheaper.
If you don't spend much time in the produce section of the grocery store, you've probably never noticed that fresh vegetables are super inexpensive.
The amount you spend on vegetables for a week is what most people spend on one or two days worth of meat. Other vegetarian staples, like rice and beans, are equally cost effective.
If you're on a budget, you can still eat like you're not.
Con: You're never quite satisfied.
This is a tricky thing to explain because I'm not suggesting you'll never be full. I get full from vegetarian meals all the time.
While this may not be true for all vegetarians, it often feels like there's something missing from my diet, even when I eat a meal packed with protein or meat substitutes.
Maybe it's all in my head because I never quite got over my love of chicken, or maybe I really do need to eat meat.
The truth is, being a vegetarian these past five years was a great thing for me. It forced me to get outside of my food comfort zone and try new things I'd never considered before like mushrooms and quinoa.
It made me question the importance of meat in a diet and whether it was necessary at all. Perhaps, most importantly, it made me feel like I was having a positive impact on our environment.
I started eating meat again because I recently traveled to a country where the diet is heavily based on animal protein. I didn't want to be held back from fully experiencing the culture or the local food, so I broke my teenage vow and ate meat.
I thought this first bite would go one of two ways: I would either immediately get sick, or I would instantly be hooked like a former smoker taking a drag from a cigarette.
Surprisingly, neither of these scenarios happened.
I ate the meat (chicken lettuce wraps, to be exact). I digested it. My body didn't revolt or readily crave more. It felt normal, mundane even. The next day, I ate vegetarian food, and my body again did nothing.
Since then, I've flopped between the two for the past few months, undecided as to whether I want to return to being a vegetarian or continue eating meat.
My decision to stay an omnivore for good is based solely on my own happiness. I truly enjoy eating vegetarian meals, and I plan to continue eating them regularly.
But, if my body is telling me it wants to eat chicken wings or a burger every once in awhile, I'm not going to deny it anymore.
If there is one thing, above all else, that being a vegetarian has taught me, it's that food you thought you hated, you might actually love. And eating what you love makes you happier.
So eat what you want, but don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone once in a while.
There is so much to experience (and eat) in the world, and I don't know about you, but I want to try it all.