My trip down veggie lane started in high school when I watched Food INC. in health class. That documentary turned me on to the real possibility that our food industry is seriously fucked up. There is is no other way to describe it; the meat that makes its way onto our plates comes from factories that produce meat, not farms where cows roam free happily munching on grass. I found the movie so intriguing I came home that day wanting to research more. I came across dozens of videos showing the real cruelty that remains hidden from the consumer’s eyes. I came across photos depicting pigs forced into too tiny cages and videos of baby chicks being sorted and ground. I was an animal lover, I thought. How could I be so blind to this cruelty? In this blog post I describe my experience with vegetarianism and why I stepped away from it.
Being a vegetarian started out easy enough for me but how I’d convince my parents to cut meat out, I had no idea. I started by tugging at my mom’s heartstrings, so I showed her the video of the chicks sorted and ground. Pretty terrible, I know, but entirely convincing. Although hesitant at first she decided she could go without meat for a while. A victory, I had convinced one person to choose compassion. Over time, I learned what vegetables contained iron and what to eat for calcium. I learned what vitamins to take and how to read food labels. The time I took to learn about what I was eating led me to become an informed consumer.
I faced a lot of resistance from my family, including my sister and her family. They poked fun at me and asked original questions, such as Where will you get protein? And Can you eat fish? I took everything in stride because I knew it was difficult for them to accept change. At the time, I wholeheartedly believed not eating meat was the best decision for anybody. One of the books I read, The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, examined the relationship between meat and heart diseases and other forms of cancer. All the books, articles, and movies I could get my hands on wholeheartedly believed in a plant-based diet. I continued making Facebook Posts and talking to my family about how easy it is to eat vegetarian. I shared the different recipes we could make which seemed to catch everyone’s attention.
My sister, who made fun of me before, switched to a vegetarian diet a few weeks after I did. Now, my sister is so committed to a plant-based diet, she takes it a step further to veganism. My mom is an avid and happy vegetarian, excited to share her meat-free philosophy with anyone. I had completely changed my family’s eating habits just by sharing information with them. My family still wholeheartedly believes in a plant-based diet even though my thoughts have changed about what a healthy diet should like.
While I was vegetarian, I started to develop a lot of gastrointestinal troubles. I felt bloated all the time and I had terrible gas that resulted in painful cramps. I felt anxious to leave the house because the gas persisted everywhere I went. Once I did use the bathroom, I would have diarrhea throughout the day. If I cut out foods high in fiber, I would have painful constipation. I also developed anemia, a condition marked by a low red blood cell count. I suspected it might be my diet, but it took me a long time to make the switch back to introducing animal products. I believed in the lifestyle: no leather shoes, shampoos free of animal testing, and most importantly a plate full of veggies.
I felt tired all the time and I could no longer run the distances I used to. I wasn’t sure what was wrong; I was doing everything by the book. I ate the rainbow: red bell peppers for lunch, kale for dinner, and a red apple with almond butter for a snack. I finally had enough of feeling so awful all the time and I slowly began to reintroduce chicken, eggs, and dairy products into my diet. Slowly but surely, I started to feel better and the gas that persisted went away. My trips to the bathroom were normal again and I started to feel better about myself.
I completely changed my philosophy about eating: it’s not one size fits all. My family loves being vegetarian and I still enjoy the same foods they do. By adding animal products to my diet, I am doing what I think is best for my health. Nobody else can make that decision for me; only I know what my body needs. However, I do think it’s ironic I was the catalyst for my family’s eating transformation.