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I have been vegetarian for about 3 and a half years but it did not happen overnight, it has been a long transitional process over the past 25 years of my life. So, if you have ever wondered about the process of becoming a vegetarian, this is one woman’s story. While mine was gradual, many people make the change to eating vegetarian overnight due to health need or desire to protect animal rights. There are so many reasons that people become vegetarian but perhaps my story can shed some light on how it can evolve over time as you become more educated on what works best for you.
Step 1: Stop Eating Red Meat
At the age of twelve, my dad and grandmother were both diagnosed with high cholesterol and the doctors suggested they make some diet changes. They were asked to cut red meat, eggs and a few other things out of their diets. Well, being a very picky eater as a child, I was not to keen on the taste of beef so I used this family diet change to my advantage and stopped eating beef as well. This was a very easy switch for me as I really did not enjoy eating it anyway and there were lots of other options in my household which meant lots of chicken for the next 20 years of my life.
Step 2: Stop Eating Fatty Fast Food and Soda
I remained picky in my food choices and in high school, when I started playing basketball, I started paying more real attention to my diet. Growing up in a home with a single, working mom, my sister and I learned to cook a great deal. In fact, my Mom put each of us in charge of coming up with the menu for one dinner a night and preparing it, so we were really good at making Roasted Chicken, Spaghetti, Grilled Cheese and Tuna Casserole. But, living in a single-parent home also meant more eating out which with our budget, meant a great deal of fast food meals at Wendy’s, Arby’s, McDonald’s and the like (why do they all end with apostrophe “‘s”? Is it to make us feel like we are actually eating at the home of a friend or family member?!?) So, more sport-focus in my life also meant more exposure to nutrition and I quickly adapted to eating salads and water vs. a Big Mac and Coke when we ate out during my high school years.
Step 3: Stop Eating All Meat, Including Chicken
Fast forward through my Freshman Fifteen days in college and beyond to 2009 when I went to see Food, Inc., a documentary about factory farming and its impact on our nation’s obesity epidemic. Like every year, my husband and I had picked out the films we wanted to see at our annual local film festival, River Run Film Festival, and Food, Inc. was one of our 6-8 films we saw in 2009 during the festival. But, it was the film that had the most impact on our lives. We walked out of the movie and knew we would not be eating meat again today and probably for the next week. We did not know how far beyond the immediate, foreseeable future this no-meat diet would take us but we were disgusted and ready to learn more.
So, I started reading everything I could get my hands on about factory farming and vegetarian diets. I also talked to my doctor about my diet change to make sure I was on the right track with my plans. What I learned blew me away! Why don’t more people know that you can get all the nutrients and vitamins you need to survive and more in fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes?!? For example, spinach is rich with Iron, beans pack a serious protein pack and kale can prevent almost any disease you can think of when paired with a healthy diet filled with a variety of colors. I learned about quinoa, the supergrain that can sit in for a carb-laden pasta noodle any day.
Step 4: Learn to Cook
Lucky for me, all this food variety and encouragement led me to want to cook. My husband’s mom is a gourmet chef to the extreme so when I met her ten years ago and ate her food, I was inspired (and intimidated!) to learn more. I wanted to make people happy with the food I put on the table while also helping them make healthier food choices. So, I subscribed to Vegetarian Times magazine, bought a few cookbooks and started cooking up meals that resembled a rainbow more than the boring brown and white plates I had eaten in the past. It was beautiful, inspiring to eat and so much fun to learn how different flavors work together. It actually made this once picky eater a much better eater! I now can be seen eating brussels sprouts and beets which were among my most hated foods as a kid.
Step 5: Eat Local
During this time of becoming vegetarian, I also started paying more attention to my impact on the environment as part of my eating. So, I started buying as much produce as I could at local farmer’s markets which not only tastes better and supports the local economy but also was cheaper! What a surprise. And probably the best part of eating local is getting to know all of the farmers, artisan bakers, etc. personally. Even the people you meet in the market are just amazing! It was a foodie’s paradise and I was quickly becoming a foodie and finding “my people”.
The health benefits of eating local should not be ignored either. When you buy at the grocery store, most produce and meats come from all over the country and the world. I remember one time when I really paid attention to what I was in my shopping cart: avocados from Mexico, salmon from China (!) and blood oranges from Spain! I mean, I love to travel as much as the next girl, but my food should not have to travel from so far away to get to me and if it does, you know it was not picked at the peak of ripeness or I would not be able to enjoy it now! So, this got me researching another thing: how can I get the maximum nutrition from produce (or any food) and the scientific answer was the same as the obvious one – pick it when it is ripe and eat it, this is how you get the full nutrition out of food. So local became my first choice whenever time and season allows.
Thinking of Going Vegetarian?
So, now that you have read my story of how I got to my current diet of eating vegetarian, perhaps you want to take a step-by-step gradual approach as well. Or maybe you want to just go for it! Either way, be patient with yourself. You may lapse at times, especially at first and most likely when eating at a friend’s home who has made you dinner. Make your intentions clear to your friends and family about your diet and the reasons you are doing it. Most will support you and help adapt meals to allow you to eat alongside them with ease. Some may not understand and be more resistant to your dietary changes. Many of my friends and family thought it was just a phase I was going through – at every step of the way! – but I have held strong and feel physically, mentally and emotionally strong as result.
Share your Becoming Vegetarian Stories
Are you going through your shift to vegetarian eating now? Or perhaps you are already a vegetarian? Share you stories with us in the comments below so we can create a network of support for one another. I wish you good health and much success!