I am not a big meat eater. When I was 10, I decided I hated the taste and texture of red meat and shellfish, and aside from some random tastes here and there when I’m feeling adventurous and a friend is drooling over their dish at a restaurant, I haven’t touched either in 15 years.
In general, my meals consist of vegetables and some kind of carb, with a little bit of chicken or turkey or maybe pork thrown in the mix. I’ve thought about becoming vegetarian in the past but never made the leap, until I came across a very sad sight: a truck carrying cages crammed full with chickens off to…well they were not going to the petting zoo, to say the least.
I’m not clueless. I’ve done research, I’ve read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, I’ve seen the movies and read articles about where our meat comes from and how the animals are treated. I try to purchase ethically raised and killed meat, and I try to eat vegetarian meals several times a week because eating more greens is better for your body and better for the environment. So once I saw those chickens heading off to slaughter, I couldn’t deny that I felt sick at the thought of eating meat, and I didn’t want to do it anymore.
I decided to finally give vegetarianism a try.
For the month of September, I ate no meat. I wasn’t planning on going back to meat eating, but we’ll get to that in a minute. I stopped eating chicken, turkey, and pork products (the only kinds of meat I ate) and my diet didn’t really change much.
I worried about getting enough protein so I tried incorporating different types of protein in my daily routine, such as adding chia seeds, nuts, and peanut butter to my breakfasts and snacks. I like tofu so I tried finding the best way to cook it (so far my favorite way is still stir-fried with soy sauce) and I spent a lot of time on the internet researching recipes, nutrients, and proteins to try to make sure I was maintaining a balanced diet. After all, Oreos are vegan but they aren’t exactly heart-healthy!
In just a month I realized how hard it is to have dietary restrictions as simple and as common as not eating meat.
Growing up as a “picky” eater, I was used to only finding a few things on a menu that I would want to eat. When I limited myself to plants-only, my options shrank even more. I found that a lot of restaurants had very similar, very boring veggie options unless you were opting for a salad and making sure they took off the chicken/fish/shrimp.
I’m not kidding, I probably ate a roasted-vegetable-pesto-mozzarella-sandwich every week. I wasn’t too inventive at home either, getting stuck in the curry-or-stir-fry rut. I tried looking up recipes but would become lazy when it came time to making dinner and would fall back on one of three dishes: sautéed vegetables, pastas, or veggie tacos. Boring.
Then I found myself so bored with cooking and eating that I wouldn’t be hungry. I became listless and uninspired. I finally broke down and ordered my ultimate comfort food when I was feeling sick one day and out to lunch with friends: chicken noodle soup. I’m a strong believer that it’s the ultimate cure, and as much as I love vegetable soups, I desperately craved chicken broth. So, my vegetarianism was ended after 32 days, but I am glad I attempted it, and I may try again in the future. As of now, I still don’t eat that much meat, and I’m still working on expanding my vegetarian recipes.
Throughout the month I learned how annoying it can be to explain over and over again to people why I made the choice I made. It was frustrating to have to have an argument for myself every time I went out with a group of friends and ordered the vegetarian option, and though many of my friends were understanding, a lot of my family members rolled their eyes or scoffed at my decision.
I also realized how many restaurants need more options, and how most meals can be made vegetarian with a little experimentation. I was reminded that I shouldn’t be afraid to experiment in the kitchen. It takes time and it takes practice, but I definitely learned something about my cooking skills, and what foods and flavors inspire me.
I may not be a full-fledged vegetarian, but I am having fun trying to figure out what meals I like best, and how to make dishes that are good for me and good for the world.
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