When I was younger, I was mostly exposed to the idea of vegetarianism when we would go to the occasional luncheon that would feature a "vegetarian option". Most of the food choices I had been exposed to that point in my life were things like peanut allergies, and so I lumped vegetarianism into "they have to get special food because they can't eat normal food" and actually considered it to be something along the lines of a special need for food.
Despite this, I often thought that the vegetarian option looked pretty tasty. They usually had a sandwich heaped with avocado, sprouts, tomato, cucumber, olives, and something nice like provolone cheese; compared to the standard issue of cold cuts, american 'cheese', and lettuce and tomato if you're lucky... I was a kid who loved all sorts of foods and flavors, and I knew who was getting the better deal here. I just felt bad taking the vegetarian meal when I didn't need it because I wasn't a vegetarian. There were a limited number of those tasty veggie options, and since I was able to eat meat, I should leave those for people with the condition called "vegetarianism" to have because otherwise they couldn't eat.
I learned that people become vegetarians for a number of reasons. The first vegetarians I ever met were people who were primarily concerned about animal cruelty. Other people choose it for health reasons, and recently I've learned a lot about the environmental impacts of going meatless. Some of these seemed quite reasonable to me, but I didn't want to become a vegetarian over it.
Turns out you learn a lot of things by going to college. Some of them are motivated by study, and some of them are motivated by the lifestyle so happily referred to as "the starving college student". Over the course of a few semesters, I went from buying meat every time I shopped to relying mostly on turkey for my sandwiches and the occasional sausage, to almost never buying meat. I realized that there are tons of other protein sources that are much cheaper and easier to store and prepare, so meat became less and less frequent in my diet.
I then spent a summer living in California. California is a place where the United States grows most of its food, and in California you can grow food any day of the year. I was quickly surrounded by more fresh fruits and vegetables than I knew what to do with--and more than I had even known existed.
|Not only is eggplant a thing, but it comes in all shapes and sizes...and colors!|
I ate white eggplant all the time and yum.
Other colored foods of note: golden raspberries, white asparagus, yellow mushrooms, and red bananas...
|This was pretty much my face.|
Happy blueberry face.
I guess I've been slowly adjusting to eating less and less meat. I still eat it when I go out or when other people have prepared the meal, but I've gone from eating meat a few times a day to a few times a week. And I don't feel any guilt at all about taking the tasty vegetarian options for myself. :)
Turns out, you don't have to be a vegetarian to eat meatless.
You don't even have to call yourself a vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian, herbivore, animal rights activist, or carbon-reducing hippie to eat vegetarian meals and love it.
My main reason for being proud with how my diet has ended up is because of the environment. You can learn a lot about the environmental impact of the food you eat, and how to reduce the carbon footprint of your food. The most important thing to me is that you don't have to be a vegetarian to make smarter food choices. You don't even have to make a commitment. Switching a hamburger meal for a meatless meal just once will save about 6.5 pounds of carbon emissions. It's really that easy to do something better for the environment.
So by many standards, I could probably fit in with the vegetarians, pescatarians, and flexitarians. It would be a simple change from where I am now, really. But I think even if I intentionally change my diet to be something like that, I'll still just call myself normal. I've realized that eating a vegetarian meal doesn't mean that I have special food needs, or that I'm too concerned about things like animal rights, health, or the environment. It really just means that I'm aware of what my food choices mean. And I've learned that it's a lot easier than it seemed to make intentional choices and cut back so much on meat. I didn't have to do anything extravagant or difficult to eat the way I wanted...I just eat normally.