I’ve Been a Vegetarian for 6 Years and This is What I Learned

#6 — It was the best decision of my life

Photo by Jarritos Mexican Soda on Unsplash

We were approaching the end of 2014. Two of my best friends had recently become vegan. They started talking to me about their experience and the reasons that led them there. I listened. I followed their suggestions and watched some documentaries. I saw things that I can not unsee ever again. And in the space of a few weeks I got more and more convinced that me too, I needed to make a change.

I realized that I had been numb for the first 27 years of my life. I hadn’t asked the right questions, I hadn’t challenged what the world presented to me. Eating animals is an option that doesn’t make any sense from an ethical point of view. Then why had I never questioned it? Why hadn’t most of the world?

At the beginning of 2015, I became vegan. I did it because it made sense, according to my beliefs. And I want to stop the discussion right here: I don’t think you should become vegan too. What I think is that you should do what I did, live according to your beliefs, whichever they are, and as long as they don’t interfere with the beliefs of others. Anyway, I am nobody to tell you what to do with your life.

But I am somebody who can tell you a few things about what changes when you become veggie — I started as vegan, then changed to vegetarian a few months in. So here it goes.

1. People Care About What You Eat

You would imagine that what you eat is your own business but, apparently, some people think it’s their business too. It’s like when you are a girl who has a girlfriend. You expect it to be your own business, but there are plenty of people out there who want to have a say in it. It doesn’t make sense.

But food is a fundamental pillar of our societies. It is not only something we eat to keep us fueled throughout the day. It is an institution, a ceremony that you share with others, and it is deeply connected to our values and our identities. So, some people feel that, when you chose not to eat meat, you are attacking these established concepts and, by doing so, putting their own beliefs at risk.

But the same way that, if a girl has sex with her girlfriend, it is something that concerns only the two of them, what you eat is nobody’s business but your own. You eat the tofu, they eat the steak. I don’t see where the problem is. Do you?

2. It’s Becoming Easier and Easier to Become Vegetarian Everywhere

I can’t imagine how it was like to be a vegetarian 20 or 50 years ago. Over these 6 years, I have seen major progress. Regular supermarkets went from having a couple of veggie products to having whole sections, full of tasty options. Most restaurants, in most countries, now offer at least one veggie dish.

In 6 years, I lived in 4 countries and I noticed differences between them too. The UK was veggie heaven, Hungary was very challenging at first, Portugal and France were decent enough, and have evolved a lot over the years.

All the countries have, actually. I traveled a lot in Europe during these years and I always found delicious vegetarian food everywhere I went. And I always find more and more options as time goes by. It is estimated that around 8% of the world’s population is either vegan or vegetarian, that is, more than 600 million people. It was only a matter of time until businesses started catering to this, drastically expanding the available options.

3. You Need to Watch Your Health

Most vegetarians don’t want to hear it but this diet can lead to nutritional deficits. I am not saying it will, but if you are not careful about what you eat on a regular basis, you can enter a state of deficiency.

Since I became a vegetarian, I do blood tests regularly, more often than before. For the first 5 years, my iron levels were low but still within normal limits. But then, I had a not so healthy period in my life and found myself with ridiculously low values of iron. A year of supplements later, it is finally going back to the normal levels, but not there yet.

Most vegetarians will claim that this diet is healthier than most of the other ones out there. In many aspects, it is. But in some others, it is not. So you need to account for it, be vigilant, and make sure that by saving the animals and the plant, you are not condemning your own body.

Read as much as you can about this diet and the nutrients provided by each food, so you can make informed choices. Take supplements if needed. Monitor closely and regularly. If you do this, you should be good.

4. Food is Fun, Not Boring as People Imagine

I don’t eat salad every day. There you go, the biggest veggie myth deconstructed. Well, the second biggest — I do get enough protein.

Let’s face it: if someone has a hard time coming up with interesting veggie meals, they probably have a hard time finding interesting, out-of-the-box things to do in life anyway. It’s all about being open and creative.

When I became a vegetarian, food got more interesting than before. I had spent 27 years of my life eating the same foods, over and over again. Taking most of them out of my diet forced me to go look in other places, to taste different things, to broaden my horizons. If you think about it, there are so many types of foods you don’t include in your meals regularly — and why not?

5. Relationships Can Be Challenging

They say opposites attract each other. But in the case of food and lifestyle choices, matching with someone on the other end of the spectrum might be a challenge.

During these 6 years, I dated people who were almost vegetarians, and eating with them was easy and fun. But I have also been on a long-term relationship with someone who “wouldn’t pay to go out and eat vegetables”. Meals at home ended up restricted to a few go-to options that we repeated to the exhaustion, the only ones that would match both our tastes.

I also know a few couples where one person is vegetarian and the other ended up, slowly, becoming mostly vegetarian too. It makes things easier. Not on an ethical and belief level, but on a practical one. Cooking takes up much of our time, now think about cooking every meal twice…

6. It Was the Single Best Decision of My Life

One of the questions vegetarians get asked the most is: “don’t you miss eating meat?”. My answer is simple and definitive: it truly comes down to the reason why you decided to be a vegetarian in the first place. In my case, as I said, I did it for the animals. And that is something that is now deeply rooted in my beliefs. So no, I don’t miss eating meat because I don’t change my beliefs every day. And believing that I shouldn’t kill animals to feed myself is a strong enough reason to stop asking myself the question of whether or not I want to eat meat. It just isn’t an option anymore. You simply don’t question it, it’s as easy as that.

Despite the health issue I mentioned above, I pin the choice to become vegetarian as the single best decision of my life. With one decision, I am saving hundreds of lives, and I will keep doing so. Can you think of anything else so simple and, yet, so impactful?

Takeaway

If you are considering adopting a plant-based diet, or move closer to this lifestyle, there are some aspects to take into consideration before you do it.

  • First, get informed. Read as much as you can, from different sources. As I mentioned, this is not necessarily a healthy diet, you need to know what you are doing. It’s not complicated, but some basic pieces of information will take you a long way.
  • Talk to friends who have been on this journey before and collect practical tips from them. They can point out the best local places to get your veggie products or restaurants that offer delicious options in your area.
  • Most importantly, don’t be drastic, ease into it. Start by having a veggie day per week, then move on to veggie dinners every day while still eating meat at lunch, or any other combination that works for you. Especially, don’t get discouraged by the daunting thought that, once you start this, you will never eat meat again. People asked me that all the time in the beginning — “do you really want to do this for the rest of your life?”. Who knows what will happen next year, let alone the rest of my life. Do what makes sense for you at this moment, without overthinking it.
  • If you ever encounter some “veggie police”, dismiss it. Nobody gets to tell you what to eat. Your life, your rules.

So, what’s for dinner today?

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