M. T. Dremer married a long-time vegetarian 5 years ago and switched to a plant-based diet 3 years ago.
There are quite a few reasons one would choose to become a vegetarian. It’s healthier, it isn’t cruel to animals and it has a wider flavor palette than the traditional meat-plus-side combo. It was a decision I debated for some time, but I was unable to take the plunge until a documentary, called “Forks over Knives”, pushed me over the edge. The movie laid out a pretty convincing picture of the health risks associated with animal protein and, quite bluntly, stated that a vegetarian diet isn’t nearly as extreme as surgery to reverse the adverse effects of meat. I was lucky enough to have an ace up my sleeve for this process; my wife was already a vegetarian. This meant that I was already familiar with vegetarian food and the shift away from meat was more of a step than a leap. However, during the short time I’ve gone meatless, I’ve learned a lot of useful information for anyone else considering the switch. For example…
1. There Is Protein in a Lot of Food
There are two very common responses when someone learns you are a vegetarian. The first is usually “Where do you get your protein?” This comes from the fact that meat carries a high protein count and is considered the ‘main course’ during most meals. Aside from imitation meat products, like those made by Boca and Morningstar, protein is actually found naturally in a surprising amount of foods. I was already eating protein from peanuts/peanut butter, spinach, corn, almonds, potatoes, whole grain bread/pasta and bananas, and that was when I wasn’t looking for protein alternatives. In general, beans, nuts and grains have more than enough protein for ones daily energy needs, but a little digging will reveal just how non-essential meat protein really is.
2. I Wasn’t Worried About Vitamins Before and I Won't Start Now
The second response usually follows closely with the first, suggesting that you’re not getting enough calcium or vitamins from a meatless diet. I suppose the calcium one is valid if you’re giving up milk (which I did) but it’s incredibly easy to find plant based milks that are infused with calcium, as well as some natural sources like oranges and almonds. But, the more I thought about it, the more the vitamin argument didn’t make any sense to me. I paid little to no attention to my vitamin intake while eating meat, so why would I start worrying about it now, especially when I’m eating more fruits and vegetables? It seemed a little backwards, as if meat eaters should be the ones who are asked if they’re getting enough essential vitamins. It reminds me of an episode of the show Good Eats. The host, Alton Brown, held up an orange and a donut. He said that the donut was “energy dense” in the sense that you’re getting calories from it, which we can convert to energy, but not much else. He then said that the orange was “nutrient dense”, meaning that it didn’t have as much calories, but it contained far more good things for our body, like fiber, vitamin C, and calcium, than the donut. It was a beautifully simple concept. So, while I have no idea how many vitamins I’m getting from my vegetarian diet, I’m confident that I’m eating significantly more “nutrient dense” foods than I was while I was eating meat. Which means I’m far better off.
3. Meat Is Delicious, but I’d Rather Live Longer
There are some people out there who choose to be a vegetarian because they don’t like the taste or texture of meat (my wife is one of them). And then there are other people who still acknowledge that meat tastes good, but they don’t want to eat it because of how unhealthy it is (like me). There are some arguments that are made along the lines of “so-and-so eats meat and they lived to be one hundred!” These arguments remind me a lot of those over tobacco and alcohol. “So-and-so smokes and they lived to be one hundred” and so on. There are exceptions to every rule. Some people who treat their bodies poorly will live to a ripe old age. And some people will die of lung cancer even though they never touched a cigarette. But it’s a game of statistics. Like I said, the documentary was only the final push. I had been led to the edge by countless other sources that said meat, and most of the processed foods today, are killing us. Junk food is the tobacco battle of this generation. And, while there are a million different things outside my control that may kill me, why shouldn’t I take control of the few things I can influence?
4. Everybody Loves Bacon!
One of the most damaging aspects of being a vegetarian is the social pushback. Unless all of your friends are also vegetarians, there is a good chance that your meat-eating comrades will impose upon you a sense of smugness. As if, you’re choice to give up meat makes you superior to them. Of all the vegetarians I’ve come in contact with, none think themselves superior, nor do they have a problem with people who do eat meat. But, even if they don’t think you’re smug, they may have trouble understanding your choice and it will undoubtedly single you out at all those summer barbeques. It took me upwards of three months to ‘come out’ as a vegetarian to my family and friends. I’m still convinced that most of them don’t know about it because I’m not exactly flashing a neon sign. But, for whatever reason, people celebrate meat. Bacon is a meme, burgers are all-American and ham and turkey are the quintessential holiday dinners. It’s no surprise that a social culture, based largely around eating, is going to stumble at the sight of a vegetarian. So, if you’re thinking of becoming one, know that this may be an unfortunate by-product. On the bright side, with enough time, it will become second nature and you can be a role model for others who wish to make the switch.
5. Restaurants Will Not Accommodate You
It’s true that a lot of restaurants will have a vegetarian option on their menu, but unless it’s a particularly veggie friendly establishment, that one option is going to be loaded with cheese, milk or eggs. Not to mention; who wants to eat the same thing on the menu every time they go to that restaurant? My heart truly goes out to vegans who are forced to more-or-less exile themselves from restaurants that don’t cater directly to them. This means that, once again, you’ll be the awkward person at celebrations. The documentary I mentioned earlier stresses that all animal proteins are bad, including milk and eggs, but I’m not so strict that I will shun my friends and family. The compromise I made for myself is that I would be vegan at home and vegetarian when I’m out and about. There is also the issue of a beloved grandmother who makes you the roast you used to love as a child, and you don’t want to break her heart by saying you won’t eat it. There is a big difference between personal willpower and family guilt. I would not consider a vegetarian a failure if he/she ate meat to appease a clueless relative. And that’s an important thing to remember as a non-meat-eater. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you stumble. Much like with exercise, the only way to stay strong is to get back up and keep running.
6. I Suck at Cooking
One of the last things I’ve learned about being a vegetarian is that it’s still very easy to eat like crap. For example, did you know that Oreos are vegan? When cutting out familiar foods, it’s easy to fall back on other familiar foods, some that are worse than the meat you’re giving up. That’s why it’s so important to check ingredient labels. Not just for meat/dairy products, but for heavily processed chemicals that are bad for everybody in large quantities. Ideally, you’ll be spending most of your time, and money, in the fresh fruits/vegetables section of your grocery store, but when you suck at cooking, it’s difficult to make anything more complex than peanut butter covered apple slices. I discovered, after making the switch, that I really enjoy mild peppers, but I can’t eat them all before they go bad. Part of that is because fresh food goes bad quickly, and part of it is because I never think to cook it in anything. In the past, my idea of cooking was to follow the directions on a box. I was pretty good at it, but eating healthy and eating vegetarian means you’re going to have to work without directions. Yes, there are lots of recipes out there, but some can vary wildly in their ingredients. Honestly, it’s all trial and error. If you prepare yourself to eat a lot of not-so-great-meals, you’ll have the right outlook to reach some truly delicious combinations.
Seeing the Benefits
Meat is a crutch. When I decided to give it up, I found myself willing to try new things on restaurant menus and in my shopping cart. Not all of them are hits, but I find the flavor palette to be considerably more refined rather than relying entirely on salt, fat and sugar. It’s true that one could have a similarly rich flavor experience with unprocessed meats and vegetables combined, but how many will really bother? I’ve found that my body has more energy to get through the day than when I ate meat. Previous stomach upset, when I ate bad foods, is virtually non-existent. And the sense of guilt that comes with eating cruelly killed animals is gone. I can’t say that vegetarianism is right for everyone, but I can say this: there are two decisions in my life that I absolutely do not regret. The first was marrying my wife. The second was becoming a vegetarian.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Asher Socrates from Los Angeles, CA on February 21, 2016:
This is a very valuable write up on becoming a vegan. This is the most beneficial lifestyle you can put yourself on and raw foods. This isn't a crash diet or trend, it's exactly the form of real pure food that we all should be eating. I was a meat eater for 40 odd years. Now, I wish I could turn back time to have started the cross over sooner. Im never looking back now, because of all the benefits I have from doing so. I share my personal vegan recipes here on HP if you are interested. Keep up the great work!
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on February 04, 2015:
peachpurple - It's unfortunate you had a bad experience with it. There are definitely a lot of foods that poorly represent vegetarianism. My wife and I tried to make vegan dips and cheeses using silken tofu and they were all awful. If you can find a restaurant that specializes in vegetarian food, it might give a better representation of the diet. Thanks for the comment!
peachy from Home Sweet Home on February 03, 2015:
yes i wanted to be. Once i had gallstone, i had to go on diet and no meat for 6 months, it was a horrid experience being vegetarian
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on July 24, 2013:
peeples - Glad I could help and that there are more people considering a vegetarian diet. I really do believe it's the healthier option and I will once again recommend "The China Study" as one of the single best resources for information about a whole foods plant based diet.
donnah75 - There are a lot of unseen benefits to making the switch, some that we don't even think about until we remember some of the things we used to struggle with. I notice that I don't get winded as easily, I can function on less sleep and I no longer need a pro-biotic for digestive health. Thanks for the comment and for sharing your experience!
Donna Hilbrandt from Upstate New York on July 23, 2013:
Since I have started eating a plant based diet, I feel amazing. More energy. No more heartburn! Less anxiety. One of my coworkers actually asked me if I was taking something because I have become "so zen." I told her, "yes. Kale." I do get the family guilt thing. Sigh. Great discussion.
Peeples from South Carolina on July 23, 2013:
Thanks for directing me here. This was very helpful and well written! Thanks again.
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on May 24, 2013:
AudreyHowitt - Thank you for the comment and the encouragement. :)
Audrey Howitt from California on May 24, 2013:
Congrats on making the choice! I have been a veggie for many years now and I do feel better than when I was eating meat--I hope that also follows for you---
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on May 21, 2013:
ChitrangadaSaran - Thank you for the compliment and the comment! More vegetarians in the world will, hopefully, lead to a healthier body and planet.
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on May 21, 2013:
Very interesting hub indeed!
You brought out the plus and the minus of being non vegetarian or vegetarian, in an interesting way, giving valuable points.
There are a lot of people who are fit and healthy and vegetarian. Hope your article motivates people to Vegetarianism.
Thanks for sharing!
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on May 20, 2013:
cathylynn99 - Thank you for the comment; I had forgotten to mention the environmental benefits of vegetarianism. But it is certainly a reason that someone might wish to make the switch.
renegadetory - Iron deficiency can be a very serious problem if it isn't treated, and people who have it should take special care if switching to a vegetarian diet. There is iron in a lot of green plants, but if someone doesn't know which ones to look for, cutting out meat could be dangerous. I'm happy that you were able to find a middle ground. I don't remember the statistic, but for some of the lab rats in the movie, they had something like 5% animal protein in their diets and they were still able to benefit from the vegetarian lifestyle. Ultimately it will be up to the individual to find the right mixture. Thank you for the thoughtful comment!
Carolyn Dahl from Ottawa, Ontario on May 19, 2013:
I too watched Forks over Knives and got my Mom and my Nana to watch it too. I went vegetarian and then vegan for about a month, but I wasn't feeling very good by the end. I suspect I was low on B12 and possibly iron... and I craved meat soo bad by the end, I just couldn't do it. So, I made a compromise, I would eat vegan (and my hubby) 4 days of the week and have a small portion of meat on the other 3.
My 15 year old daughter has been vegan for probably over 4 months now and she doesn't like the smell, taste or texture of meat either.
I like how in your Hub you point out how important it is to be flexible. Even my daughter realized this as sometimes you just can't be vegan for certain events at her school, so she will be vegetarian if she has too. I couldn't be vegan, but I eat mostly vegan with 3 meals of the week including a protein. I'm not so miserable now and I feel great health-wise from eating healthier overall.
This is a well-written and easily understood Hub. Voted up!
cathylynn99 from northeastern US on May 19, 2013:
vegetarianism is also better for the environment.