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20 Things I've Learned About Being a Vegetarian for 20 Years

20

This month marks 20 years that I've been a vegetarian. Wow, 20 years! On the one hand, it seems like I've always been a vegetarian, but on the other hand, it doesn't feel like it has been 20 years at all. Since this is my 20th anniversary, I thought I'd write a list of some of the things that I've learned about being a vegetarian over the last two decades.

    • Vegetarianism is a journey. I think that most people who are vegetarian experience different transitional periods during that time. Myself, I went from being an outspoken protester in the beginning, to spending many years as a strict vegan, to then finding a happy medium where I am at peace with my current lifestyle. When you meet someone who is a vegetarian or vegan you are seeing where they are at the journey at that time, but when you see them a decade later they may have changed some. That in-your-face-protester today may be more relaxed and simply leading by example in the future.
    • Times are changing. When I first became vegetarian it was difficult to find options at restaurants and stores. Today, we have an abundance of products available, including a variety of non-dairy milk options, veggie burgers, etc. Restaurants are including more vegetarian and vegan entrees and there are more all-vegetarian restaurants today. This is great, because we want more than a salad. I'm regularly happily surprised and blown away by the number of products available today, and I love it! I'm excited to see where we are with this another 10-20 years from now.
    • Nobody worries about your protein intake until they hear you are vegetarian. We don't have a problem with kwashiorkor (a protein deficiency) in this country, and when it happens it's usually a sign of abuse or neglect. But if you mention you are a vegetarian people automatically want to know where you get your protein. People have been so brainwashed to believe that protein must only be found in meat, when in reality it's found in many places. We eat protein from a variety of sources, including quinoa, tempeh, seitan, tofu, beans, etc. It's never a problem for us to get protein. Plus, our protein doesn't have cholesterol!
    • The vegan police suck. I'm sorry, but they do! The vegan police will nitpick society apart until exhaustion sets in, and then they will take a 10 minute break and start right back up again. They are always looking for ways to call people on every little thing and have very little tolerance for anyone who's opinions disagree with them. I may have even went through periods here and there where people thought I was the vegan police, and if so, I sincerely apologize! The vegan police do nothing but put people on defense, and that will never change hearts and minds. It's a self-serving prophecy that aims to make them feel superior. But we can all poke holes in what they are doing, too. I personally know vegans who may care for and love non-human animals, but treat other humans like crap or have no problem with abortion, so morals shmorals, I say! Their heart is absolutely in the right place, but their approach is detrimental to the movement. If they would stop making veganism look so difficult more people may embrace it.
    • Small efforts should be celebrated. I am someone who loves even the small efforts people make toward not eating animal products. It's not about perfection, it's about awareness and reducing the amount of suffering. I love when I hear people tell me that they are now having Meatless Monday's in their family, or they are carnivores and yet love the gardein veggie burgers, or they are going vegan until after 6 pm, or whatever it is. Yay! I even dined with a friend before who ordered a veggie burger topped with bacon. At least it was a veggie burger! I celebrate all of that, because every time someone reaches for a vegetarian meal they have helped to reduce suffering and they have often made a better choice for their own health and the environment. The stores are brimming with vegetarian food options and millions of carnivores today are buying them, which is why they are now widely available at mainstream stores. When carnivores opt for having even some vegetarian meals in their diet each week, it's a win-win for all! In recent years my mother has went from eating a standard American diet that was filled with meat, to eating it just a couple of times per week. Now, they eat gardein products, quinoa, and a variety of other tasty and creative plant-based meals. That's a huge win even though they will never be vegetarians!
    • Not everyone stays. I've learned that the vast majority of people who go vegetarian or vegan don't remain so. I knew this long before there was research to back it up. I can't tell you how many people I've met over the years who claimed that they had been a vegetarian for X number of years, but went back to eating meat, but it's been a lot! Then I saw the research that shows 70% of vegans and 84% of vegetarians go back to eating meat. Who knows the reasons why. I would guess that some miss the meat, others didn't like the lifestyle, some got tired of being told by the vegan police that what they were doing was never good enough, etc. There is additional research that I've seen over the years that I believe helps to explain this number some, which is that the reasons why you went vegetarian or vegan make a huge difference in whether or not you remain so. Most people go vegetarian for their own personal health. Those who do so are the ones that most of the time do not remain vegetarian for the long haul, they tend to put meat back in. Those who go vegetarian for altruistic reasons (something other than themselves) are smaller in numbers, but are the ones who tend to stick with the lifestyle long term. This group of people are vegetarian for the animals, environment, world hunger, etc.
    • Meat destroys the planet. If you ask people what the biggest environmental problems are that face the planet, most will cite things like global warming or too many cars on the roads. But what people fail to realize and nobody wants to talk about is that the meat industry is the single biggest source of environmental pollution and degradation that there is on the planet. It's easier for people to dodge the topic and point to the car, than it is to opt for food that wasn't so harshly produced. The meat industry causes vast amounts of pollution in the form of animal waste, run-off, gases, deforestation, etc. Even if you just consider the fact that every animal in the  meat industry (over 10 billion per year) will take at least one shit per day, that's an enormous amount of shit and nowhere to put it. You simply cannot use all of that for fertilizer. It's being put into shit lagoons, which seep into the earth, overflow into rivers, lakes, etc, and cause further damage. The United Nations has urged people around the world to reduce their meat and dairy consumption to battle these problems, but very few people care to hear it or heed the advice.
    • There's a lot of disagreement within the vegetarian community. Just because we vegetarians agree to not eat meat doesn't mean that we all get along. It's surprising how much strife there is within the vegetarian community. It actually gets crazy! There are some who don't care about nature, because they don't see the fact that if you are for nature you are also caring for all animals that inhabit it. There are still some that don't see the benefits of organic foods or how they help to create a better planet, and thereby help to care for the animals in it. I've had some tell me that we shouldn't travel because we are vegetarians. Get a room full of vegetarians together and they will all agree to not eat meat, but that doesn't mean they will agree on much else. Don't assume we all think alike, because we don't. Some love PETA, for example, while others of us despise their tactics.
    • Some food should be vegetarian that isn't. There are "hidden" ingredients that vegetarians have to mindful of. Foods that seemingly should be vegetarian are not necessarily always vegetarian. I once picked up microwave popcorn that had "fish" as an ingredient, for example. Today, non-organic bananas are being sprayed with chitosan, which comes from shrimp and other crustaceans, rendering it non-vegetarian. A banana! It shouldn't be that way, but sadly it is, and there are people who further help to cause confusion because they will call themselves a vegetarian and yet eat fish or chicken, leading people to believe that must be what vegetarians eat. But it's not.
    • Everyone brings it up to you. I rarely bring up my vegetarianism to people when we get together for a lunch meeting or gathering, but people bring it up to me all of the time. I honestly don't want to talk about it with them, unless they have a sincere interest in learning more about going vegetarian, because otherwise the conversation will just make them feel uncomfortable, or leave them feeling that I'm judging them, when I'm not. I would prefer people not bring it up to me every time we happen to dine together. One that same note, people should order what they want. Often times when I dine out with people they will ask me if they can order meat, or they will place their order for it and then look at me and say "sorry," even though I haven't said a word. I guess my presence is just a constant reminder to them, but people should order what they want and be who they are. They are not hurting me by ordering meat. I'm honestly not judging what they are ordering. But honestly, I try not to even look at their plate much. There are only a few things that I am not comfortable with people eating around me, and those are ribs and seafood. Ribs because the image grosses me out, seafood because the smell is just so awful.
    • There is a vegan substitute for everything. I can't think of anything a carnivore would eat that you can't get in a vegan form. Today there is everything imaginable available, even things like vegan seafood. No matter what someone wants to cook or eat there's a way to prepare it vegan, too.
    • You forget what it tastes like. I can honestly say that I don't remember what meat tastes like. I've been a vegetarian for most of my adult life and I have forgotten. The reason I have come to this conclusion was because back a few years ago I gave my sister some vegan chick'n and told her to try it, and that it tasted just like chicken. She took one bite and kindly told me that I do not remember what chicken tastes like, because that did not taste like chicken. I thought about that for a while and she's right. I just don't remember what the stuff tastes like anymore. The vegetarian food label suggests it tastes like chicken, so I just go with it. I don't try to judge food based on it trying to taste like meat, I just eat it for what it is and judge it on its own merits.
    • Carnivores don't understand "fake meats." I've had numerous carnivores ask me things like "you must want meat if you eat the fake meat," and "why do you eat that stuff if you don't want meat" and more. Many really don't understand why we are eating "fake meats" as they like to call them (I call them meat alternatives or just call them what they are, such as veggie burgers, veggie dogs, seitan, etc.). Well, here's the answer: I didn't stop eating meat because I didn't like the taste of it. Granted, I could never eat pork because I hated the taste, but there were some meat products that I did like the taste of. Taste wasn't the issue here! So if I can eat a product like meat, but that didn't cause the cruelty and environmental damage, then I'm  happy. I will say there are a few vegan items that look too much like meat that just kind of gross me out and I won't eat.
    • There's a double standards with images. I read a quote about vegetarians by Dr. Melanie Joy that said "They must live in a world where they are constantly bombarded by imagery and attitudes that offend their deepest sensibilities." This is absolutely true. As a vegetarian I see meat images all day long. They are everywhere! Billboards, all over Facebook, magazines, commercials, etc. Everywhere. But post just one vegetarian meme on Facebook or a commercial and carnivores roar. They have a difficult time with seeing anything vegetarian related, while we see the meat show all day, every day. I find the Thanksgiving turkey image that is so popular to be repulsive. I just see a poor bird that has been decapitated and de-feathered, yet that image is everywhere each November.
    • Offending people will never get them to eat more plant-based foods. This is related to the protesting, but it goes for conversations, tabling, or anything else. If you offend the person you will not get them to soften their view about the merits of vegetarian food. I abandoned the idea of protests 18 years ago, because I saw that. When you offend,  the person is immediately tuned out of hearing your message and is merely in defense mode. Your message is lost. The best way to promote vegetarianism is to be positive, be the example, and let them taste darn good vegetarian food! Today, we set up a table at events and people come to us for information and to try the foods we are handing out. There's no pressure, no guilt trip or making them go into defense mode. This approach changes minds. I've seen it happen many times. People come over to the table and I ask them if they would like to try a gardein crispy tender (like a chicken nugget) and they are skeptical. They assume it will not taste good. They give it a try and I see the change on their face. They almost always like it! Bam! That's change! The person walks away no longer fearing the vegetarian food or having attitude that it's not good. They have a coupon in hand, vegetarian literature, and they walk away with a seed planted. It's the positive grassroots efforts that make a difference.
    • People think that only raising kids vegetarian is imposing your beliefs. Both of my kids have been vegetarian since birth and are now 9 and 11. I've had many people over the years ask me if I was "imposing my vegetarian beliefs" on my kids. This question kind of blows my mind. Of course I am! Every parent on the planet is imposing their beliefs on their kids, whether they feed them a brisket or baked tofu. If you feed your children meat you are also imposing your beliefs on your children. It's called parenting.
    • Not all vegetarian products are good. But neither are all non-vegetarian products. I've tasted plenty of vegetarian products that taste bad, but I'm sure the same goes for non-vegetarian products. Carnivores can't like everything they try that has meat. It's no different. It's all about finding what you like. 
    • Most people don't see the connection. They simply don't. I see animal-related charities having fundraisers and yet they are serving animals, and that's just a tip of the iceberg. People by and large are just out of touch with where their food comes from today. People ask me why I'm a vegetarian and I say because of the animal cruelty. My goal is to reduce the amount of animal cruelty that comes about as a result of my personal choices. I get the deer in the headlights look back from them. They don't get it. You can't eat an animal without having been cruel to it or having animal cruelty involved, that's the bottom line. Having said that, I have nothing against hunters. I actually have more respect for someone who hunts the meat they eat than someone who blindly buys it from the store, having no connection to what it is and where it came from. Hunting goes back to the dawn of man and it is a million times better than today's industrialized meat industry for many reasons. And still, I can say that I don't hold anything against anyone who eats meat, whether they hunt it or buy it from the store or restaurant. Most of the people I love in this world eat meat, that's just the way it is.
    • It's not a cure all. I'm so over hearing people say that going vegan will cure this, that and the other. Ugh. I do believe you can live a healthy life and have some meat included in it. Not a lot, because it's going to clog up your arteries, but you can be healthy and eat some meat. But going vegan isn't the cure-all for weight loss and every ailment out there. It reminds me of when I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. I had a couple of people tell me to go vegan to help it. Um, I had been vegan for years at that point!
    • It's a lifestyle that I will always have. I believe completely that I will be a vegetarian for the rest of my life. Right now I live a lifestyle that is veganish, because it's probably 90% vegan. I'm not just talking about what I put into my mouth, but for my whole lifestyle. At home I do vegan cooking, but when I go out I no longer grill the waitress about what's in the bun on the veggie burger, for example. I may even have pizza or birthday cake, or chai that has honey, here and there that is not vegan. I always prefer things to be vegan, but I also realize I don't live in a vegan world, and I want to get along in it. I'm at peace with my lifestyle and where I'm at with my vegetarianism. I read that a vegetarian diet saves around 98 animals per year, which is awesome. I can happily live with that for the rest of my life!

- Jacqueline


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