Month of Vegetarianism – A Toast!

One month.

That’s how long it takes to change my perspective on something. Before I accepted the challenge to become a vegetarian for a month, I didn’t think about my food intake. Not my portion-size, quality of food, or my health. It just never played a big part in my life.

As a kid, my parents cooked some pretty great food for me, things that I loved to eat. Patty Melts, spaghetti, and all manner of fried goods. I ate to my fill, and never wanted for food. But, when i got to college, I had to spend my own money on food…no more home-cooked meals. Especially in the dorms. But, in the last few years, my diet has been a revolving door of crappy-quality home-cooked meals, fast food, and things I scrounged up from friends.

But now, i have a new-found respect for dietary choices, and people who take it seriously.

I got a lot of criticism from people for my vegetarianism. “Faggot” and “This is Texas!” and “I’m a man and I eat Red Meat” were just a few of the mudballs lobbed my way. No big deal, of course…but I assure you, those things were said by people with no perspective. The truth is that, after years and years of eating poorly, it can have seriously adverse effects on one’s health. I know…my Dad died of cancer.

I can’t say whether or not it was directly related to his diet…nobody can…but he’s not the only person in my family to die of cancer. My grandmother and grandfather on my dad’s side both had cancer at one point, and my grandmother on my mom’s side is a cancer survivor. See my point? I’m 25 now, so my health is something I should at least start thinking about paying attention to.

So, think of my Month of Vegetarianism as an exploratory mission.

I wanted to see what would happen. And, along the way, i found out a few things.

1. I don’t really care what I eat.
Before there were stipulations on my diet, i just ate whatever, whenever. And, I’ll be honest…it wasn’t great. It didn’t kill me, but if i would’ve kept doing that for another 5 years or so, my metabolism woulda caught up to me, and I’d look like everybody else from my hometown that just got fat after high school. For the month where i put serious restrictions on my diet, strangely, i still didn’t really care what I ate. I oftentimes ate the exact same sets of meals for several days straight. I’m a creature of habit, i guess. But, I’m ok with it. I didn’t really realize it before, but being a vegetarian put my eating habits into perspective. So, how does that help me? Well, now i know more about how i eat, maybe I can create some set of rules for myself…guidelines…to ensure that I continue to eat healthy-ish in the future. That way, I can cut down on health risks so that I’ll, you know, live to see my 46th birthday.

2. I used to eat a lot of food.
Portion size was never really something I thought about before my month of vegetarianism. I just ate until I was full, and then quit. Oftentimes, I’d feel like I was obligated to eat every single thing on my plate, even if it was too much food…it was like an OCD thing. And, I was a chronic over-orderer. I would look at a menu and see all the tasty things and say, “I’ll have summa this, this, this, and this. And that, too.” And then, of course, I felt like i was obligated to eat it all. In a way, i was ruled by my taste buds, and then by my need to tie up loose ends. So, i was over-eating.
Not so anymore. Being a vegetarian felt extremely limiting at first, and I think i probably didn’t eat a of food because I felt closed-off. My portion sized decreased, and my body became used to it. I didn’t eat until i was bloated and felt gross. I just ate, and learned when to say, “enough.” Then, as time passed, i felt more comfortable in my new skin, and began to expand on what i could eat. But, my new ideas on portion control remained. So, nowadays I eat less, and feel better about it.

3. Food companies have you by the nuts.
Fast food companies, restaurants, and food manufacturers have you on lock down, and you probably don’t even know it. Why? Because they absolutely pour money into keeping you docile and not exploring other avenues. Do you really think they’re ok with you trying new things? No, they’re not. They want you to keep coming back for more, which is why they engineer their food to possess nigh-addictive qualities. Why do you think you can’t ever put down the back of chips? You think they came off a tree that way? No, they were researched and developed to taste that way. And as soon as you run out, you have the urge for more. I once (infamously) went without drinking soda for two years. TWO YEARS, legitimately. After the first two weeks, i wanted a Dr Pepper so damn bad I couldn’t see straight. I was having withdrawals, as if I were on drugs. And then, it was over. I didn’t have the urge to drink one anymore, and I didn’t. That probably pissed the people at Dr Pepper off. Of course, companies won’t say their strategy is to keep you addicted…that’s bad PR. They’ll even tell you they’re “committed to making the healthiest products they can.” And yeah, they have departments devoted to making their products healthier, but they also have entire R&D departments devoted to testing which recipes are going to keep people coming back for more. And sho’ nuff, there you go, back to the store for your Doritos. And it’s not even the products themselves; it’s the entire culture that these companies create to keep you in line with a case of Cokes in-hand. How many Coke commercials do you see in a given week? And in how many of them are the people smiling and having a good time? “Coke is goooooood.”
So how did being a vegetarian help? Because, for only the second time in my life, I stepped off the grid. I walked away from that over-branded world of food industry consumerism and looked back at it from afar. And guys, it’s ugly. Lotta sheep walkin’ around, and it’s only when you break out of line that you can see that you were even in one.

For more on that can of worms, check out THIS and THIS.

4. Other lifestyles are acceptable.
I caught so much shit for being a vegetarian. Of course, lots of people supported it (Erin S.), and more people said things like, “OMG…i could never be a vegetarian.” And others just rolled their eyes. It divided people into a lot of different camps, and after talking with so many people and hearing so many different opinions, i realized something: their opinions are just like their lifestyles. Different. Everybody lives their lives differently. You say, “Duh,” but you don’t really know what you’re talking about until you walk in other people’s shoes for a while. Like i said after the first time I went vegetarian grocery shopping, I felt very much like a minority in the store. Kroger and Walmart are not built for vegetarians, they’re built for the masses, and when you walk through and can’t buy 80% of the things on the shelves, you’re suddenly very aware of it. After walking in those shoes for a month, I can’t look at vegans or vegetarians, or any other subculture and chuckle, or wonder what the hell they’re thinking. Regardless of the reason, it’s a legitimate way to live their lives, and it’d be great if everyone respected that and STFU.

So, my exploratory mission was very much a success, even if I did slip with the Kolache that one day. I learned a lot about myself and the choices I’ve made, and even the choices that were made for me, whether it be in the grocery store, or on my dinner table when I was a kid. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s important to watch what you eat, if not for your own health, but for the health of your friends and family around you.

I’m not gonna be a food nazi, and yes, I’ll be eating meat again, but it won’t be like before. I’ll no longer be gorging myself, and I’ll sometimes look at things I used to eat with a healthy amount of skepticism. Gone are the days (mostly) of heaping plates of barbeque, or greasy-ass fast food. I’ll dabble, of course, but I likely won’t go back to those days, and I have a hunch that I’ll end up being better-off in the long run.

So, a toast! To perspective, and to exploratory missions; without those two things, I’d probably be eating a bagful of french fries at midnight. And a finally, to all the people out there who don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about: go walk in some other shoes, and see where the road takes you. I’m not a martyr or a monk, or even a true believer, but at least i’ve glimpsed the light. So, start opening some doors and see what you can see.

Godspeed!

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