by Paige Hopkins
I was vegetarian.
It was no fling, oh no. In fact it was the longest commitment of my life, from age 14 to 27. Protect the animals! I thought, ‘How can you possibly eat your animal friends?’. Though, I will be honest, it wasn’t all giggly piglets and twinkly eyed lambs; sometimes it sucked. My choices at restaurants were often limited *sob* and I was constantly plagued by fatigue.
I best get my disclaimer out of the way. I fully endorse vegetarian and vegan diets, but it needs to be done right. Ideally under medical supervision and advice. If being vegetarian were a contest, I would get last place.
Then one day, I had an encounter with a little sausage that changed my life. A Balkan lamb sausage, to be exact, called Cevapcici or Cevapi (pronounced chebapi). I simply had to try it. So, I ate like 10. The effect was immediate: I had energy, I was laughing, my friends said I had colour for the first time ever. It was then that I decided that I could not live as a vegetarian anymore.
I am sure many of you have read/watched/heard the myriad of Vegetarian and Vegan content creators on the Internet and know that there is a massive community out there. But, when it comes to getting good, solid advice about a healthy and sustainable lifestyle devoid of meat, it is best to take Social Media with a grain of salt. Accordingly, question everything I say. As with most things there is a lot of misinformation out there and it is best to talk to a doctor or dietitian. That being said, platforms like YouTube and Pinterest are fantastic catalogues for vegetarian and vegan recipes. I follow Avant-Garde Vegan, Cheap Lazy Vegan and Brothers Eat Green on YouTube for their fun and informative videos.
Though I am not a medical professional, nor an over-confident Social Media “Guru”, I want to share some of what I learned in my 12 years of Vegetarianism.
- A varied diet is essential. When I first became a “veggy”, I ate mostly bread and cereal. This is the quickest way to become nutrient deficient and hate your life. Include all colours of the rainbow! Ha-ay!
- Vitamins such as B12 and amino acids like glutamine are hard to come by in a plant-based diet. Good thing you can just go buy them.
- Sometimes it is hard to eat enough. Low-calorie, high fibre foods like raw veggies and lentils tend to fill you up faster, making getting enough calories difficult. High-fat vegetables like avocados are great to fill out any meal. Or, just eat peanut butter out of the jar by the spoonful.
- Protein, protein, protein. Protein may seem an elusive creature in the vegetarian diet, but believe me, its there. Tofu is probably one of the best (and most versatile) sources, along with nuts, seeds, lentils and beans. As I always say: “Bean there, nut that.” Ahaha! I’ll show myself out…
- Many imitation-meat products are actually pretty good; if anyone wants my recipe for peanut butter tofu “ribs” hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Depending on how strict you are and by that I mean “how much do you love animals??”; it is good to be aware of animal products in non-food items. Such as crayons (!#%!?), nail polish, some laundry detergents and, perhaps the most heart-breaking, beer.
Now, re-learning how to navigate an omnivorous diet has been an obstacle course, to say the least. Knowing where your food comes from and the processes that go into making it (mechanically separated chicken, anyone?) is surprisingly difficult in the age of the Internet. I reached out to a number of large grocers inquiring after their animal product suppliers and was told they cannot release that information due to “proprietary reasons”. Hmm.
It is also not always clear what if any environmental and ethical consequences there are to current models of food production. In light of that, buying from local farms or hunting your own food is a probably the safest bet. Though these are not always viable options for some, it is good to be aware. Research is your friend.
So, as I bravely eat my way back into omnivorism, I think back to the reason why I became vegetarian in the first place. Even though I now eat the animals, I like to think that my food has had a happy life. Something about that just tastes better.