Monday, February 20, 2012

How I Became A Vegetarian

Let me start off by saying that I don't want this blog to be all about my vegetarianism. It is a HUGE part of who I am, but I am also many other things. However, it will probably take up much of this blog and how I became a vegetarian, I feel, it is a very important story to tell.

I first became a Pescatarian in August 2009. I love animals. I attempted to become a vegetarian in 7th grade because of the animals, but my dad (whom I adore and admire) wouldn't let me. He grew up on very traditional "meat and potatoes" fare in Minnesota and wouldn't conceive of cooking spaghetti without ground beef! Or the numerous other dishes we had every night that contained meat.  I dropped my quest for vegetarianism at the age of 12 and that was that. Until two and a half years ago when I was 24. I picked up the book Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin and was utterly shocked and disgusted by the meat industry. At that moment I became a pescatarian (one who eats fish and seafood but not land mammals).

I didn't know what I was getting into when I picked up Skinny Bitch.  I had certainly heard of vegans, I mean, I'm from Portland, OR afterall where diets such as vegetarianism and veganism is more accepted and commonplace.  But when I picked up this book, I thought it was going to be another diet book that told you to stop with the carbs, eat lean protein, etc.  This book opened my eyes to meat industry and it's horrors.  How could I ignore such cruelty?  I love animals!  How could I accept that it was ok to treat them this way in order for me to eat them?  I couldn't.

At first I became a pescatarian.  It was more so to appease my parents about my choice not to eat chicken, beef, or pork ever again (my mom is Southern and seafood was always big in our home).  And to be honest, I wasn't sure what the hell a vegetarian ate!  But at least if I was a pescatarian, I would have options and choices at restaurants and parties and not feel like a freak.  Not to mention, I just didn't (and in some ways, still don't) put fish and shrimp in the same category as chickens and pigs. 

Needless to say no one thought I could do it. "What will you eat?" "You can never have Subway again!" "What about Thanksgiving?!"  Subway, by the way, has delicious veggie subs.

Everyone seemed confused by the idea. And at first it was hard. I didn't know what the hell tofu was or seitan and I really didn't know much about soy. So I did the typical thing that most unknowing vegetarians do when try give up meat: carb overload! Donuts are vegetarian! So are French fries, cake, breads, peanut butter, waffles, milkshakes, etc. It was almost an excuse to eat my favorite junk!

I got married in November 2009 (I had eggplant parmesan at my wedding) and then had my first turkey-free Thanksgiving. And it wasn't that hard!  You get to eat all the meatless side dishes! 

Over the last two and a half years I have successfully stayed away from meat with little difficulty.  However, since we moved to South Carolina in May 2010 (thanks to the Air Force), it was much harder.  This is the deep south where everything is fried, BBQed, dipped in pig lard, and hunted.  Not only that, but we live in a semi-rural area where there aren't any sort of health food stores like Trader Joes, Whole Foods, New Seasons Market, or Earth Fare close by.  The nearest one to me is about 45 minutes to an hour away. 

Thankfully, our grocery store on base carries a lot more vegan/vegetarian items than it used to when we first moved here.  But I can see why people in the south might have a harder time choosing vegetarianism simply do to lack of resources to start the diet successfully.  There are far more fast food restaurants in this town than necessary.  But that is a topic of discussion for another time.

In spring 2011, I started noticing I was having stomach problems.  I won't go into the details, but by September I started going to my doctor to see what was wrong with me, explaining all my symptoms.  At first he put me on acid reflux medicine and I was confused, I have never had heartburn or any issues with acid in my life!  But the acid reflux medicine made me vomit, so I had to stop taking it.  We looked at all options, from IBS to celiac disease and finally landed on lactose intolerance.  After a process of trial and error and after two weeks of abstaining from all dairy products, we came to the conclusion that I'm lactose intolerant. 

I was kind of surprised, but my mother told me that as an infant I was lactose intolerant and while she was breastfeeding me she had to give up dairy products so I wouldn't be sick.  Of course, it "went away" as a kid and teenager.  Whether or not it went away or I just didn't notice it, I don't know, but I now try to avoid dairy whenever possible.  Apparently, it's not uncommon for grown adults to suddenly become lactose intolerant.  Afterall, we're the only mammal that consumes the breast milk of another mammal far after we're infants.

This got me thinking about becoming a vegan... I mean, I already wasn't eating chicken, cows, and pigs, and (as of 2012) I don't consume fish and seafood anymore.  And now I'm allergic to milk and cheese, I might as well right?

That is another discussion for another time.  Thank you for reading my story on how I became a vegetarian.


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