10 Year Veggie-versary

10 years ago today, I decided to become a vegetarian. Over the last 10 years, I have received a lot of questions, concerns, criticism, and curiosity due to my choice to give up meat. In honor of the milestone vegetarianism anniversary, a veggie-versary, if you will, I decided to share the story of how and why I became a vegetarian, tell you about some of the strange reactions I’ve gotten, and answer some of the common questions carnivores ask.

The night before I officially gave up meat, my mom and I watched this really horrific documentary about KFC’s chicken supplier (I am not sure if KFC still buys chicken from that company. PETA still gives them a lot of grief, but I don’t really subscribe to all of that. I will touch more on this later.) The images I saw were highly disturbing, and the next morning, I still couldn’t bear the thought of actually eating chicken again. The idea to become a vegetarian had crossed my mind a few times, but I was an extremely picky eater and I was worried that I would not have enough options (especially being from a small town where vegetarianism is practically a sin). However, Sunday morning, my mom and I decided that we would give it a shot. We figured, “eh. If it doesn’t last, no big deal.” It is now 10 years later, and we are both still vegetarians.

The first few months were difficult. I was still apprehensive about trying certain foods, so I started running out of options. I ate a lot of pasta. A LOT of pasta. I also starting learning about food that was not “vegetarian-friendly” that I never would have guessed I would have to give up. Gelatin was a hard one for me. I’m still mourning the loss of Count Chocula. If you do not know why gelatin is a vegetarian no-no, I will let you look up that one (many people have yelled at me after telling them what gelatin is. Even though they asked, and I warned them.) At first I was not even slightly concerned about giving up gelatin. I hate Jell-O. Then I discovered that a lot of other food contains gelatin. Pop Tarts (except the unfrosted ones – weird), Starburst, some yogurt, most jellybeans, marshmallows, and up until recently, Skittles. When I found out that Skittles no longer contain gelatin, I was so happy I almost cried.

I was also surprised by how mean people were about my choice to become a vegetarian. I was 15, so I was still in high school. I grew up in West Virginia, and I went to school with a lot of people who hunted. My sophomore year, I had class with a few boys who hunted regularly. Deer season had just begun, which was treated like a national holiday. (No joke. I had teachers who excused students from class on the first day of deer season.) The boys found out that I was a vegetarian, so they decided to move from their regular seats to sit behind me and loudly discuss, in grave detail, their latest kills. I was not bothered by the talk about death and blood – at the time I wanted to study forensic science, so I was/am not easily grossed out. What bothered me about their discussion was the fact that they felt the need to taunt me, when I had never said anything negative about hunting. People also felt, and continue to feel, the need to tell me that “God put animals on this earth for us to eat.” I have read Genesis, and I know to what verse they are referring. I did not choose to become a vegetarian for religious reasons, so I have never understood why people bring the Bible into the discussion.

At one point while I was in school, vegetarianism was the new fad. My best friend, Katey, stopped eating meat shortly after I did, along with about a dozen other people. Some people lasted about a week, others maybe a year. Katey is the only one who is also still a vegetarian. My favorite people were those who said, “Oh, I’m a vegetarian too,” then two days later ate chicken at lunch. When I would call them out, they would say something like, “well, I eat chicken sometimes,” or “there’s nothing else in the lunch line.” If you don’t want to be a vegetarian, then don’t be a vegetarian. Who cares? I don’t.

Being a vegetarian is not for everyone, and I have nothing against people who choose to eat meat. My issue is with people who make an issue out of my choice to be a vegetarian. I will never criticize someone for eating meat, so please do not criticize me for not eating meat.

If you are reading this and you eat meat, you probably have some questions. I will go ahead and answer some of those for you, but if you have more, feel free to ask them in the comments…

The most common questions non-vegetarians ask:

Don’t you miss meat? Not even a little bit. I was never much of a meat-eater to begin with. I hate pork. I hate steak. I ate maybe one cheeseburger a year. I ate mostly chicken, and I don’t even miss that. If you really love meat, then you probably won’t last long as a vegetarian.

But how do you get protein? I have now started responding with, “how do YOU get protein?” People then look at me like I have just asked the dumbest question ever. Right. It is kind of a dumb question. A ton of foods contain protein – beans, nuts, spinach, and broccoli, to name a few. Meat is not the only source of protein.

Do you eat fish? Nope. Some people do, but they are known as pescetarians.

What about cheese? And eggs? I do eat cheese, milk, eggs, and other dairy products. People who choose not to eat dairy are vegan. I have not chosen such a strict diet. I really, really, really love cheese, and I am not willing to give up ice cream. Also, to anyone who thinks that I should not eat eggs because they are dead baby chickens, please go back to elementary school. The eggs we buy in stores are unfertilized, which means there was never a baby chicken.

Does it bother you when people eat meat in front of you? No. The smell of meat sometimes bothers me, but I don’t care if someone eats it in front of me. Most of my friends eat meat, and I have never dated a vegetarian, so my dinners would be very lonely if I couldn’t be around people eating meat.

Are you a PETA-lover? I understand what PETA is trying to accomplish, and I am a huge advocate of the fair treatment of animals, but PETA is a bit too radical for me.

Are you against hunting? No. The idea of sitting in the woods for hours waiting for an animal to possibly walk by so I can shoot it does not appeal to me, but if you enjoy it, have at it. I know of people who make deer jerky and donate it to homeless shelters. How can I be against something that could potentially feed homeless people?

Would you ever eat meat again? Never say never. I have no desire to eat meat, but that does not mean that I won’t change my mind in another 10 years.  If I ever would eat meat again, it would have to be fresh. Like, "we just slaughtered it out back this morning" fresh. Maybe that sounds weird coming from someone who doesn't even eat meat, but the junk they put in our meats, and food in general, is appalling.

I am still very happy with my choice to become a vegetarian. I am now much more open to trying new food because I was sort of forced to do so. I feel better physically than I did when I ate meat. People sometimes give me a hard time about it, but they will always find a reason to pick on others, so if it weren’t this it would be something else. Most people are just curious, though. At the very least, it makes for interesting conversation when I meet new people.

And I don't just eat salads. My dinner tonight will be this new veggie burger from my favorite meat-free frozen food maker, MorningStar Farms.