Last month, we went meatless for Vegetarian Awareness Month. That’s a whole 30 days without meat. THIRTY DAYS. Here’s how it went.
If you don’t already know, October is Vegetarian Awareness Month. A whole month dedicated to the promotion of “joy, compassion, and life-enhancing possibilities of vegetarianism.” Over the years, Vegetarian Awareness Month has brought more attention to the ethical, environmental, health, and humanitarian benefits of living a meatless lifestyle. The idea of the cause is amazing. We took the challenge to go meatless because we wanted to bring more awareness to its existence and the benefits of vegetarianism.
On Vegetarianism: Jennifer’s Experience
I made the decision to stop eating chicken and red meat when I was 13 years old. Apologetically, I continued to consume seafood because I was weak and couldn’t commit to being a vegetarian. When Vivian brought up the idea to go meatless for 30 days to bring awareness to the cause, I was in. (The rest of my comments are based on my own experience. I apologize in advance if you find it offensive or do not agree with the thoughts I have written down).
Being a vegetarian is a lot tougher than being a pescatarian. For one, going out to eat with your meat-loving friends is a nightmare. Unless it is a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, most establishments only have one or two vegetarian options on the menu. And over the past 30 days, french fries and I have grown very close — a little too close. There are also sacrifices to be made. The option to try a restaurant’s signature dish or revel in a city’s cultural food is all thrown out of the window too because — surprise — everything contains meat. Plus, no one ever thinks about a vegetarian at a BBQ, so most times I’m left eating potato salad and chips all afternoon.
Cooking at home is different. I have learned to substitute my meat with tofu, beans, and quinoa. I love fruits and vegetables so there weren’t any problems with over snacking on unhealthy junk food. And because I always ate about 4-6 meals a day, I never felt hungry. On the plus side, it’s cheaper to buy and make food at home rather than go out to eat (mostly because you can’t). However, to not have seafood as an option for protein made me crave carbs and dairy more than ever. I was on a bread and cheese binge. And it was dangerous. So dangerous that I spent $20 on 0.25 lbs of cheese!
My toughest hurdle with going meatless was “trying to keep things exciting.” Tofu and beans got boring after eating it for seven days straight. I quickly ran out of home cooked meal ideas, so I made the same dishes over again. Soon, everything I ate started to taste the same — same texture, same look, same taste. I think my experience could have been a lot more enjoyable if I had planned more exciting meatless meals.
To reflect on my month of being a vegetarian, I realized how much our culture depended on meat. Not a lot of my friends were opened to the idea. My mom was furious because she thought no meat meant purposely starving myself. In my opinion, going meatless is not as taboo as everyone thinks. There are plenty of delicious vegetarian restaurants to eat at. You just need to find open minded friends to go with (I think I may need new friends). I learned that everything sounds tough until you get it done. I got to challenge my temptations and was surprised at how strong my willpower was. As I’m writing this I’m thinking, “If I can do this, I can do anything!” And lastly, I was constantly reminded of why I stopped eating chicken and red meat in the first place. I was able to live a cruelty free life for a whole 30 days — I didn’t have to contribute to the meat industry and the overfishing of our oceans. It felt great to know I didn’t have to harm another life to satisfy my own.
Overall, I don’t know if I will ever be able to cut seafood out of my life completely. However, I have made a plans to take another step in the right direction. I will participate in Meatless Mondays for all my friends under the sea. Eventually, I want to limit my consumption of seafood altogether — maybe only eat it 2-3 times per week. With better planning, I want to give this another try. Who knows, maybe one day I’d be able to cut out all meat for good!
Jennifer’s Tips on Being Vegetarian
- Like exercising, don’t be vegetarian because you’re bored and want to try something new. It won’t last. Do it for the right reasons — the environment, the earth, or your health — and you’ll be more strong willed to say no the next time someone asks you out to KBBQ.
- Research the foods you need to eat in place of the proteins you will need to cut out of your life. Some staples are tofu, beans, quinoa, and seitan.
- Let your doctor know about your plans to become a vegetarian. They can help provide more insight on the nutrients you will need for your body and may even suggest vitamin supplements. Visit them regularly to make sure you stay happy and healthy.
- Don’t feel guilty if you relapse. Not everyone can quit cold turkey. We’re humans with desires who make mistakes. If you eat meat one day, don’t be hard on yourself. As long as you keep up with it the next day and the day after that you’re already doing better. Don’t make it a miserable experience.
- Look up these sites for daily vegetarian meals and meal preps: The Vegan Stoner, Vegetarian Ventures, Naturally Ella, and My New Roots. Try one new one a week to keep things exciting. You can even continue to cook your favorite meals, but replace the meat with a meat substitute.
- When you first start your vegetarian lifestyle, you’ll find you get hungry more often than before. Keep healthy snacks on hand (fruits, vegetables, and ones high in protein).
- Keep your friends in the loop about your new lifestyle change. If they know, they will be less likely to unintentionally tempt you with meat. When you all go out to eat they’ll have your diet in mind. Your friends are your best support system. Something as simple as this can make the process and the transition a lot easier.
On Vegetarianism: Vivian’s Experience
After taking my environmental science classes, I knew going vegetarian would do the environment a big favor. Simply by going on a meatless diet, it will help reduce greenhouse gases, climate change, methane, deforestation, pollution, oil consumption and save water, land, and the ocean. How incredible! Let’s also not forget that being vegetarian also saves our furry animals and is beneficial for your health. So when Jennifer and I found out that October was Vegetarian Awareness Month, we decided to challenge ourselves by going strictly meatless. I was excited yet nervous. I remember going home thinking, what did I just agree to do?! The idea of cutting meat out completely, boggled my mind. I was going in cold turkey, which probably wasn’t the best idea. But I love a good challenge.
When I was a vegetarian, I noticed three things: 1. our society loves meat, 2. I’m very uncreative with my meatless meals, and 3. I felt like the hungry hungry hippo 80% of the time. When I ate out with my friends, I didn’t want to be that person who everyone had to accommodate for. So unless it was a vegetarian restaurant, there were little options for the meatless individuals. The options were usually appetizers or a sad, measly salad. I usually left those restaurants unsatisfied and still hungry. But when I did eat at vegetarian restaurants, the meals were absolutely delicious! Though sometimes, the vegetarian meals were unfortunately more expensive.
When I whipped up my own veggie meals, they were usually what I normally ate, but without the meat of course. I substituted my protein with tofu, beans, or nuts. I threw more vegetables and fruits into my diet. Overall, my meals were quite healthy, but they got pretty bland and boring after a while. I tried to spice it up with sauces and spices, but that could only do so much. For some reason, I ate more carbs and starchy food. I ate lots of pasta, bread, rice, bread, potatoes, bread, cheese, bread — did I mention I ate a lot of bread? Although starchy foods are important for one’s diet, I definitely went over the recommended amount (whoops). I was also hungrier which probably meant I wasn’t eating enough protein. I felt like I was getting hungry every 2-3 hours. These problems could’ve definitely been resolved if I took the time to look up vegetarian recipes and snacked more often. That’s my bad on my part.
This experience was very eye-opening. Just by not eating meat, I was positively contributing to the environment and the animals. For 30 days, I had a guilt-free conscious. For 30 days, I was not a contributor to the environmental hazards of the meat industry. For 30 days, I lived a healthier lifestyle (even lost a couple pounds!). For 30 days, no animals were harmed. Being vegetarian forced me to be aware of our food industry and our meat-crazed society. It challenged my will power and my conscious. Though I’m proud I stuck it through, I don’t think I can go vegetarian full-time. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do it part-time. One things for sure, I’ve been inspired to reduce my meat consumption as a whole. Meatless Mondays will now be a regular event. I plan to eat less red meat and eventually eat meat only 3 times a week. Learning from my previous mistakes, I’m excited to see where this new lifestyle will take me. Maybe one day, I’ll be vegetarian full-time. Only time will tell.
Vivian’s Tips on Being Vegetarian:
- Ease into vegetarianism by slowly going meatless. Don’t go cold turkey like I did. Start with Meatless Mondays, then only eat meat three 3-4 times a week, then only on weekends, and eventually none at all! It’s all about baby steps.
- Here are some protein substitutes to consider: tofu, tempeh, quinoa, chia seeds, beans, lentils.
- Make sure you snack throughout the day to satisfy your hunger. Choose snacks high in protein: nuts, peanut butter, yogurt, edamame, trail mix, chia, hummus, cheese sticks.
- If you can’t cut out meat completely, eat less red meat at least. Choose chicken or fish over red meat (i.e. beef, pork, lamb).
- Educate yourself by watching these influential documentaries — Forks Over Knives, Food Inc., Cowspiracy, and Racing Extinction. It’ll make you think twice about our food industry.
We encourage everyone to make a change and consider living a vegetarian lifestyle at least once in their lives. Everyone’s experience is different and yours may differ from ours. You may find that you feel a lot healthier and energetic or you can discover foods from cultures you’ve never tried before (Thai and Indian dishes have great vegetarian options!). Even if you aren’t ready to commit, limiting your weekly consumption of meat is great for you and the environment. Good luck to all those taking the challenge to go meatless this Vegetarian Awareness Month!
Jennifer and Vivian