March 21, 2011

On being a vegetarian

or Isn't it about time for my next existential crisis?
or Spring Break = I have too much time on my hands...

This post is not about any of my usual blogging topics.  That is, it's not about running, reading, or teaching.  But it is about what's been on my mind today, so I'm putting out there.  Thanks for indulging me.  :)

Choosing to be a vegetarian came easily for me.  While I allowed myself a few months of adjustment to slowly lose the meat from my diet, once I hit the date I'd set to truly quit eating animal proteins, I never looked back. While I do have the occassional craving for sushi or chicken nuggets that can usually be satisfied by the fake stuff, I have never missed the meat in my diet or considered changing my mind.  I don't talk much about being a vegetarian because I worry about coming off as pretentious or condescending, when my choice is really just that: a choice for my own lifestyle that I don't think is better or worse than anyone else's.

Let me backtrack a little bit.  I've never been much of a meat eater, but my reluctance to eat red meat was always more of a health choice than anything else.  It wasn't until midway through college when I started considering the ethical side of eating (or choosing not to eat) meat.  I hadn't given it much thought before, but once I started to really think about what I was eating and where it comes from, I knew I had to make a change.  So, in August 2007 I ate my last california roll and said goodbye to meat and fish.  It was surprisingly easy, and while I do have occassional comfort food cravings, it has never been a choice I've regretted, and rarely one I think about.  Choosing to eat a vegetarian diet has just become a natural part of my life and, with that, a part of who I am.

I am a vegetarian because it makes me uncomfortable to consume animal meat when, in the United States, they are more often than not raised in an inhumane and abusive manner.  It pains me to think about the factory farms and genetic engineering that happens to bring chicken and beef to our tables, and while I can't change that in the grand scheme, I see choosing not to eat meat as doing my small part.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress
can be judged by the way its animals are reared.
Mahatma Gandhi

Let me be clear: this is the right choice for me, but in NO WAY am I writing this because I feel that everyone should be a vegetarian.  That is not my judgment to pass, and just as I expect people to respect my choices, I would never dream of thinking negatively of those who disagree with me.

While I said I don't put a lot of thought into eating vegetarian (actually, I don't put a lot of thought into eating...I'm the laziest eater, worst cook, and biggest "grazer" you'll ever meet), I have been thinking a lot about it the past few days.  It started when I read a post on vegetarian "gray areas" on Healthy Tipping Point and reread a post on No Meat Athlete about non-meat foods that contain animal byproducts. Enter my "existential crisis" (or some less dramatic label).

I am not a vegan.  I consume dairy and eggs, as well as honey.  While I have an intense admiration for those that live a vegan lifestyle, I have never really considered doing so.  But lately, I've been wondering if I "should" be doing more as a vegetarian.  Let me clarify: when I say "should," I don't mean to insinuate that any vegetarian "should" be doing anything in particular--being a vegetarian is a very personal thing, and while there is very little black and white, there is a whole lotta gray.  I do what works for me, and strongly encourage all vegetarians and all people to create their own diet rules based on what works for their health and lifestyle.  That being said, since there is no "rule book" (other than the generally accepted "no food with a face" rule), it makes sense that there will be gray areas that every vegetarian must explore his or herself.

Up until now, I have had no reservations about consuming non-flesh animal products like eggs and dairy.  While I prefer cage-free eggs and organic dairy, sometimes a girl on a budget's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.    I've always said that I do the best I can, and that this is what works for me at this point in my life.  Today, though, I'm wondering about taking another step.  No, not vegan, don't worry Family. :)  I am wondering about the gelatin and the rennet I consume regularly.  To offer a little background, gelatin is derived mainly from animal skin, bones, and tissues (source: wikipedia [I know, what a crappy source.  *hangs head in shame*]), while rennet comes from the enzymes in animal stomachs, primarily calves as far as I've read (source: wikipedia again...).  I don't consume an EXTREME amount of gelatin, but I definitely do eat it fairly regularly, being a gummy lover...I even take gummy vitamins to tell you the truth.

Then there's rennet, which I haven't really given much thought to before now.  After doing some research, I've learned that it's not in all cheeses, but if I'm not mistaken, there are enzymes in all or almost all cheeses, not all of these being animal based.  But it gets sketchy until you start really doing research: there is no stream-lined labeling method for cheeses.  When I checked the labels of the cheese that's in my fridge, all of them just listed "enzymes" as an ingredient, but didn't specify if these enzymes are animal or plant-derived.

Short of being an obsessive researcher or eliminating cheese from my diet altogether (which I really can't do and still stay healthy at this point, as it is one of my main sources of calcium and protein...), it doesn't look like the enzyme issue is going to be resolved for me right now.  Maybe someday.  But I know that there are some small steps I can take to make my lifestyle more animal-friendly, like checking labels for gelatin (yes, that means buying real grownup non-gummy vitamins...*tear*) and for goodness sake buying less leather purses or shoes--I'm not a big leather person, but I definitely own leather...

Anyways, those are my thoughts for the moment.  And I give myself full permission to change my mind at any moment, because being a vegetarian is about what is right for me right now.  Just like what's right for me might not be right for you, I am allowed to change my "gray area" rules at any time.  I don't know how many veggie readers I have--I doubt very many--but if you are one, I would love to hear about what your "comfort zone" is as a vegetarian and why you choose to live there.

What we eat is within our control, yet the act ties us to the economic, political, and ecological order of the whole planet.  Even an apparently small change--consciously choosing a diet that is good for both our bodies and for the earth--can lead to a series of choices that transform our whole lives.
Frances Moore Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet

NOTE:  While I included a PETA image, I do NOT agree with the way PETA chooses to voice their message.  In fact, more often than not I think PETA gives vegetarians a bad name.  I just think that logo is really cute.  Also, the Veggie Tales picture has nothing to do with this post, but how could I NOT include a picture of Bob and Larry when talking about vegetables?!


  1. I'm a fairly new vegetarian (going on 10 months now), and I still struggle with my comfort zone. Like you, I don't miss meat and I've found a lot of good substitutes. I also eat eggs and dairy and still somewhat question myself. I have switched from cow's milk to soy milk because it was an easy switch, but I don't avoid all products with cow's milk. I also take gummy vitamins. I've tried taking women's one-a-days but they upset my stomach and the gummies don't. I've thought about cutting back on dairy and gelatin products, but I haven't cut them out and I'm not sure if I could. I do try to make vegan meals now and then, but it's probably not a lifestyle that would work for me right now. I have to think that by not eating meat that I am making a positive impace on my environment, but I know there is always more I could do.

  2. I think a majority of people would agree with you, along with myself, that the meat and poultry industries are egregious. But most of those people tend to try not to think about it, me being one of them, and the status quo lives on.
    But being around you and a few other of my friends that are vegetarian (one vegan) have made me re-evaluate my eating habits and I plan on drastically reducing my meat consumption. I know I'll probably never be able to cut it completely, but I feel like it's a responsible thing to do as an omnivore.
    Just think if everyone cut down their meat consumption by half or more?!

  3. Gosh, I just love your blog. I have only been here once or twice and I don't keep up on blogs very often but you are great! Your writing voice for one is one that makes me want to keep reading. You expressed yourself so wonderfully in this much wisdom and presented in such a humble and loving way. Thank you. Well written. Love the quote you included. I'm having issues with eating meat lately and I really want to just take the leap to vegeterian!

  4. Jessica--I totally agree with you. Like I said, I KNOW there is more I can be doing, but at the same time I struggle with the part of me that knows it's the "right thing to do" and that thinks of some other changes as just "too much work." I've definitely learned in the past few years that there are a lot more personal decisions involved in living a vegetarian lifestyle than I'd initially realized! Oh, and congrats on your 10 months as a veggie! :) Way to go!

    Travis--You're right, if people just ate a little less meat, it makes a huge difference for both animals and the environment.

    Amanda--You are too kind. Thank you so much for your compliments. As for being a veggie? GO FOR IT!!!

  5. thank you for this, i love being updated on your life, personal and professional :)

  6. Great blog! Found you through Amanda...

    I am not currently living a vegetarian life, but I have spent several of my years both as a vegetarian and a vegan. For me, I never felt healthier... until I found myself having a heck of a time eating enough food to sustain myself. I seem to have a rodent-like metabolism! I think that if I were as educated as you have made yourself, that wouldn't have happened. I look forward to reading more of your posts :)

  7. Enjoying reading your blog. I am a 25 year old teacher from New Zealand. I teach 7/8 year olds. I have been a vegetarian since I was about 9. My family all eat meat. My friends older teenage sisters had become vegetarians so that was when I first became aware of 'choosing not to eat meat'. For the first couple of months I would still eat chicken. It was never hard to not eat meat or fish and since then I have never missed meat. When people would ask 'Why did you become a vegetarian?' I never had a clear answer as as much as I like animals, I am not a huge animal lover or environmentalist. Although when I was 16 and had a high school trip to the 'meat works' I was fine seeing most parts including the meat but it wasnt until the last part seeing the cows lined up and mooing that the tears came and I had to leave a.s.a.p! I guess the thought of eating meat, something that has been alive doesn't seem natural for me personally.
    My husband is the total opposite of me - a meat eater who does not eat enough veges! We will often cook together and will have the same meal except minus the meat for me with vegetarian substitutes. When we have kids one day I do think I would get them to eat meat and then it would be a personal choice for them when they are older.
    I can be a bad eater at times and eat far too much instant food. I will get my iron tested a couple of times a year and take supplements when needed.
    I also admit I do eat gummy lollies and cheese! I also will wear leather shoes :-/


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