25 Years of Vegetarianism

Old US Customs House, Portland. Ricohflex Dia/Ilford XP2+

Another milestone for me to process: 25 years ago I stopped eating meat. I don’t remember the exact day my vegetarianism went into effect. I just know that I had some burgers on Labor Day 1997 (which would have been Monday September 1st) at the family barbecue, and sometime after that I did not eat meat by choice ever again.

Unless you know me, you probably would not know that I’m a vegetarian. There’s a stereotype of vegetarians and vegans being rail-thin. I am the opposite of that. Nor am I a hippie or a punk, two subcultures typically associated with a meat-free lifestyle. I don’t have any tattoos or wear t-shirts proclaiming “Meat is Murder.” It’s not something I loudly broadcast. But if you ask me, I will tell you.

Why would I not make a big point of it? Well, I don’t really have an evangelical personality to start with. And there’s those preconceived notions of what a vegetarian is. There’s also the feeling that somehow I may be judging you. We all know that we don’t liked to be judged. Sometimes when I let someone know of my dietary status, I’ll get a defensive: “Well, I don’t really eat that much meat anyway, maybe a couple times a week. 1 You can say I’m practically a vegetarian!” Listen, I don’t care about your dietary status. I care primarily about mine.

Possibly the worst reaction I’ll get is when I acknowledge my vegetarianism and the first thing I’ll get out of certain people is “What meat do I miss?” The answer: none. If I did miss meat, I would eat it again. 2 Sure, the first few months of stopping meat were difficult, but once I got used to it, it wasn’t a big deal. And no, I do not miss bacon, even if you think it’s the meat I miss the most. I never liked bacon in the first place, thank you very much.

(I’ll also note here that I do not eat seafood or fish. Yeah, some people who say they’re vegetarian will eat that stuff. But in reality they are pescatarians, not vegetarians. Giving up seafood was easy, for the most part I never liked it.)

Would it be nice if more people were vegetarian/vegan? Sure! From a purely selfish standpoint, it would mean more options at restaurants, instead of me having to make do once again with a veggie burger or a cobbling together of non-offensive sides. But your life is your choice.

I became a vegetarian at the age of 22. This was done after a few years of thinking about it. I didn’t go to college, so during what would have (and should have) been my college years (18-21) I wasn’t surrounded by fellow youths and a proliferation of ideas. Vegetarianism wasn’t a phase to go through or a personality to try on, only to discard when I got bored or found a new thing. No, during that era of my life I was surrounded by lots of older people at work. But there were fellow youths at that Kmart in suburban Connecticut. And many of them were vegetarian. It didn’t encourage me to get into vegetarianism right away, even to impress girls or something. But it definitely got me thinking about it.

Then in 1996 I got into zines and mini-comics. Vegetarianism and veganism was pretty front-and-center in a lot of what I read, so I really started to consider removing meat from my diet.

But why? Why go vegetarian? There are two big reasons for me:

  • Environmental Concerns: It was the 90’s and I was getting interested in ways to “save the earth”. One of the big causes of pollution is the livestock industry, with the methane generated by cows. Giving over large swaths of land to grazing (and grazing requires large swaths of land) destroys fragile ecosystems and denudes the ground of plant life.
  • Personal Health: Cutting out meat (especially red meat) would mean lowered risks of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. I was relatively unhealthy in my youth, battling with weight and even high blood pressure at one point. I was looking at my mom’s side of the family and not liking what I see, and didn’t want to inherit the health issues they would have. (As it was, a couple years later my mom got diagnosed with diabetes, and just thinking about it scares the crap out of me.) 3

But let’s be honest: there’s a lot of things we can do to improve our health. Wanting to give up smoking, for example, is a lot easier than doing it. I didn’t want to do something that I knew was right, only to give it up a year or two later because I couldn’t hack it, then feel guilty about it. This guilt would turn into resentment against those who could, then I would create this idea in my head that vegetarians are all puritanical ascetics who lecture at length on the evils of meat.

One thing I read (and I don’t remember where I saw this) convinced me to at least give it a shot: This piece of wisdom asked what my favorite foods were. I made a mental list: pizza and Italian food in general, Mexican food, Lebanese food. Was meat what made you like these favorite foods? If you removed meat from them, would you still like them? The answer to the first question was No. And for the second question, yes, I would still like these foods if meat was removed.

And since late 1997 I have not consumed meat. I’m okay with this, and will keep on going. I will note that I’m not vegan, I still eat eggs and dairy. 4 Some will say that I’m doing it wrong, that I’m a hypocrite. I can live with these contradictions, for now. I have eaten my share of vegan food and have done a few stretches of vegan eating, especially when I was living with vegans, but it never took hold. Blame pizza for that. I just love a good cheese pizza. The vegan cheese alternatives have gotten better over the years, but still aren’t there. If I wasn’t such a cheese pizza fiend, I might be a vegan.

So if you’ve ever thought about vegetarianism, give it a try. Feel free to ask me questions. And don’t assume that all vegetarians and vegans are rail-thin hippies who wear “Meat is Murder” shirts. We might be sitting next to you on the train and you don’t even know it!

Like my stuff? Go to my Ko-fi page to buy me a coffee!

1 Of course after someone says this, I’ll see them eat burgers every day.

2 And here’s where some of you will be: “Well, why do you eat fake meats then?” One, it’s a protein option that’s often readily available at certain places, including restaurants. If I didn’t eat this stuff from time to time I wouldn’t have protein. Two, I may not care for the “meat” aspect of a hamburger, but I do like the idea of a hamburger. So a Beyond patty means I can still enjoy that idea.

3 Since you’re going to ask: I have been to the doctor recently and the tests for diabetes and pre-diabetes came back negative, and my blood pressure and cholesterol are fine.

4 I also use leather. I love leather Brooks saddles and leather shoes. Perhaps I’ll try the Brooks vegan Cambium saddles at some point. But fake leather shoes don’t do anything for me.

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2 thoughts on “25 Years of Vegetarianism

Add yours

  1. Congrats! We’ve been eating a plant-based diet for about 10 years now. We avoid all animal products in our diet but I do like my leather Brooks and I’ve found the Cambiums are not an equal replacement..

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