A little over two years ago, I became a vegetarian. I’d entertained the idea going meat-free before, but never for an extended period. As an animal lover, it grew increasingly important to me that I honor my values by what I consumed. It was a natural transition as I didn’t crave juicy hamburgers or thick steaks the way some do (Put a tray of cupcakes in front of me and that’s a different story!). I’d been a veggie girl for as long as I can remember, opting for mushrooms and olives on my pizza at a young age while friends preferred cheese or pepperoni. So in some ways, my switch to vegetarianism felt inevitable.
Eliminating meat from my diet helped me become more creative in the kitchen and changed the way I think about what I put on my plate. I dabbled in homemade soups and stir-fries and found new uses for my pantry staples. I boarded the tempeh train, discovered the wonders of fresh herbs and learned the proper way to slice a bell pepper (look it up!).
I decided pub fare probably wasn’t my best bet but fell in love with veggie burgers all over again. I fielded questions like, “What do you eat?” The same things as you, mostly. “Do you eat fish?” No, those are pescatarians. And, “Do you eat dairy?” Yes, I’m not vegan. I cooked my first-ever Thanksgiving dinner from scratch, featuring mini pumpkin pot pies, and shortly thereafter, had a brief but passionate affair with puff pastry.
You could say that my journey into vegetarianism helped me stumble upon the joy of cooking. I’d like to think that I’d have gotten there eventually, but I’d always favored the art of baking: precision, order, kneading, sifting, chocolate, cheesecakes, crisps, crumbles … .
If you’re considering becoming a full-time herbivore or are curious about what it might be like, I encourage you to give it a try. I have no intention of switching back and love sharing about my experience with others. Here are some insights that I’ve gleaned along the way:
Be deliberate. I got comfortable with the notion that my becoming a vegetarian wouldn’t make a difference in the big picture. For years, I quieted the voice that ushered me to stand by what I believed through what I did (or didn’t) eat. Over time though, I came to realize that it mattered more to me that I lived a life that aligned with my values even if the ripple effects weren’t as significant as I’d like. Think about your motivations. Are they health-related? Environmental? Moral? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your choices don’t make a difference. Our actions add up, big or small. Remember that if it’s meaningful to you, that’s all the incentive you need.
Go slowly. I cut out meat altogether and never looked back. For some, it might not be that easy. If it sounds intimidating, start gradually. Try reducing your intake to one or two times a week, or experiment with eliminating red meat from your diet and see how it feels. Move at a pace that feels comfortable and allow your body time to adjust to the change.
Do your research. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions floating around about vegetarian diets. One of the most common is that it’s difficult to get the protein you need, but in fact, such deficiencies are far from the norm. There are a variety of ways for vegetarians to meet their dietary protein requirements that don’t involve going to specialty stores or whipping up protein shakes. If you have concerns, talk to your doctor to determine what’s best for you. I can proudly report that with little effort, I’ve never had an issue.
Buddy up. Encourage your friends and family to get involved. Talk with a nutritionist. Start a cooking blog. Treat yourself to a meal kit subscription. You don’t have to go it alone. If cravings kick in, you’ll be glad you have a team to hold you accountable. You might even inspire others to join you! (Caution: vegetarianism can be is contagious.)
Have fun. What we eat is immersed in everything from our social rituals and cultural traditions to our health and longevity. Being a vegetarian shouldn’t feel like a burden; it should feel like a natural extension of who you are. That’s how it’s been for me. It’s one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve made and one that continues to reaffirm itself each time I let my culinary imagination run wild.