By now you have probably figured out that I am not a vegetarian. Nor do I think vegetarians are crazy. I had a conversation with a vegetarian friend of mine and wanted to share it with you. It enlightened me and I hope you will find the same thing, no matter what's in your diet!
How long have you been a vegetarian?
I have been a vegetarian since I was 14 (over 20 years). The summer before my freshmen year, I went to a camp sponsored by the Kansas Association of Teachers of Science, where the food was disgusting and many of the counselors were vegetarian environmentalist KU students. I didn’t eat any meat that week and just never started eating it again.
What are the main reasons you choose to maintain a vegetarian diet?
Meat just really doesn’t seem like food to me. You would never want to eat your mittens or the newspaper; meat is the same way for me. I also think my body functions best on a diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and not many “heavy” foods. Although I haven’t eaten meat (intentionally) in 20 years, I just can’t imagine that my body would like it.
What major resource did you use when converting to make nutritionally sound decisions?
When I first stopped eating meat, my mother bought me a copy of Diet for a Small Planet and The Vegetarian Times cookbook. She also got me a subscription to the Vegetarian Times (which I’ve maintained). Because my father has high cholesterol and high blood pressure, my mother had previously purchased a Dean Ornish book and a cookbook called The Vegetarian Gourmet, which both contained nutritional information. Finally, my mother made me meet with a registered dietician to learn about balancing nutrients. (Unfortunately, the nutritionist didn’t really know much more than I did.) Today I have a large collection of vegetarian cookbooks, and I follow a number of healthy eating (but not necessarily vegetarian) blogs, including Kath Eats Real Food, Apple Crumbles, Runner’s Kitchen, and The Daily Garnish.
I have always thought that the food and agriculture industry failed you (and others who choose not to consume meat) as a consumer, where do you think that happened or what is the problem?
I really don’t think the food or agriculture industry has failed me. I certainly spend enough on groceries!
Is your point of view respected often? At home? At work? On travel?
I am surprised by the extent to which my point of view is respected and tolerated in the middle of beef country. Most people go out of their way to make sure that I have something to eat, and I really haven’t been teased about my eating habits since high school. My mother-in-law (who is from a ranching family) keeps veggie burgers in her freezer for me and has stopped adding bacon to her green beans so I can eat them. My friends keep vegetable broth in their pantries so I can eat their soup. The biggest problem I encounter is lack of understanding, particularly in restaurants. For example, the people who run the Chinese restaurant in Hugoton don’t understand why I don’t want to eat fish sauce and people who run Mexican restaurants around here are confused when I ask about lard. Even my mother sometimes forgets to read labels and tries to feed me something with meat in it. I do find it refreshing in places like California where food is labeled vegetarian or vegan, and I actually have more than one choice on a menu. That doesn’t really happen around here.
What could the animal agriculture industry do a better job of in order to reach out to consumers who choose to maintain diets that include animal products?
I suppose focus on health benefits of animal products?
The population is growing exponentially, how can food producers accommodate the extra growth?
I am particularly concerned about the lack of availability of whole foods, particularly in areas of poverty. I think it’s important that people everywhere have access to fresh, healthy, unprocessed foods and are given the tools and education needed to prepare that food.
Let me know your thoughts!