How I became a vegetarian.

My last post about being green upset some people. Let’s see who I can offend now. . .

The summer after my sophomore year, I lived with a hippie who worked at a co-op grocery and strung bead jewellery. Kate also was a vegetarian or a vegan. She inspired me to become a vegetarian, but the change to my lifestyle was gradual.

During college, I worked for a hamburger chain. After I graduated, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself in the “real world”. I had an almost useless degree in the liberal arts. The logical answer, of course, would have been to go to grad school. At the time, I thought that I had "had enough of school”. So, I kept working for the hamburger chain, but as a manager. This was more self-destructive during a recession than being a waitress.

I found out that my cholesterol level was high, a result of a poor work-life balance. I sought to change what and how I ate. My first steps towards vegetarianism were for health reasons. I stopped eating red meat. But I worked for a hamburger chain, and I felt like a hypocrite.

Working for a hamburger chain also had made me think about meat and where it comes from. I started thinking about the sorts of conditions in which the animals that we eat are raised. And I thought about how humans also are animals. I stopped eating pork, chicken, and fish. I never felt like I was denying myself. I just lost interest in eating certain foods.

Then I moved to Chicago. And it was difficult for me to live in Chicago and not think of the slaughterhouses in The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

The Jungle

For the first sad six months, I lived in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Since I was childless and in my early 20s, I hated the suburbs. I became friends with another vegetarian, Joe, who was a nice, funny guy. Joe took me into the city, to the flea markets, landmark buildings, and hipster restaurants. He taught me a lot about being a vegetarian. He probably introduced me to some influential vegetarian cookbooks—the Moosewood Cookbook and some others.

The Moosewood Cookbook: Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant, Ithaca, New York

I quit working for the hamburger chain. However, this was largely because my new boss was an asshole. I moved into the city, and a few years later, I shifted to San Francisco, a vegetarian epicentre. Along the way, I came across Diet for a New America by John Robbins. (Robbins had an interview in Super Size Me.) Diet for a New America was published in 1987, so by that time, it had been around for a decade. But it still was influential. (Diet for a New America is the precursor to Fast Food Nation and to Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore's Dilemma.)

Diet for a New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness and the Future of Life on Earth

I like being able to name the ingredients in what we eat. We eat very few processed foods. Instead, we make our own food out of whole ingredients. In part, this is because Five is allergic to everything, including dairy and eggs. (It does take a bit longer to make our own food.)

Food culture is different in New Zealand. Organic fruits and vegetables are much more mainstream. And we don’t allow genetically modified (GM) foods. Cows and sheep are not factory farmed. Our cows and sheep are in pasture outside all year.

For over a decade, I was a vegetarian. Now that I live in New Zealand, I eat meat again. I don't eat a lot of meat, mind you. And one day I may stop eating meat again. But for now, as part of the privilege of living in a remote country with a small population, I can eat meat without too much guilt and enjoy it.


Anonymous said...

I struggle with eating meat at times especially when I consider where it came from for too long. I know it may sound silly, but I prefer to think of it as having been grown in the garden and it's always better if I don't have to see it raw or cook it myself.

Unknown said...

Great post, Juli!

I dated a vegetarian about the same time that you were living with one. Oddly, she was working for a butcher in The Continent (remember that place?) at the time. I have always preferred poultry and seafood to red meat, so as she educated me, I had no problem giving up beef and pork.

My diet pretty much remained the same until I moved to New Mexico about six years ago. I lived only a few blocks away from a farmer's market. I made friends with a man who got his food from a co-op. Suddenly, my eyes were opened! Fresh vegetables and fruits hit my plate on a regular basis! I found that I could eat whole meals just based on those and be completely satisfied. Between the healthier diet, the fact that I was living at a high altitude, and that I was hiking and/or salsa dancing just about every day of the week, I had never been in better shape.

And then, my job lost its funding and I moved back to Ohio to stay with my parents. I often tell people that the Ohio Valley is one of the unhealthiest places in the US. All of my healthy habits went out the window because it became an effort to follow them. I grew depressed in my unemployment and that did not help.

I moved to the western Chicago suburbs in 2008 (hey! I'm almost following in your footsteps.) My diet became better, just from opportunity, but the big change came this year. My rotating schedule at work messed up my digestion. I was in serious danger of developing an ulcer. I found that eliminating meat during the part of my rotation where I worked all night and completely giving up coffee alleviated most of the problem. Picking up active hobbies again like dancing, jogging, juggling, and unicycling helped, too.

I suppose that I could completely give up meat, and perhaps I shall, someday. But for now, it has become a treat rather than a staple.

lisahgolden said...

I can only eat meat if I don't think about it.

Your journey sounds quite reasonable. And I love the Moosewood cookbook. We got it for a wedding gift, I think. Maybe a year or two later and it's still a favorite.

Happy Frog and I said...

That's so strange, I was thinking today about writing a post on how I became vegetarian. (Might leave it till later in the year!). I turned vegetarian a few years after going out with my other half. It will be 5 years in September and it has been really good for me.

I still feel a bit of a hypocrite for wearing leather shoes, but apart from that I would really recommend it. Luckily though I don't have a problem if people eat meat in front of me!

Casey Freeland said...

We could share stories. Over the last fifteen years I have watched my son and then my wife become vegetarians. Leslie has most recently, about a month ago, gone full vegan. It has been very gradual. I am a complete carnivore, on the other hand. Although I have considered recently, for health reasons, changing my ways a bit.

Great post.


Neal said...

DIFANA influenced me as well. That and my wife. I'm not a complete vegetarian but my wife and kids are. Its much easier now that twenty years ago. My poor wife nearly starved in New Orleans trying to find a meal without beef/pork/seafood.

Super Size Me was also a huge influence. Great, scary movie.

Anonymous said...

I became a vegetarian because i was looking for for a way to be more healthy.

I wanted to feel more energised and look and regret the food i ate the night before.

I searched the internet for answers for healthy living and came across vegetarianism. I found a few websites that really helped me but my favorite is Vegetarian Newbie http://www.vegetariannewbie.com they are really helpful and help to explain what the vegetarian lifestyle is all about.

I have since learnt to eat more healthy and see the results for myself.