Never a fan of any kind of meat, I decided last January to quit cold turkey (pun intended), after one last Chick-Fil-A chicken wrap.
To my surprise, I spent every day these past six months without eating a single bite of meat.
Why did I do it?
As previously stated, I have never really liked eating meat. I would often pick at it and end up wasting most of the meat on my plate.
This picky eating led me to never cook with it myself. I would only ever eat meat if it was prepared by someone else, and even then I never really enjoyed eating it. Something about the texture was just a turn-off for me.
When I moved to Florida and had to rely on my own cooking skills to sustain me, I decided I would become a vegetarian. Even going out to eat at restaurants, I would avoid anything on the menu that included meat.
I thought it would be difficult, but every place I went to eat was very accommodating.
I told myself this would be a short-term experiment, but researching all the benefits of becoming a vegetarian, as well as my love and increased appreciation for animals, propelled me to stick with vegetarianism even when I moved back home.
Is it difficult to sustain?
It is literally the easiest thing to do. It may be harder for a meat-lover to give up the chicken fingers and burgers, but I believe anyone can do it.
The most difficult part about it is that my family still eats meat.
I initially felt bad, since so many of the meals they make are not vegetarian-friendly. I did not want them to ever think I was insulting them by not eating their burgers or meatballs, but they too are completely understanding and accommodating to this lifestyle.
There are also great meatless alternatives!
Black bean burgers, chicken-less nuggets, vegan sausage, are super tasty (and way healthier) substitutes! Although a veggie burger has a very different taste and texture than a beef burger, the one vegetarian alternative I found to taste exactly like the animal version: meatless "chicken" nuggets!
Every frozen vegetarian nugget I have tried taste almost identical to the real deal, so if you feel you cannot part ways with meat just yet, I suggest trying the veggie nuggets next time you are at the grocery store - instead of reaching for your regular chicken nuggets!
Do I miss meat?
Not at all. I never crave a juicy hamburger or fried chicken (but then again, I never really did in the first place).
As much as I love the dishes my family makes that include some type of meat, I found the meat-portion can be easily replaced (roasted cauliflower instead of roasted chicken on tacos, black bean burger instead of turkey burger, etc.) or omitted completely!
The one thing that I initially struggled with was giving up my all-time favorite meal from my absolute favorite restaurant: Hillstone's Chicken Sandwich.
The combinations of flavors and textures of the honey mustard, kale, and soft bun was something I dreamed about. Knowing, though, that I am doing something so good for my body and for the animals is so much more worth it.
I used to look forward to getting that sandwich on every trip into Manhattan, but somehow I do not really miss it. I did miss looking forward to eating the old favorite, but now I look forward to trying new vegetarian meals, and that, to me, is even more exciting!
How do I feel after cutting out meat?
Mentally, I feel so much better.
Knowing all of the positive changes I am making for my body makes me feel so good about myself! Since jumping off of the meat train, I have been eating so many more vegetables, fruits, and grains like quinoa, faro, and whole grain oats. I am getting so many more plant-based nutrients, and less saturated fat!
According to pcrm.org, vegetarian diets that are mostly plant-based help to lower blood pressure, prevent cancer, prevent heart disease, prevent and reverse diabetes, and even reduce chances of forming kidney stones.
Knowing all of the ways I am benefiting my body has boosted my mood and made me feel so good about my choices. In addition, I have more energy, my skin is a lot softer, and I experience mental clarity.
What is the next step?
The next step for me is to dive into veganism. This is especially tough since my love for cheese is insurmountable... but...baby steps.
It is easy to make simple vegan choices-- almond milk instead of dairy milk, oatmeal for breakfast instead of an omelette, swapping greek yogurt for coconut milk yogurt (or not yogurt at all)...but cheese is another story.
Vegan cheese definitely does not live up to the real deal, but it does taste good!
Another issue is that since I am living at home, all of my family's favorite delicious recipes include either eggs, cheese, or cream. I know there are numerous substitutes for these dairy items, but my family would for sure prefer the real stuff.
Not to mention, a lot of the vegan substitutes (vegan yogurt and vegan cheese, especially) are a bit pricier than the dairy alternatives. To me, though, the few extra bucks is worth all of the benefits.
I understand that dairy-free, meat-free eating is not for everyone. But, I see this lifestyle as one small change that reaps an entire lifetime of amazing benefits (not just for our bodies, but also for the animals and the environment)!
I encourage anyone who is even slightly interested in a plant-based diet to watch the documentary Forks Over Knives. I have been researching plant-based, whole-foods living these past few days and I am completely captivated.
Becoming a vegetarian has had so many benefits, and it has been easier than I thought it would be! Hopefully transitioning into veganism will be just as simple.
For now, I am just taking baby steps. Starting out as a vegetarian is just the beginning!