EL PASO – The last day I ate meat, I pulled away from my cheeseburger and found myself staring at the grayish beef patty – ground up carcass.
How long had it been dead before being cooked, I wondered. I put it down after that one bite and knew I couldn’t force myself to eat something that had repulsed me that quickly.
About a week earlier my sister had taken me to listen to a lecture on animal rights given by the animal rights activist and educator, Gary Yourofsky. He spoke about health myths concerning being vegan and vegetarian. He explained the methods most of us are not aware of for transforming a cow into a beef patty.
What has to happen before a steak or chicken breast is pleasantly packed and delivered to our grocery stores?
I sure had no interest in finding out until that day. Like any other teenager I had not given an ounce of thought to how my burger came to be a burger. I just consumed it.
In the days after the lecture I began to stare at my food more than savor it. My view on meat had changed drastically. It’s now been about 10 years since I stopped eating beef, fish and chicken all together.
There are many stereotypes about vegans and vegetarians, all of which I’ve had to deal with for the past 10 years. Most people assume that all vegetarians and vegans stop eating meat solely to save animals from slaughter, however for me that was only a small part of my reasoning.
People become vegetarians for many reasons – religious restrictions, health concerns, food safety (to prevent diseases like e-coli), animal-rights issues and because of environmental degradation (large scale slaughter houses being environmentally unsustainable).
My decision was based on all those reasons except religion. The most important reason for me was health related since heart disease in my family is like a tragic tradition. Because most meat is at least 50 percent fat, I figured that eliminating it all together would help reduce my risk for heart disease. Cholesterol is only found in animal products so it was a big incentive for me to stop eating meat. I made a conscious decision to lead a healthier life knowing my family’s health history.
According to the American dietetic association, vegetarians not only have a lower risk of heart disease but also a lower risk in developing; colorectal, ovarian, and breast cancer, diabetes, obesity and hypertension (high blood pressure). A lot of people mistakenly believe that a vegetarian or vegan diet is unhealthy, but in truth it is the opposite.
Another reason for being a vegetarian is that a lot of animal products are the cause of illness in Americans. For example poultry and pork have the largest reported deaths due to food borne illness according to a study by the University of Florida. By not eating either, I am largely unaffected by that. It definitely makes me feel safer when I hear about outbreaks.
I take vitamins like everyone should to provide any nutrients I might be lacking. Not to make up for not eating meat, but ironically, to make up for not eating enough salad. I actually dislike salads.
I have great energy. I eat well and by that I mean I don’t sacrifice taste and I feel good about not destroying a life to satisfy my appetite. I have always cared for animals and I am glad to count myself among those who choose not to participate in animal slaughter.
My issues with being a vegetarian have come from people attacking my lifestyle only because it opposes theirs or because they are uninformed on the subject. For instance sometimes it is hard for people to understand that I don’t want meat in my torta or my pizza.
I often have to check all my food before eating it when I go out to eat dinner because a lot of people will still put meat in it. Many restaurants will not make any attempt to accommodate vegetarians or vegans in the slightest way. They have little to no selections on their menus that I can choose from.
Aside from this a lot of food products in grocery store shelves are chockfull of animal bi-product that can make it difficult to shop for groceries. To remedy this dilemma I make a lot of my food from scratch to make sure its meat free, which often takes longer but also tastes better.
Often I have felt as though there are deep separations and a lot of animosity between “meat eaters” and “non-meat eaters.” We would see a different interaction if there was mutual respect. I try not to force my personal beliefs on others and don’t enjoy being attacked for being a vegetarian.
I think it’s crucial to respect others beliefs if you dare ask for yours to be respected. I hope that less people will view all vegetarians and vegans as stereotypes. As the phrase goes, live and let live.