There are many food trends that have become more popular lately. Organic, non-GMO, vegan, vegetarian and label free are just a few to name. These trends have become popular through internet fads, social media and the ever-increasing desire to be healthy and all natural. However healthy and natural people think that these fads are, there is always something overlooked when making a serious life choice such as changing your entire diet. I recently talked with two friends of mine who made these life choices, twice. They each made the decisions to go vegetarian. Now, after a combination of five years later, they both are back and loving, to eating their meats.
Alissa and Reagan both made the decision to convert to the vegetarian lifestyle. This was not just a diet for them. They each took it seriously. This means that they did not consume raw meat, meat products or meat-based foods. They were not vegan, but neither ate fish nor gelatin. Alissa and Reagan did still enjoy their eggs and dairy products during their vegetarian lifestyles.
Alissa was the first to turn to vegetarian. Her parents both are vegetarian but have never pressed it on her to be one. They gave her the freedom to make her own food choices growing up. Throughout her life she had been eating meat about once or twice a week. However, after a wrongly cooked steak made her ill, she decided to go full vegetarian. Her choice was not for health reasons. This was a personal choice on her part that had many influences. She chose this to keep from getting sick again. There were other inspirations in her decision, such as the harsh treatments she THOUGHT that animals were put through and that everything she had been reading on the internet told her that vegetarian was the healthier option. Alissa was a vegetarian for over four years.
Reagan was never previously a vegetarian. She and her family had consumed meat since she was a child. After a doctor visit warned her of her high cholesterol, she decided that she needed to take her diet into thoughtful consideration. She made the choice to become a vegetarian. She knew that it would help lower her cholesterol level. She also wanted to challenge herself with a no meat diet in hopes that it would increase the variety of food she was eating as well as make a healthier lifestyle for her. Reagan was a vegetarian for over a year.
I asked both of my friends why they made the switch back to eating meats. Did it taste better? Was there something in their diet that they were missing from not eating meat? Was it healthier to eat meat than to be vegetarian? Was it just a personal preference? I learned through talking with both Alissa and Reagan that it wasn’t just one simple answer.
There were multiple reasons that each started to consume meat again. It was hard for them to be vegetarian. The most important lesson Alissa told me was, “Being vegetarian wasn’t necessarily the healthier choice.” Although they did increase their amount of vegetables, fruits, beans, quinoa, tofu and dairy, they did not necessarily eat healthier. Tofu tempeh, meatless products and the increase in vegetables and other protein substitute foods became expensive. Not only was it expensive, it was also difficult to monitor and find. Anytime either Alissa or Reagan went out to eat, they had to be careful about what they ordered. Restaurants don’t often carry many true vegetarian options. Many foods, such as desserts, soups, salads/dressings were prepared or cooked with meat, meat-based products or gelatin. This created a lot of issues and struggles in finding foods to eat. Chips, fries, cheese pizza, cookies, candy and more unhealthy options were the cheaper and more easily accessible alternatives for Alissa. Although she tried to maintain a good diet, Alissa said that she gained forty pounds in three months after going vegetarian because of the junk foods she consumed more of. “It can be healthy if you want it to be.” Alissa said. “But vegetarians are not healthier just because they don’t eat meat.”
Reagan tried being the healthy vegetarian. She increased the variety of food she ate, not just because she had to, but she wanted to challenge herself. She cut back her junk food and ate no meat. Although it was tough, she did enjoy it. However, an often-overlooked part of the vegetarian lifestyle is the lack of protein being consumed. Alissa and Reagan both noticed that they couldn’t get sufficient protein into their diet, especially in college. The dorms and surrounding restaurants did not have many healthy, vegetarian friendly options. Looking back on it, Reagan realized that she was more fatigued from lack of protein and meats. She also had low blood iron that she was not aware of during her lifestyle. This could have been potentially dangerous if she continued the same diet.
Alissa started laughing when she mentioned how much better she thought being a vegetarian would be for her, and for the animals. Her past meat-based livestock knowledge came from social media and biased internet content. Now living on a cattle farm with her boyfriend, she realizes that not all livestock and food animals are treated that way. The cases and pictures she scrolled through for her research were very rare. She knows the meat she eats now, especially the beef from her boyfriend’s farm, are treated like the animals they are.
Now, both Alissa and Reagan are enjoying their meat again. Alissa eased slowly back in to give herself a chance to see if she could handle the transition again. Reagan did not need to worry about taking it slow. Both Alissa and Reagan eat meat daily. Reagan’s favorite will always be chicken. Alissa and Reagan both love a good steak though. You can’t go wrong with a good flank or fillet mignon.
The point of this post is not to be biased and convert vegetarians to meat lovers. The point of this post is that there are many reasons and life decisions to be made to follow either lifestyle. These decisions are made by the people who are following that lifestyle. And this is okay. We do not need to throw our opinions out and try to convert people one way or the other. People make their own choices for their own reasons. The only thing I wish for you is that you make an informed choice based on true, scientific researched information and personal life decisions. I am not a vegetarian. I do not condemn those who are though. You eat and enjoy your food. I will eat and enjoy mine. And we each will be happy with the choices we have made for ourselves.
Enjoy your food. Enjoy your lifestyle.
About the Author:
My name is Kirsten Kessling. I am a senior at Western Illinois University pursuing my Bachelors degree in Agriculture Sciences with a minor in Chemistry. I am passionate about agriculture, animals, food and open minded people. After graduation, I hope to find a career that can incorporate all of these things. Thank you for reading this blog!