Monday, March 19, 2012

My Road to Vegetarianism (a processed-food girl's journey)

The start of 2012 marked a significant change in my life.  I finally made the move to a primarily vegetarian lifestyle, after what had been years of gearing up to it.  Once I finally made the change, I found that it's not so hard, nor boring.

I, like many other Americans, was raised with a "meat and potatoes" diet concept.  A meal was not complete nor optimally nutritious without some form of animal meat product.  This conditioning was so fundamental that it continued even as I grew older and my philosophical outlook evolved to that of living compassionately and respectfully with regards to all life on Earth.  I still looked at nutrition through the veil of "common knowledge."  What also was not helping was my lack of experience in the plant-based world.  I knew the basics but never branched out beyond, and when I started to explore the option of a vegetarian lifestyle, I always shunned away believing that I didn't like vegetables enough, and how would I ever survive?

As the years went by I continued to evolve.  I questioned more and did my own research.  I was eventually led to the documentary Food, Inc., which opened my eyes to Factory Farming, a concept I had never even heard of, and surprising enough, where my food came from and how it was prepared was something I never really thought about.  In this area I followed the "ignorance is bliss" motto, and tried to not think about how the meat in my meals came to the plate. 

After watching Food Inc. I changed how I bought meat.  I will admit that although I tried very hard to buy meat from family, sustainable, and organic farms, I was not always consistent.  I still ate fast food once or twice a month because I was "in a hurry" or needed that hangover "cure-all": grease.  I would sometimes buy cheaper meat cuts with the qualifier that I was on a budget and needed to watch my spending habits.  When going out to eat I wouldn't even think to consider vegetarian options, because I was in the mindset that with the amount I was spending on a meal, I might as well "make it worth the money."  I had so many "conventional wisdom" beliefs going on in my mind and I never thought to bring them closer to examine for myself.

This all started changing for me last year.  I don't know what happened to spark it, but I began to shed those "conventional wisdom" beliefs and "common knowledge" ideas.  I began looking more towards myself for answers.  One of the areas that I started looking at was health, and how the saying that "you are what you eat" was ringing absolutely true.  I have struggled with my weight and energy level for years, and finally had come far enough in the "evolution of me" to look at my lifestyle and see where I could improve and outright remove damaging habits.  This thinking eventually led me to two additional documentaries: Food Matters and Forks Over Knives.  Both documentaries explore the benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet, eliminating processed foods and greatly reducing (if not removing completely) animal protein.  Without going in to much detail about what these documentaries are all about (I've linked the websites so you can explore on your own), after watching both of them I decided that enough was enough.  I had been seeing so much pointing in this direction already that it was time for me to make the lifestyle change I truly feel I've always been meant to do.

I will not lie - it is not always easy.  You have to be motivated to prep food, and since I was raised in a processed food world, this has been an obstacle for me.  It's so much easier to grab a box of Cheez-its or throw a frozen meal in the microwave than to bust out and start chopping all the ingredients to a big salad.  I still do eat some processed foods, but I have greatly reduced the amount and 80% of my nutrition now comes from whole grain, plant-based sources.  I have also found that by spending a couple hours on Sunday I can prep all my veggies for the week, making it easy to make my lunches and speeds up dinner.  And much to my delight my love of learning has translated into having a blast researching vegetarian recipes, cooking styles, and foods that I had never heard of or tried before.

Surprisingly,  after a few weeks of baby steps, meat was the easiest thing to eliminate.  I have reworked my mind enough that when I think of meat, I think of the animal it was and what it went through, and that is enough for me to be completely turned off.  I say I live a primarily vegetarian lifestyle because at the moment I still eat fish and seafood, but I do aim to remove that from my diet altogether.  I do not stress myself over it, however, because stress is so detrimental and I know that my changes so far have already had a huge impact not only on my spiritual being, but the environment as well.

It is a learning process, as with many things once you awaken your mind and start paying attention.  I still have problems with energy levels after I eat certain things, so I am learning to determine what causes those and try to adjust where needed.  My husband is also not a vegetarian - nor would I ever force him to be - so it is a challenge to find recipes that he will also enjoy with me.  I am very lucky that he is super supportive of my decision, and he welcomes the idea of eating healthier.  He is more than willing to eat the dinners I create - or at least try them - and so far everything I have made has been a success with him, so I'm happy about that!  Even though I am still learning and the change has not been easy, the benefits I've seen so far have confirmed my decision.  I feel lighter, healthier, and I've saved about 25% in my weekly trips to the grocery stores!

***This entry chronicles my journey into a significant lifestyle change.  I would never force my views or opinions on to anyone else, but I do encourage everyone to take a moment to look into these matters and do some of your own research, so that you can make an educated decision for yourself. ***

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