In the summer before my junior year of high school, I was assigned to read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation for my AP English class. Little did I know, from that point on, my life would never be the same.
Born into an immigrant Polish family, I grew up almost exclusively on home-cooked, Polish cuisine. While meat-based meals and cold-cuts were pretty common, fast food was out. In fact, my parents never believed in taking me to fast food joints — especially Mickey D’s. We hardly ate out, and, if we did, we’d go to a Polish restaurant in Greenpoint, New York, NYC’s finest Polish haven, which served home-cooked meals, anyway.
Since my parents were steadfast on raising me on an omnivorous diet, I had rarely considered the implications of my eating meat. At times, I didn't even know that I was eating meat — because, hey, my parents had to find ways to circumvent my picky eating habits. Otherwise, my diet would have been exclusively limited to pierogi, rosół, and naleśniki.
My eating habits remained largely unchanged until I immersed myself in Fast Food Nation.
Reading this work opened my eyes to the dire reality of the fast food industry, in particular the meat industry. I was startled by the monstrosities lying inside every ‘happy meal’ and the inhumane treatment of animals that was transpiring behind the scenes. I became deeply aware of the fact that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) did not have the public’s best interest at heart and was, merely, exploiting the people’s ignorance to further their own gains.
This type of injustice completely transformed my belief system. I started to dig deeper into clean eating. After stumbling upon several documentaries, Food, Inc., What the Health, and Cowspiracy, I realized the significant impact that the meat industry had, not only on my own health, but on climate change.
By looking into how much carbon emissions could be reduced if people refrained from eating meat, I made the switch to a vegetarian diet — and never looked back.
Today, it’s been over 5 years since I went vegetarian, with most of my meals being vegan. Here are the key reasons why I’ve stuck with it:
- Environmentally-friendly. This is the most prominent reason why I cut off meat from my diet. I no longer wanted to be contributing to the destruction of our planet. So I found that this was the least I could do to be a responsible citizen of planet Earth.
- Ethics. As someone who’s always loved animals, I felt like I was being a hypocrite for eating them. It no longer felt right with me how humans decided that certain animals are there for human consumption.
- Health. After only a few months of being vegetarian, I started to feel more energized than I’ve ever been. Colds became a thing of the past. And I felt better with myself, knowing what I was putting in my body. Want more proof of the health benefits of going vegetarian? Check out this article from Harvard Medical School.
Now, keep in mind these are only my personal insights. In no way am I shaming anyone for choosing to eat meat. Any decision that drastically changes one’s lifestyle should be a conscious, personal decision. Being forced into it will never bring desirable results — no matter what persuasion and facts are brought to the surface.
Nevertheless, if you are curious to learn more about how you can start your journey of becoming vegetarian and/or vegan, here are a few tips I recommend:
- Start slow. If you’ve been eating meat, dairy, and fast food all your life, going cold turkey will not help you in the long run. Instead, slowly eliminate certain animal products from your diet, starting from red meat, which contributes most to greenhouse gas emissions.
- Learn to cook vegetarian/vegan. Despite what most people think, there are SO many amazing non-meat dishes out there. I, personally, could eat roasted veggies on the daily… Not sure where to start? Check out all these tasty vegan recipes here.
- Track your progress. So, I’m not saying you should be noting down everything you eat in a day (though, if you do, that’s cool, too!), but having some sort of awareness as to where you started and where you are now in your journey is helpful. It motivates you to keep going and allows you to see how far you have come.
- Be mindful of how you feel. Whenever we change our diet, it can temporarily shock our body. After all, we’re eliminating a food group we’ve relied on for years. So make sure to maintain regular health check-ups to make sure everything is A-ok. If you have any underlying health conditions, it may be wise to check with your health care provider to ensure it is safe for you to make the switch.
- Consider supplements and vitamins. In the beginning, it can be hard to adjust to a vegetarian diet, especially if we are not exactly veggie and fruit fanatics. Many vegetarians and vegans take iron, B-12, among others. Once you start incorporating more nutrient-diverse food into your diet, you’ll start to find ways of meeting all your nutrition needs naturally.
This brings us to the end, folks! Whichever your diet preference, I hope this article gave you some insight into the world of vegetarianism and its impacts.
If you resonate with this story, be sure to check out these resources:
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