"Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."
This post is for our friend Nic, who wants to know more about being a vegetarian.
Let's start with a definition:
1. a person who does not eat or does not believe in eating meat, fish, fowl, or, in some cases, any food derived from animals, as eggs or cheese, but subsists on vegetables, fruits, nuts, grain, etc.
There are actually many different kinds of non-meat eaters out there. Some are vegans. They do not eat anything that comes from animals or insects, including honey. They also avoid using products that are made out of animals, such as leather. There are lacto-ovo-vegetarians that eat eggs and dairy products, but do not eat meat, poultry, or fish. Pescatarians eat fish, but no other animals.
In our family, the kids are actually pescatarians because they eat fish fingers every now and then. B and I are lacto-ovo-vegetarians because we eat dairy and occasionally eggs. I usually just say we are vegetarians though because it's a familiar term and easily understood.
Becoming a vegetarian is pretty easy, but it's a good idea to talk to your parents first. They might have concerns about you getting all of the nutrients that you need, and they might want to talk to your doctor about a change like this. You'll want to consider which type of vegetarian you want to be also. Once everyone is on board, and you know what you still want to eat, I say jump right in with both feet!
So if you aren't eating meat, does that mean you only get to eat vegetables? Well, yes and no. Most of your food will probably be plant-based, but there are some really great alternatives to meat out there. You can get veggie, soy, or black bean burgers. You can find soy hotdogs. There are chik'n nuggets, patties, strips, and tenders. There are even veggie versions of ham, bologna, and turkey for sandwiches. You can find "sausage" patties and links, bacon, and "burger" crumbles. Most of these products have been around for a long time and are easy to find at most grocery stores. And since they've been around for a while, the companies that make them have done a great job getting the textures and flavors right. I sometimes wonder if the sausage and chik'n products are really fake because they taste so real to me. Some of the brand names that you can look for are: Morningstar Farms, Boca Burgers, Gardenburger, Amy's, Silk Soymilk, and Gardein. Not all of these brands are vegan, so you'll want to check the labels if you are going to try veganism. Of course, you can (and should!) eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains as well as these "processed" foods.
One concern that often comes up when a person decides to stop eating meat is, how will you get enough iron and protein? The good news is that it's really easy to get food these days. We don't have to worry about hunting and gathering, so we don't need to eat meat to get our daily requirements for these two nutrients. If you check out this link on iron rich foods, you will see that the plant options actually have more iron than the animal choices. Protein is just as easy to get by eating plants.
Another question you might have is about eating out with your family or friends. That can be tricky! Most fast food places won't have a lot to offer you if you aren't eating hamburgers or chicken nuggets. Sure, you can eat french fries, but that gets boring and it's not really healthy for you. Burger King has a veggie burger, but not every location sells them and it's not that good, to be honest. Most fast food places have a salad or parfait that might work, but might also leave you hungry. About the fastest food we eat these days is Moe's. We order vegetarian burritos or quesadillas. Most sit-down restaurants have vegetarian options. Unless you are going to a steak house, you should be able to find something, even if it's just mac and cheese. Our favorite foods are Mexican, Italian, and pizza!!
So there you go, kiddo! No matter what you decide to eat, I think it's really cool that you are thinking about it and asking questions. Way to go!