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If I had stuck to vegetarianism the first time around, I’d be meat-free for more than 10 years. Instead, I just passed my one-year mark as a vegetarian because I was afraid my diet preferences would inconvenience someone.
I always knew I would eventually give up meat. I have always loved animals, and as I grew older and wiser, the harsh reality of where our food comes from weighed heavier and heavier on my conscience.
I did dabble in vegetarianism in college. And when I say “dabble,” I mean it. My vegetarian stint lasted about two months and I was bad at it. My breakfast, lunch and dinner staples were eggs and cereal. I put no thought into nutrition, let alone how to eat like an adult.
I went off my pitiful vegetarian diet because of a study abroad trip to Guadalajara, Mexico. I was staying with a host family and I didn’t want to offend them with my diet preferences. I was only gone for a little over a month, but I didn’t put any effort back into being a vegetarian when I returned.
Looking back on this time, I realize I was a coward.
Up until a year ago, my instinct to make people happy trumped my passion to help animals. I didn’t want my family to have to make two separate meals when I was in town, I didn’t want to turn away food that someone had worked hard to make for me, and I didn’t want anyone throwing an event to have to change the menu because of me. I avoided conflict and thought it was actually possible to please everyone.
Before I actually went vegetarian, many people just assumed I didn’t eat meat because they knew how much I loved animals. After awhile, I started to build up a defense.
“Well, a hungry tiger wouldn’t care about my rights if it stumbled upon me.”
Pretty clever, right? I was riding high on that one for a while, at least until I started to dig up some dirt on factory farms – a task that really isn’t that hard to do with Google. Thanks to undercover activists, there are gruesome videos and detailed accounts of what goes on inside the farms. I had reached the point of no return.
Well, except for one tiny thing: I still wanted to please people.
In April 2014, I made the decision to take meat completely out of my diet, with an exception. Meat was only taken out when I controlled the situation.
When I went to restaurants, I would order the meat-free option. If someone cooked meat for me, I would eat it out of respect. Additionally, I didn’t want to change the meal structure in our house. My husband is the primary cook (take that, gender roles!), so I felt I didn't have the right to dictate what we eat when he was the one preparing our food.
See? I’m always trying to make people happy.
Luckily, my husband noticed the moral debate raging inside my head and started cooking primarily vegetarian meals. By August, I was 90 percent vegetarian.
In September, my husband surprised me when he said that he too wanted to go vegetarian.
With all the plant-based meals he was making, he had noticed it was easier for him to maintain his weight. An animal lover himself, his reasons for going vegetarian evolved into animal welfare after many conversations and his own research.
Having him go vegetarian with me was the support I needed to make up my mind and just get on with what I’ve been wanting to do for years.
Shortly after our joint decision, we decided to break the news of our diet to our families. Thanksgiving was coming up and it was going to be our first meat-free holiday. We didn’t want to show up to the table and make the big vegetarian announcement on T-day, so we made some phone calls.
I was worried about ruining a family tradition and adding chaos to an already chaotic time of year, but my family was unbelievably supportive. They made sure to ask questions about what we can and cannot eat and tweaked their recipes so — like any true American on Thanksgiving — I could stuff my face until it was time to put on sweatpants and pass out.
My meat-free Thanksgiving made me realize my fears were all in my head. The people who love me are the ones who matter most, and they give me nothing but support.
I wasted 10 years that I could have spent being kind and supportive to animals. Instead, I was afraid of being an inconvenience.
I regret not taking action earlier. I often think of all the good I could have done in those years. Instead, I’m trying to make up for lost time as much as I can. I spend time researching which companies don’t do animal testing and buy from them as much as possible, I write animal-rights stories in my free time and try to get involved locally regarding issues that benefit animals.
There is still a lot for me to do, but I finally feel like I can be the animal lover I have always wanted to be.