This week I saw a documentary called Forks Over Knives. It discusses the benefits of a completely plant-based diet vs. consuming animal products and processed foods. Truthfully, there was nothing talked about that I hadn’t heard before. Once upon a time, I was actually a vegetarian for years—although my recent ability to ingest half a cow in one sitting would suggest otherwise. Back then, I did it more out of compassion than because of any perceived health benefits from adopting an alternative diet. (Yes, those photos and videos of cute baby animals got me; I am not made of stone, people.) This, I now realize, is the difference between having a fling with vegetarianism and choosing it as an enduring lifestyle..at least in my case. Here’s why…

You ready? Ok, here goes.

I’m selfish. There, I said it.

It’s all fine and good to feel guilty about popping that chicken nugget when fluffy yellow chicks are staring you in the face. But unless you have dinner reservations at Milliways, every time you sit down to a sizzling bone-in rib eye you’re not likely to be presented with reminders of the cow it came from. The meat we eat hardly ever retains any resemblance to the animals from which they came. Sometimes, we don’t even call it by the same name once it becomes food. We eat beef, not cow; mutton, not sheep. I guess what I’m saying is that when the reality is so easily glossed over, it’s not difficult to become desensitized and put personal enjoyment over the sacrifice and suffering of other creatures.

My foray into vegetarianism began with good intentions. I made sure to educate myself; I watched numerous documentaries and read plenty of literature on the treatment of animals raised as food. I talked to vegan AND non-vegan friends to gain a balanced perspective. In the end, I decided that not eating meat is something I could at least try. And so I did.

But somewhere along the way, it became apparent that maybe I didn’t educate myself enough. Or maybe it was that I’d made the decision without the conviction necessary to follow through. The arguments advocating a vegetarian diet almost seemed like they didn’t apply to me. Intellectually, I could understand why some people chose not to eat meat or consume animal products; practically however, the fact that I either ate meat or didn’t had no perceivable effect on my life in any way that made a significant impact. Like I said…I’m selfish.

Where things really went downhill is when I took a trip overseas to visit family. The minute I stepped off the plane I was inundated with a plethora of food that didn’t let up until I walked back across the tarmac to board my flight home. My relatives tend to show their love and affection by feeding you as much as possible, as often as possible. Which you would think—especially for a girl who loves to eat—would be a good thing. Except not so much when you’re trying to stick to a vegetarian diet and every meal is a veritable smorgasbord of animal products. But this was my family and I hadn’t seen them in years. How could I refuse their loving gesture? Also..have you ever tried refusing an army of Asian Aunties? They’re tiny (all of my aunts are under 5′ tall) but formidable. Non-compliance is not an option. Although when I think about it now, I find it both ironic and horrifying to realize that I probably ate a larger variety of meats/fish/game/etc. while I was supposedly on a vegetarian diet than when I wasn’t.

It suffices to say that I grew up in a household that believed in the almighty power of meat. During my stint as a vegetarian, my parents would ask me repeatedly how long my vegetarianism would last…kind of the way someone would ask how long you’ve had that rash and when is it going to get better. It was the same with the Aunties. To them it was a temporary condition to get over; they didn’t understand it. They’d grown up in a time and society where the ability to have meat on your plate was an indication of affluence. They also thought meat was a requirement for proper nutrition. When I tried explaining that I was abstaining from meat indefinitely and attempted to articulate the reasons why…their reaction was somewhere between denial that this was anything more than a fleeting whim and mortification that their daughter/niece had just been brainwashed and adopted by a hippie-meat-shunning cult. I don’t fault them for this. How could I when I barely understood the facts myself? I mean, I thought I did…but I didn’t. Not really.

Watching Forks Over Knives made me see that there is another, much more personal reason for being vegetarian than the inclination toward compassion: that reason being health. It’s a reason that filled the gap between intellectual and practical applications and made me think very differently about food. Maybe it’s because recent years have seen a shift in the general attitude toward diet and its effects on health. Maybe I’m at a point in my life when I’m more ready to explore alternative ways of eating. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the people I love and care about suffer from diseases and conditions caused by years of neglectful eating. Whatever the reason, I felt the need for change and am grateful to be in a position where I’m empowered to do something about it. I guess I just needed a tipping point to help get me along the path to better understanding that what you put in your body has a real and lasting effect and that if I so desired, there are options to be found. It’s deeply personal now. With that comes the understanding that everything involves choice. And I choose to be healthy.

So…what’s for dinner?

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