Some people think the plant-based, whole-foods diet is extreme. Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn onto their coronary artery. Some people would call that extreme.- Dr Caldwell Esselstyn
First of all, I don’t identify with the term vegetarian. A vegetarian could be living on fries and hard candy. I prefer to reference my diet as plant-based, but that just prolongs the follow up so I tend to use the more familiar but still completely misunderstood “vegetarian.” I am sometimes completely vegan and, occasionally, mostly to avoid awkwardness, pescetarian. I may eat a raw diet for a while, usually by chance. No matter the particulars, I am plant-based.
Second, it isn’t just me. I remember shortly after I made the shift thinking I was the only person for 100 miles who didn’t eat meat. Two weeks later I realized a new acquaintance was a vegetarian. She asked me not to tell anyone. Then I overheard someone saying their doctor had recommended a plant-based diet but they knew their family would never support them. When I found out a woman in my social group was plant-based, she told me she tried to hide it.
And people going out of their way to be critical is nothing new. From people at the grocer who bother making their opinions known about parenting to unsolicited advice about what you should do with your vote, people like to spread their beliefs around.
Let’s be clear: I don’t mind sincere inquiries or innocent observations. I mind the judgement and scorn that is not socially acceptable for, say, healthy eaters to publicly deliver to SAD* eaters.
I LOVE to talk about food and everything related to it. I do it in front of groups. I write about it. But every veg head (and especially the vegans and those in the southern US!) knows the inquiries I address here with the possible exceptions of people who live in areas where it is culturally acceptable, like India and Blue Zones.
Let me address your concerns:
- Thanks, but I get plenty of protein. Plants have protein. In fact, you’d have to be calorie deficient to not get enough protein from a plant based diet. This stems from one of the most persistent myths in food. Why does everyone suddenly become a nutritionist when they find out someone is a vegetarian? People I barely know who are eating fried food and don’t get one raw veggie a month will suddenly be concerned about my protein intake when they find out I am different. Most people don’t even understand what protein is but they know they can get it in meat. Protein is chains of amino acid, one of the four types of bio-molecules. No one who asks this question knows that. I’d love to turn it around. “Where are you getting your photo-nutrients? I mean, I’d love to have a serious discussion about health and nutrition but this baby shower really isn’t the place, you don’t seem to know what you are talking about and you are holding up the line to the rock hard, candy coated almonds.” But I just smile and thank them for their concern.
- Please, do not make inferences about my political views. I’d pretend to be anything if it would bother people who make assumptions about people’s politics.
- It is not because of my religion. There is a very spiritual component to food and what one eats is an ethical and moral issue, but I am not “like this” because my religion dictates it must be so. And, if that were the case, that would also be okay, don’t you agree?
- No, I am not vegetarian because of my weight. I like to answer this with a horrified, “What are you implying?!”
- I’m actually shockingly strong. This little myth has really eaten away at me over the years. Go Google vegan, vegetarian and plant based athletes. Now, come try and keep up with me for a day. Do you know when I don’t feel strong and wide awake? When I have had under 6 hours of sleep and have been eating junk.
- Yes, I, too, can find studies that say I should eat dead animals. As meat eater and farmer extraordinaire, Joel Salatin has sagely observed, we should realize that agendas drive data, not the other way round. I can find studies to show cigarettes and bacon are healthy. The quality, size and funding of the studies are key. I’m doing what works for me and there is a lot of science that backs it up.
- No, I do not “miss meat.” I have watched the butchering of animals, made fresh sausage, cut up whole chickens, kept books at a hog operation, taken a class in a meat locker, been on farms, worked in steakhouses and been around hunters and death my whole life. When I was little, my parents raised our meat. To me, that is a dead animal. That is it. I don’t like the mouth feel anymore, I don’t like eating a carcass and I don’t feel great if I do. This leads to…
- No, it isn’t hard. Once I make up my mind about what I do or don’t do, it doesn’t bother me to commit. I remember the last time I ate beef. It was a matter of habit and I remember looking down and thinking, “I forgot, I don’t do this,” and stopped. No beating myself up, no second thoughts, no wishing I could go back. It is not that dietary adjustments are never hard (ask my chocolate stash or the cheese I am hiding for a nice wine) but after the time I’ve spent around dead stuff, I’m good. And I do not expect you to cater to my eating habits. I do not mind or suffer in the least if I end up skipping a meal, so don’t stress about it.
I hope this helps the next time you notice one of the roughly 375 million vegetarians on this earth at a wedding reception or one of the ever growing crowd of plant-based eaters at cub scouts.
Happy eating, Katy
Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.-Albert Einstein
*SAD is the Standard American Diet, a fitting acronym for the worst possible choice in eating plans.