teenage zealot: beyond vegetarian, part 1
I've been a vegetarian for about 17 years--but I'm currently experiencing an inner earthquake of thoughts on health, ethics, nutrition and more--so I need to write about it.
The next few posts are going to chronicle my thought process and dietary evolution up to the precarious, interesting point of view I'm at now.
I first went vegetarian as a teen, along with my mother, who was becoming veg again for the third or fourth time in her life.
She had a habit of not staying true to herSelf in the face of ridicule or opposition from those closest to her.
I remember wanting Long John Silver's chicken strips, and fish sandwiches from Burger King (we ate out a LOT), and then feeling so guilty after eating them.
I had collected a bunch of propaganda buttons with animal rights messages on them:
"Animals are our friends"
"Love animals, don't eat them"
I even had one that was black and red with big block letters proclaiming, "Meat is MURDER".
I wanted to use that button too, but I felt like a filthy hypocrite every time I'd cave and eat meat again. I knew I'd be inviting scrutiny of my choices by going "public" with my belief in a veg diet, but I didn't care.
Finally, the summer after I turned 14, I succeeded in staying a vegetarian.
I felt so proud of myself--like I was really making a huge difference in the world.
I even went out with flyers and distributed leaflets a few times. I organized a library display for our town, highlighting famous vegetarians--and drawing the connections between environmental, ethical and health concerns.
The next year at school, I was made fun of for my new choice, but I didn't waver. I also met a few other veggie kids, which really surprised me.
I even organized a protest when the school's science wing installed a new exhibit: a real-life, dissected, spread-eagled CAT.
I had to walk past that thing to chemistry twice a week, and it bothered me deeply.
I collected signatures and got the school paper to write a piece about why we felt it was unethical, and that we wanted it gone. We succeeded in getting it removed.
I wrote a piece on vegetarianism for my school paper, and also got a letter to the editor of a national magazine published that year.
The topic? Animal rights. Of course, I included vegetarianism as an extension of that concept.
I initially tried to go vegan, but being an already-thin person who had a very sensitive palate, that didn't last long.
I'd restricted my diet so much that I was hungry all the time, but refused (or couldn't deal with the textures/flavors) of many healthy vegan foods.
I made peace with being an ovo-lacto vegetarian for the time being and enjoyed many processed-meat alternative foods along with lots of fruits, veggies, pasta and rice.
By the time I was 21, I had read loads of vegan ethics and nutrition books, and I decided that it was time to get serious about my health.
My animal-rights zeal that prompted going veg was now a shared focus with health and proper nutrition.
I decided to cut out milk and cheese (which I already ate only in limited quantities), and eat more raw, whole foods. While I still ate processed foods without thinking much of it, I finally felt that my diet was congruent with my ethics, and I also felt that I was eating really well.
This was the status quo for about 2-1/2 years.
What I wasn't yet aware of is that comfort is sometimes a form of complacency--and mine was about to get disturbed profoundly.