When I was in sixth grade, I declared to the world that I would eat “nothing with a face.” In addition to beef, pork and chicken, this included seafood. As a lifelong animal lover – owning cats, dogs, birds and fish – I could not separate the animals I cuddled and played with from the slaughtered animals on my dinner plate. I spent three years as a vegetarian but started eating meat again at the beginning of high school because I became anemic from not eating enough iron-rich foods. Now that I cook for myself and understand how to supplement meat in my diet, I learned how to change my behavior to make my life more healthy and sustainable by being a vegetarian. In my earlier years, cutting meat out of my diet was equated with saving animals, but now, being more environmentally conscious, I greatly value the energy-saving qualities of vegetarianism.
After I finished my last final exam in December, I made the five hour drive to San Francisco to meet my boyfriend for a geography conference hosted by his employers in the geography department. I faltered on my no-meat diet multiple times while in the city. My vegetarian mind-set had not been firmly cemented, and I gave in to Scott’s “fish isn’t really meat” justification. After San Francisco, we ventured to the vegetarian haven: Berkeley. The first night we were there, we stopped at a Thai restaurant. Craving yellow curry with chicken, I begrudgingly ordered the yellow curry with tofu. The dish was delicious, however, and it did not make much difference that the meal substituted chicken for the strangely squishy consistency of tofu.
When the weekend was over, I drove to my parents’ house in the suburbs of San Jose. Bored in my hometown, I braved the holiday shopping frenzy and browsed for books in Barnes and Noble. I skimmed a book entitled “Vegetarianism for Dummies.” It stated that soybeans have the second highest source of iron, followed by lentils. Upon returning home, I offered to go grocery shopping so I could review my vegetarian choices. I bought tofu – not knowing how to cook it – lentils, and various veggie burger patties. Lentils are easy enough to cook. After boiling water and letting the lentils simmer for about half an hour, I added salt, peppers and various Mrs. Dash spice combinations from my parents’ kitchen. Lentils have a thick, almost meat-like texture that appealed to my taste buds. As for veggie burgers, they’re so good I used to eat them even when I was an omnivore. Plus, adding ranch dressing to anything equals me eating it. I have still yet to master cooking the strange, yet surprisingly nutritious, substance that is tofu.
A preconceived notion about vegetarianism is that it is impossible, or nearly impossible, to be a healthy vegetarian. That is wholly untrue. Eating a healthy diet requires paying attention to the minerals and nutrients put in the body whether meat is consumed or not. People need a daily average of 50 grams of protein, and this is easily achieved through eating eggs, grains, cheese and legumes. When reading “Vegetarianism for Dummies,” the author pointed out a misconception that people think red meat is the only viable iron source available. However, lentils, soy beans, nuts and eggs all contain considerable amounts of iron. A daily multivitamin should also be taken to make up for any further deficiencies.
Besides being healthy, cutting meat out of a diet saves energy used to water, feed, transport and manufacture meat products. According to “Eating to Save the Earth” by Linda Riebel and Ken Jacobsen, it takes at least 45,000 square. miles to feed a person on a high-meat diet, but only 10,000 square. miles on a vegetarian diet. Also, it takes seven to eight pounds of grain consumed by cows to produce one pound of beef. Growing grain damages the soil and compromises indigenous flora. Water and manpower are also resources sucked up by meat production. Livestock produces 13 times the amount of waste that humans do.
Two weeks deep into Winter Quarter, I have yet to consume any meat. I do not believe I will ever dip into the more restrictive vegan diet, but I feel better knowing fewer animals were harmed fewer energy resources were used to fill up my dinner plate. By becoming a vegetarian, I have consequently become more aware of what I eat, and I feel like I will become healthier because of this growing nutritional conscience.