You always hear about people’s experience with “awkward moments”, ranging from seeing an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend at the mall, to bumping into people at school. I have a different type of awkward moment pretty much every single day.
About six months ago, in April, I watched Food Inc., a documentary that explored the secret underbelly of the food industry. Being a part of a family that eats more than their fair share of vegetables and fruits every day, and where whole wheat is the only option, I was a pretty healthy person. After watching that documentary, my life had changed. Really.
I was disgusted with the graphic scenes of cows and chickens being crammed into inhumane facilities before slaughter. Many factories tossed parts of animals, that you do not expect to find, into hot dogs or sausages. Each of these revelations disturbed the animal-lover that I am, but, above all, a single statistic stuck with me: in 1972, the FDA conducted approximately 50,000 food safety inspections, but in 2006 they only conducted 9,164. Even if we buy healthy food and trusted brands at the grocery store, how can we be sure that it is safe to eat?
Since that day, I made the decision to go veggie. Yes, it is a rare breed, but I am a Texan vegetarian. I did some research before the big jump, and it turns out that vegetarians tend to live longer lives, have a lower risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke, have stronger bones and have a lower risk of getting food-borne illnesses.
I couldn’t forgo animal products all together, so I’m something you call a lacto-ovo vegetarian. I don’t eat meat of any kind, but I still eat eggs and dairy. The initial adjustment was hard, and I had to shop for new products that had a lot of protein in them to make up for lack of meat. Becoming a vegetarian was something I did for myself, and I feel healthier because of it, but where does the awkward come in?
The first week I became a vegetarian, I was invited to a birthday party at everyone in the Brazos Valley’s favorite restaurant, Wings n’ More. I was dreading it, knowing I would be the only one not eating a plate of chicken wings. Most of my friends didn’t know yet, but when I ordered one of the few menu items that did not include meat, they seemed concerned.
They all questioned my meal choice, and told me ‘you could order a salad any time, this is Wings n’ More!’ Then came the big moment after a short silence. I’m a vegetarian.
Some laughed and thought I was kidding, others couldn’t fathom not eating meat for every meal, every day. I explained why I became a vegetarian, and they respected my decision. All of them agreed that they could never do it, and that I was brave for doing so. A few even thought I wouldn’t last with my new diet habits.
Most of the time in Texas, you’re expected to eat a lot from the most important food group: meat. There are barbeques every weekend, roadhouses on every street, and everyone either hunts, or knows someone who hunts. When I eat out with new friends, or ask for special no-meat pizza rolls I catch a lot of flack. It’s hard to explain to waiters at restaurants that you want this without chicken, or that without shrimp, and I get a lot of weird looks.
The first few weeks, I had a lot less energy, and I had cravings for meat. I had to stay strong if I wanted to stick with it. One of the main reasons I continued was to prove everyone who told me I wouldn’t last wrong. It wasn’t the only reason though. I eventually gained even more energy than before, I definitely ate more natural and organic foods, and I even lost some weight. I was so happy with my choice, that I told everyone I knew.
There was only one drawback to being vegetarian: my hair started falling out. My body wasn’t receiving the same vitamins and minerals it needed as it did before, so large chunks of my long hair started to come out. I figured out that I needed to take vitamins to make up for the things I wasn’t eating, which benefited me in other ways as well.
Overall, being a vegetarian, especially in Texas, can be hard and even awkward. It’s hard to settle on a restaurant that everyone can go to, and family meals have to be planned around me, but I’m proud to be a vegetarian.