Should you be a vegetarian?
Like everything else in nutrition, the answer isn’t simple. A lot of factors go into deciding on a lifestyle diet change: your beliefs around nutrition, scientific research, how your body reacts to foods, allergy considerations, and moral dilemmas. At the end of the day, only you can decide what to eat, and it’s no one else’s business what you put in your mouth (unless they’re feeding you, of course. Then they kind of need to know what you’ll eat). Here’s my story.
I was a vegetarian for about four years. During that time, I still ate animal products—dairy and eggs, but no flesh of any kind. No fish, no turkey, no chicken, and no beef, much to the dismay of my meat-loving Brazilian family.
Four years into becoming a vegetarian, my iron levels plummeted, and no matter what I did within my vegetarian diet, I couldn’t get my iron levels to rise. I ate all the high iron vegetarian foods I could think of. I took supplements. I cooked in a cast iron pan. And no luck. So I added fish back into my diet, and voilá—normal iron levels.
Since that time, I have been eating fish but no other meat, with the exception of my visit to Brazil, where I ate what my family cooked for me, and our cycle tour, where I devoured whatever people put in front of me.
I’m not a strict pescatarian in the sense that I will eat meat when someone has lovingly cooked it for me (e.g. they didn’t know I don’t eat meat), and that I will abide by a culture’s accepted eating standards when I travel.
And I also don’t think it’s wrong to eat meat (GASP!). So… why am I a vegetarian? It’s my husband’s fault.
Poor guy didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he called me out on my hypocrisy 11 years ago. He told me some truths which made me stop eating meat. Unfortunately for him, I do most of the cooking, so he doesn’t get much meat, either. Here’s how the whole thing went down.
When my husband and I first got married (we moved in together after our wedding), my husband would often buy a whole chicken (because it was cheaper) and de-bone it at home. I, on the other hand, only ever bought chicken breasts. Nice, boneless chicken breasts, which looked far removed from the animal they came from (literally and figuratively).
And every time my husband would stand at the counter with a whole chicken, he’d tell me to come over because he was going to teach me how to de-bone a chicken. And every time, I looked at him with a disgusted face and said, “no thanks…” Until one day, he told me, straight out: “if you have a problem with the fact that this is an animal, then you shouldn’t be eating it.” And I looked at him and thought, “you’re right.” And from that day on I stopped eating meat (until the whole thing with the fish that I described above).
So there you have it. I’m a vegetarian because my husband’s not afraid to call me out on my hypocrisy. For the record, I don’t think it’s wrong to eat meat, though I do think the way we raise, kill, and eat meat today is neither sustainable nor humane.
I think if you are going to eat meat, the best thing is to learn to hunt, and obtain a permit for hunting game whose population needs to be brought down to help the ecosystem. And hunt it in a humane way. Part of the reason I stopped eating meat is that I don’t think I’d have the heart to hunt and animal, skin it, debone it, and then cook it and eat it. And if I can’t bring myself to do that, then I really do think it’s hypocritical of me to eat something I bought from a store.
That’s not to say I’ll never eat meat again. But for now, this “pescatarian” life works for me. No, I don’t fish, but I don’t think I’d have a problem with doing so and cleaning the fish to eat it. We are, after all, part of the food chain, and we are animals who eat other animals. It’s how the food chain and the world work. And no, I’ll never tell you that you should be a vegetarian. But if you’re considering this way of eating, here are some questions to guide your decision:
1. Would you hunt an animal, skin it, debone it, cook it, and then eat it? If you don’t think you could, perhaps trying out a vegetarian diet might work for you.
2. Do you have any health conditions that might be made worse by a sudden change in your diet? Any major diet changes should be discussed with your doctor and a registered dietitian, who can guide you in safely making changes.
3. How do you feel about modern farming practices? If you can’t give up meat but can’t accept inhumane treatment of animals, perhaps you could consider buying meat from a local farmer.
At the end of the day, the way each person eats is no one’s business but their own (and anyone who’s feeding them dinner, of course). I shared my story here just to illustrate one reason someone might become a vegetarian, and to give you some guidance on what to think about if you’re considering this way of eating.
One thing to keep in mind is that although the concern about “where do vegetarians get their protein?” is completely bogus, iron can become a concern for vegetarians, especially for women (we do lose a lot of iron once a month). So if you’re considering a vegetarian diet, especially if you’re a woman of childbearing age, be sure to inform yourself about vegetarian sources of iron, and ask your doctor about checking your iron levels every so often.
Have you considered becoming a vegetarian?