Whether the doctor has suggested a vegetarian (or semi-vegetarian) lifestyle, your soft spot for animals has pulled you in that direction, or if you are just curious about the whole concept of vegetarianism, it may be hard to quit turkey cold-turkey (pardon the pun). But I have compiled 5 tips that have helped me and a few other veggie lovers I know through the process of going vegetarian.
Know why you feel like you do.
If you love animals, if you love to eat animals, or if you are completely apathetic to the whole notion of being (or not being) a vegetarian, know what drives you to feel this way. For those of us who love our little furry friends and could never entertain the thought of eating them: why? If you know why, you can take on the challenges of those who disagree with, or chastise you for choosing a certain way of life. If you are someone who couldn’t imagine a meal without animal flesh featured in the center: why? Is it just tradition and you feel you’ll lose out on those nutrients? If so, do research for FDA requirements of certain nutrients (fruits, veggies and grains fulfill them all), and try to break out of your comfort zone. I’ve been a vegetarian for 5 years and my family still has trouble understanding how I could not miss meat, but they have also asked me to start doing meatless Mondays, where I cook a full yummy meal of nothing but vegetarian selections. Everyone has actual enjoyed it (even my super-macho step dad and fire-fighting uncle) and it helps them see that nutrients can be gained, and traditions broken. If you are apathetic, what drives you to be that way? Do you love animals so much that it hurts to imagine that your burger used to moo? Or are you just against any type of controversial subject? Whatever your driving force is, if you are considering going vegetarian, do your research and no why you feel the way you do. Because if you don’t, no one else does either.
Dip your toe into the veggies.
The hardest thing about a habit is breaking it. If my alarm clock doesn’t go off at 6AM, my body knows something is wrong. For everyone, food is a major life source. You wouldn’t last too long without it. Since we depend on it so much, we tend to spend a lot of time doing things that circulate around food. Schools set aside times for lunch, work releases before supper, and our tummies growl as a mealtime approaches. We get in a habit of eating what we like, and only what we like. Vegetarianism is a large jump from burgers and chicken wings, to veggies and meat-substitutes. The thought is scary, and my first attempt with a disgusting fast food veggie burger was rather revolting, but I got back on the proverbial horse and tried again. If you start slow (que the meatless Mondays), continue until you are eating mostly veggies with the occasional meat, and finally at a full-fledged vegetarian (or vegan if you feel adventurous enough).
Do your research!
There are plenty of websites out there that explain vegetarianism and the pros and cons of being one. I emphasize research because I am a very skeptical person. If you explain something, I’ll listen but you can bet I will be following up with what you said via the internet. Some useful websites are peta.org, peta2.com (for high school and college-age folks), and the always informative Wikipedia. There are books like Animal Liberation and Living Vegetarian for Dummies. They all offer a wide range of information to help an interested eater become more informed. Also, once you actually make the switch, staying informed will help the decision to stay meatless stick better than becoming complacent.
Tell people about it.
If you are excited about something, you’re going to let the world know it. In the same sense, if you let a bunch of people know something, you’re going to become excited about it. Tell your friends, tell your family, and tell the lunch staff (after all, these three groups are more likely to feed you than anyone else). If you tell people, chances are you won’t go back on what you’ve said. Also, this way you may get the word out that there are different, healthier options than those that have been mainstreamed by society. Of course, don’t go to people and threaten to punch them in the face if they don’t follow suit. People learn best by example, and respond best to compassion. Just stand behind your reasons (refer back to number one!) and be there as a sounding board for anyone who is interested.
The worst thing in the world is a boring meal. Some people may think a vegetarian sits at home and gnaws on his or her brussle sprouts and watches Babe in the dark. Incorrect! We eat a wide range of goodies. Also, we have a substitute for (I think) every meat product. If not, I would definitely bank on most of them. Do you love the smell of fresh sausages in the morning? Morning Star has some awesome faux sausage links. Are burgers on the grill your specialty? Boca burgers are the greatest vegetarian substitute I have found (just ask my super macho firefighting uncle). Your meals can be colorful, fun, and healthy without a scrap of meat on it. And the more fun you have, the more likely you will stick to your new vegetarian diet!