I’ve been a vegetarian for about a year now. It’s been a long 2-year struggle, where I evolved from a weekend vegetarian, to weekday, to full time. Even now, I go weak at the knees for tuna fish and sushi. I decided to make this lifestyle change, at first because I had a partner who encouraged me, and then, when I moved to Atlanta, I committed 100% (give or take 30%) to no-meat meals.
There are loads of reasons why I changed my diet: to prove that I could, to eat consciously, to be healthy, to lose weight, to be Green, for animal rights, because obesity runs in the family, for my well being, to stave off cancer/heart disease/diabetes, to save money, to protest animal factory farms, because vegetarians have higher IQs, and more…
When people ask me why I chose to be a vegetarian, my brain lights up. I pull any one of those answers from a hat and sell my story. Then the meat-headed investigation: How do you get your protein? I hear that’s really unhealthy. I love meat too much! I’m a natural meat-eater. Are you healthy? How can you do that? Do you eat turkey? No… I’m serious… can you eat turkey? I answer these questions to the best of my ability and cross my fingers that said individuals don’t ask me about my thoughts on Vegan lifestyles. If you think the intolerance for vegetarians is judgmental, I pity the soft-hearted vegans.
Regardless of how prepared I am for these questions, my face will always flush, I feel flustered and frustrated, and stutter my way through a response. I have no confidence, whatsoever, when it comes to defending my choice. This insecurity is a little unfamiliar to me, an active, queer, feminist, liberal arts graduate student. Where’s my pride? Where’s my fire? Why am I so anxious about being judged for my diet, of all things?
Eating, in general, makes me nervous. What I eat, the amount I eat, how long I eat, how I make my food, what I make my food with, snacking, gorging, nomming, starving…the whole process makes me hands so clammy that I can hardly hold my cutlery. These feelings come from my parents, for the most part: my mother is a picky eater and my father has been on every diet that was ever published in a book, all of which he owns. Since I’ve become a vegetarian, though, my diet has made me feel less like a loser: I only eat ONE sleeve of oreos, I cook and bake most of my foods, switched from canola/vegetable oil to slighter amounts of olive oil, discovered the beauty of tofu and shallots. I love cooking now like I had never loved it before.
My favorite vegetarian bible book thus far, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, is home to favorite food-quote: “Stories about food are stories about us—our history and our values.” This puts me at ease, because I feel as if I’ve begun a new chapter. I want to write a meaningful story with my food, and the past year was filled with a lot of french fry fights, drive-by cheese shootings, cookiebrowniecupcake craves, and plenty, PLENTY of cheeseburger desires. I can’t shake off my intense want for certain meat foods. Lately, all I can think about is diving into a pool of corndogs. But that can be part of my food-story, where I approach a carnival-feast mountain and choose to go around it instead of climbing up and sinking in.