Hi all, it’s your friendly neighbourhood herbivore Tara here. I’m technically not a real herbivore though because I occasionally eat fish and crustaceans, but close enough. I’ve recently had a vegan experience (see my Vegan for a Week post to check it out) and during that experience, I’ve had quite a few questions about being a vegetarian/ pescetarian. I’ve also had a couple friends ask me for advice on how to live a more vegetarian lifestyle, so I’ll be covering all that in this post today.
What is the difference between vegetarian, pescetarian and vegan?
Most people don’t actually know the answer to this, so I’ll break it down for you. Vegetarian means “doesn’t eat meat”; they eat things like eggs, milk and cheese, which are all animal products but are not the meat of the animal itself. Pescetarian means “doesn’t eat meat except for fish/ crustaceans”, and we also eat eggs and cheese and other animal products. Vegan means “doesn’t eat meat or any animal products whatsoever”. They don’t eat milk, cheese, yogurt, or any other dairy for that matter, nor do they eat eggs of any kind (or fish; apparently, vegans are always asked if they eat fish… they DON’T).
What do you do for protein?
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need meat to get protein. It helps certainly, but it’s not necessary. To break it down for you, I’m anemic and I have very low iron in my blood. I take iron pills daily because of this, and I can still get along fine without meat. Protein comes from red meats, which people generally don’t eat much of anyways. It’s usually the processed crap or chicken most people eat with their dinner, and there’s little protein in that. Foods you can substitute for red meat can be eggs, cottage cheese, quinoa, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, beans, milk or soy milk, yogurt, peanut butter, almonds or other nuts and asparagus to name a few.
Don’t you ever miss meat?
Absolutely. But again, I was sick and tired of eating processed garbage that wasn’t really nutritious, so I usually try to refrain from caving in to these cravings. I still eat meat on holidays like Easter and Christmas, but it’s always local meat I get from a butcher that has a farm near my home. That way, I know it’s fresh and healthy to eat. Another thing I’d like to mention is the several studies I’ve read that suggest humans have too much meat in their diets. People like to bring up the “we evolved to eat meat” card but this isn’t exactly true. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, and it was usually days or weeks that they had to go without meat before the storing of meat and the domestication and farming of animals was introduced. Back thousands of years ago, our diets mostly consisted of plants and plant-based food. Do I miss meat? Sure, but I am satisfied with the positive impact my diet has on the environment.
What would be my first step if I wanted to start living a more “vegetarian lifestyle”?
First step: get a blood test from your doctor to see if you’re anemic. (You don’t actually have to, but it’s better that you make sure the iron in your blood is at a healthy level before you change your diet. I learned the hard way that I was anemic, so I advise you to be certain you have decent iron levels before you learn you don’t by fainting in the middle of your yoga class… oops. If you are anemic or think you might be, invest in some iron pills, they’re only a few dollars at Walmart.)
Second step would be to start logically thinking about what meals you usually eat that have meat in them and start thinking of substitutes. For example, if you always eat pepperoni pizza, just start eating veggie pizza instead. If you usually eat chicken for dinner, start filling your plate with more vegetables and grains and any of the above listen foods for protein. You won’t miss out on any of your protein in this case, and if you still feel the need to eat meat, it will take a lot less to satisfy you.
Third step is to go a whole other level and stop buying excess meat wherever you can. If you buy frozen meals, you can buy the vegetarian version. If you usually buy steak, (which, at a university budget, is nearly impossible anyways) you can start buying other filling foods instead, like those listed above or even just vegetables that are high in iron like chickpeas, spinach and kale. If you find yourself getting hungry between meals, prepare snacks for the day, like vegan granola bars, carrots and dip, fruit, corn-chips and hummus etc.
Fourth and final step would be to always remind yourself of the impact you’re making on the environment. It helps me whenever I get cravings for meat with my Jimmy Guaco’s burrito, or when I wish I had a pepperette to snack on, to remind myself why I’m doing this. To me, having this kind of diet is like a win-win; my body is healthier because I’m not loading up on packaged and processed meats that I don’t need, and I’m helping the environment at the same time. I read in an article on eating raw (vegan) last week that if you were to convert to veganism for one year, you would have a larger impact on the environment than if you were to only use a hybrid car during that same time.
If you’re thinking of becoming a full-blown vegetarian, my biggest advice would be to take baby steps and to not get discouraged if you “cheat” a bit during your first few weeks. Heck, I even cheated for a bit. Your body won’t be used to this new diet change; you have to give it time to adjust. You will get cravings every once and a while, but these cravings can be satisfied in a way that doesn’t involve meat.
I advise everyone to go watch the films Food Inc., Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, and Vegucated for more information and advise on eating meatless meals.