My first introduction to vegetarianism came from Chelsea, a main character on the show “That’s so Raven.” Growing up, I remember always thinking that Chelsea was so abnormal for her love of meditation and peace, for how intently she cared about the state of our world and for the fact that she did not eat meat. Fourteen years later, times have changed exceedingly and it seems that I have somehow taken on the role of Black Chelsea in my friend group… never say never.
My journey to becoming a vegetarian felt very spontaneous, but in actuality it was not. It wasn’t until several years of unsuccessful attempts and excuses that my decision to become a vegetarian would become a reality. For years, I’d dated someone who was a serious vegetarian, which elucidates why and how my interest piqued. Between his commitment to his diet and how healthy he was, I was intrigued to the point that I couldn’t help but hop on the bandwagon. In July of 2017, I finally did.
I did not realize it at the time, but my transition actually began in 2015 when I decided that I would no longer eat red meat unless it was the summertime. That only lasted for a short period of time, because by the next summer, I wasn’t eating red meat at all anymore. I had decided that although a juicy cheeseburger is beyond gratifying to my taste buds, eating them made me feel sluggish and gross afterwards. But it was okay, because I had turkey burgers to fall back on.
I was never a big pork eater, but I did love bacon, and ham and cheese sandwiches with light mayo were my go-to. However, that all changed one day when I went to make a sandwich and the ham, which had gone bad, had a sort of holographic film on it. That experience itself was enough for me to rid my diet of bacon and ham. But it was okay, because I had turkey bacon and turkey lunch meat to fall back on.
As of March 2017, I was strictly eating turkey products and chicken only, which I had no qualms about. While I was still toying with the idea of being a vegetarian and talking about doing it more than ever before, I was completely content with my new diet and I definitely felt better all around. I probably would have kept this going if it hadn’t been for my introduction to “What the Health” by one of my neighbors who is also a vegetarian.
In July of 2017 while walking from my car to my front door, my mom said to me, “I told Casey [our next door neighbor] that you were thinking about being a vegetarian, she said she would talk to you.” And so I went and sat in her front yard for hours, listening to her talk about how long she’d been a vegetarian and a multitude of other unrelated things. During our conversation, she introduced me to “What the Health,” which she told me not to watch unless I was sure that I didn’t want to eat meat anymore. I was not ready initially, but two weeks later, I was, and I quickly understood why she said not to watch it unless I was sure.
I changed my eating habits right away and although I do have the occasional desire to sneak a quick bite of a piece of fried chicken, especially when I go to the supermarket, I look back to the images from “What the Health” and am completely turned off. The destruction that animal cultivation does to the environment is also a huge turn-off for me.
It’s always funny to me how differently people interacted with me once they found that out I no longer ate meat. It’s as if as soon as I made the announcement, people have had this unyielding desire to tell me about their diets… it’s been very interesting.
I grew up in a traditional black family, where the concept of vegetarianism is foreign, so I wasn’t surprised at the reaction I got when I made the announcement that I was ridding my diet of meat. It’s been almost eight months and I still get the, “So, you’re really not eating meat still,” “You’re too thin, you need to start eating meat again,” or my grandfather jokingly attesting to the fact that I won’t have anything to eat at family functions. I also can’t even begin to tell you all how many times I have explained the difference between vegetarian and vegan: one eats dairy products, one does not.
My family’s thoughts about what it means to be a vegetarian, jocular or not, forced me to consider all other stereotypes associated with being a vegetarian:
1. Finding substitutes is not easy and cooking meals isn’t easier. You just have to find what you like.
2. Transitioning takes time; it’s rare that people jump right into it.
3. Animals are not the only source of protein and nutrition, so yes, I still get my recommended dose.
4. All vegetarians are not necessarily healthy.
5. We’re not all skinny.
I remember a time when I would’ve said, “I will never be a vegetarian; why would I do something so dumb? I love fried chicken too much,” as I held a cheeseburger dripping with grease and ketchup in my hand.
My, how times have changed.
Danae Reid is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in African American Studies ✉ DR822867@wcupa.edu.