My first introduction to vegetarianism was my cousin Judy. I was a young child, she was probably a young teen. I got the impression our family thought she was weird for being vegetarian. I worshipped her for not eating meat, though I saw no way I could continue to stay alive without it. Vegetarianism was pretty much in the realm of saints.
On June 11, 1984 I started my first professional job. I’d continued to admire vegetarians, but thought it would be too hard a life. What would I eat if I didn’t eat meat? Still…the diet called to me. I am very sensitive to the needs and feelings of animals. Although there are tons of health and environmental reasons to not eat meat, my sole reason was to avoid the cruelty done to animals. (Yes, it’s an eat or be eaten world and our world NEEDS coyotes to eat old and infirm bunnies, but animals did not evolve to be raised in the cruelties of factory farms just long enough to be slaughtered in their prime.)
So on my first day of my first professional job I decided to be vegetarian for a week. I remember standing in the cafeteria line and choosing my first lunch without meat. A week later I thought, “that wasn’t so hard.” I have been vegetarian ever since. I had an enviously healthy and easy vegetarian pregnancy and gave birth to a little vegetarian that said, “These flowers smell like pollination,” when he was 29 months old. Clearly you can grow a healthy, intelligent child on a healthy vegetarian diet.
Whether you are vegetarian or vegan, as long as you eat a variety of foods, you will probably get all the nutrients you need from plants (though don’t take my word for that. Do the research yourself and talk with a nutritionist knowledgeable in plant-based diets.) The only exception is Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is a crucial nutrient that is primarily obtained from animal products. A lacto-ovo vegetarian who eats eggs and dairy products will probably get enough B12. However, most vegans probably won’t. They can supplement with some forms of nutritional yeast (it’s tasty and contains B12) or they may choose to simply take a vegan B12 supplement. Another possibility is to drink vegan “milk” substitutes that have been fortified with B12. When we made our household non-dairy, our pediatrician recommended checking a B12 level a few months later. Although we still ate eggs from our hens and I used a commercially made, fortified almond milk, this seemed like a good idea. I wanted to be sure both kids were both getting adequate intake of this crucial nutrient. The lab results came back at different times so I got two phone calls. Both times I was told I could, “Stop giving my child the B12 supplements because their levels were above the recommended range.” Neither child received supplements so it must have been the combination of eggs from happy, well-fed chickens and the fortified almond milk. I recommend anyone who is a vegan to do more research into Vitamin B12.
In general vegetarians tend to be healthier than folks who eat a standard, meat-based, American diet. There could be a lot of reasons for that including the way factory-farmed animals are raised. There’s plenty of easily accessible information out there about this for anyone who is interested.
Since I first became a vegetarian, I have learned more about the environmental catastrophe that animal-based diets cause. A 2010 report by the United Nations Environment Program states, “A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.” I’m guessing as time passes some nations will choose to take proactive steps and make changes around the raising of meat animals.
It is my hope that a few omnivores will read this site and they will see that they can easily cut back on the amount of meat they eat. Even if it’s just a little bit, that’s still something. My husband is a meat eater (well, not at home. He likes that I do the cooking and he knows I won’t cook him meat.) I hope that means his life will be healthier and longer. I really like having him around.