A few years ago, I found myself regularly saying something to the effect of, “If I wasn’t a hypocrite, I wouldn’t eat meat” when the topic of diets came up. I love animals and knew I could never slaughter one myself for a meal (unless I was in a life or death scenario, I imagine), but I happily continued to purchase prepackaged meat at the supermarket, where the dirty work got done out of sight and mostly out of mind.
Me saying that phrase aloud was my first step towards going plant-based, since it forced me to accept I was uncomfortable with the fact that animals were raised and killed so I could eat them, and I was simply too lazy to change anything about my own actions to do anything about it. Eventually I decided to put up or shut up and start making moves in the right direction. Luckily, my wife Jill had similar feelings and decided she also wanted to give it a try, which made the transition easier, since it allowed us to continue to meal plan and cook together.
I Started Small
Making big changes is most effective for me when I break it up into smaller, less intimidating goals. Instead of rushing out the gate with the aim to never eat meat again, we decided to try it for a month. We also started out with the goal of going pescatarian and not completely plant-based, as a kind of fall back to when we were at a restaurant that didn’t have any real veggie options.
After a month, we agreed that we wanted to continue. As time went on, we also found ourselves wanting to eat less and less seafood. Near the beginning we were having it maybe two or three times a month. At this point I don’t eat it at all, and Jill has it only on rare occasion.
Going from eating meat every day in almost every meal to never eating it at all was a major shift for us, but chunking a big goal into smaller, less ambitious ones made it feel less overwhelming and proved a big part of our success.
It Has Been Easier Than I Expected
It’s a great time to be plant-based. There are plenty of great satiating veggie friendly foods out there, not to mention that more and more restaurants are getting on board by offering quality options. If you want to cut out meat but you feel like you just can’t give up burgers or chicken, there are substitutions that are either so close to the real thing that the difference is nearly indistinguishable, or similar enough to satisfy while offering something a little different from their meat counterparts. And things are only getting better.
My two favorite discoveries so far have been tempeh and the versatility of chickpeas. Tempeh is easier to cook than tofu in my experience, and is great in almost everything — stir frys, sandwiches, wraps, salads, pasta, and even by itself. Don’t get me wrong, I like tofu, but getting a quality end result out of it does require a little more work than I’m normally willing to put into a weeknight meal after a long day. With tempeh, I’ll slice it into strips and either pan fry it or bake it, and toss it in a sauce or add it to the dish I’m making. As a bonus, if I under or over cook it a bit, it’s no big deal. Chicken can’t do that.
As for chickpeas, they have become the basis for many of my throw down meals, especially curries. Plus, homemade hummus is delicious.
It Didn’t Make Me Lose Weight, But it Didn’t Make Me Gain Weight, Either.
To some extent, my weight has yo-yo’d over the last number of years. But previous to going plant based, when I had been in my best shape, I was on a high-protein low-carb diet. A diet like that is obviously more difficult when you’re not eating meat, so from the start I knew things were likely going to change.
And, true to form, my weight yo-yo’d throughout the year. At one point, I was counting calories and was at my goal weight, but, of course, I got lax and let myself eat too many empty carbs and too much sugar.
Going plant-based didn’t magically make me lose weight, but adding some carbs back into my diet on a regular basis also wasn’t a death sentence. Just like always, if you want to lose weight, you have to eat less and move more. Unfortunately, it’s just as easy to be a junk food vegetarian as it is being a junk food omnivore.
I’ve Become a Better Cook
I never thought about it previous to going vegetarian, but I had used meat as a kind of crutch in my cooking for years. A piece of meat is 90% of a meal for many people — you can toss anything next to it and call it done. Cutting that out forced me to think about food in a new way, and it’s inspired me to massively expand my repertoire of meals.
Now, I use a wider variety of healthier ingredients, I more frequently do things like make my own sauces, and I’ve generally become more inventive and experimental in the kitchen.
For example, we used to regularly make meat-based meals in our slow cooker. After going vegetarian, I realized I had never regularly used it for anything other than meat. I decided I either needed to learn some new tricks for the old slow cooker or get rid of it, which inspired me to hunt for new recipes and try foods I probably never would have otherwise.
As an extra bonus, I meal prep more often and eat at restaurants less, which saves a surprising amount of money.
Some Will Give You a Hard Time, but Most People Don’t Care.
Everyone has their two cents about the right way to eat, and I’ve discovered that some people are fairly harsh towards those who don’t eat meat. Generally, the behavior from people who feel this way is passive-aggressive, like a kid poking fun at you for that time you tripped on your shoelaces on a field trip in junior high school, even if it happened like three years before. (Get over it, Jason. Jeez.) Others are more direct with their vexation.
My personal theory is that many people who react this way are doing so, either consciously or subconsciously, because they feel judged for eating meat and they’re striking back at a perceived attack on their moral character. Almost as if when I mention I don’t eat meat, they feel like they have to justify their eating habits to themselves and those around them, and occasionally those justifications get childish and downright rude.
To be clear, I never proselytize to anyone about not eating meat, and I’ve never made derogatory comments when someone around me eats it. Firstly, because what others do is largely none of my business, and secondly, because who the hell am I to judge? I’m in my mid-30s now and ate meat almost every day of my life until the last year. I made my recent choice because I wanted to feel better about my own habits, not because I want to guilt trip anyone else about theirs.
Which is all why I have started living by the rule of not talking about my diet around other people, unless it comes up naturally, or I’m actively seeking advice.
The silver lining here is that most people don’t care, and others react with interest and curiosity. Phrases like, “Oh, I’ve wanted to try that, has it been difficult?” or “Would you mind sharing your favorite recipes? I want to skip meat a day or two a week, and would love some ideas!” are at least as common as the more derogatory comments.
If You’re Considering Going Plant Based, You Should Go For It.
Plant-based diets are growing in popularity, and now is a great time to jump on the train. Chances are, you know people who can help guide you and share resources, and even if you don’t, the internet is awash with blogs, cooking videos, and inspiration. If you don’t want to fully commit, consider doing it in baby steps — a tradition like Meatless Monday is a a great start, or set a goal of eating plant-based for a week or a month, which is what we did at the beginning of our journey.
Whichever way you decide is right for you, I promise that it will be easier than you think, and you’ll miss meat less than you expect.