Recently I made a commitment to myself to begin transitioning to vegetarianism. It is something I’ve long wanted to do for health, environmental and ethical reasons, but for years I have resisted. At first, I was concerned about being satisfied enough on a vegetarian diet to keep it up long term. I love food and my palate is not going to be satisfied unless I can still eat a variety of really good food. After spending more than a year researching and experimenting, I’m armed with veggie recipes as good as any plate of fried chicken or meaty lasagna. But there is one concern that is still troubling me, even as I prepare to take the plunge: Will I be left out of food fellowship now that I’m not eating meat?
Food isn’t just the stuff we use to fuel our bodies; it is part of the way we bond with each other. Consider the winter holiday season when food is as much a part of the occasion as family. And for my black family, like many others, the occasion includes greens cooked with smoked meat; turkey and dressing; ham; and on New Year’s Day, black-eyed peas and ham hocks and even chitterlings. All those foods are more than dinner; they are tradition, both in a personal and cultural sense. How will it feel to let them go?
Understand, I am not against once-in-a-while indulgence. I won’t be arrested by the vegetarian police for having a bowl of collards with smoked turkey one day of the year. (Or will I? Better learn the rules.) It would be simplest if I did that. No explaining to mom why I’m not eating the (always amazing) meal she worked so hard to put together or arguing food politics with my brother. But the more I am educated about the meat industry, the more I recoil from eating animals. What happens when I no longer have the stomach for meat?
I am less concerned that I won’t be happy than that people around me will not. There is something about life changes that buck the status quo–be it giving up meat or “going natural–that can feel like indictment to people who take a different path. I don’t want that. Nor do I want to endlessly explain that, no really, I am okay with just this bowl of quinoa casserole I brought from home.
Vegetarianism is the best path for me. I am taking charge of my health and aligning my eating with my values. But I am not certain how those closest to me will react. You, reader, probably come here for answers. But today, I’m looking for answers from those of you who lead a veggie lifestyle.
How have your non-vegetarian friends and family reacted to your choice?
How have you handled their reaction?