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?
Stay Strong!! I’ve been Vegetarian for over 6 years. It’s easier than some people would think and your body loves you for it. And, if on occassion you crave a piece of animal flesh, eat it and be done with it. My main weakness is beef and I love me some Mexican food. Oh yea, and grilled salmon. Maybe once or twice a month I’ll eat an animal. So, technically I’m only like 95% vegetarian, but that is better than nothing, and don’t beat yourself up when you slip.
My family isn’t very supportive, the two hardest parts for me is finding great recipes and trying to get threw to my family about eating right. What I have noticed is that a lot of overweight people love to comment on my weight because I’m slim but if I were to counter with a remark about them being obese I would be wrong. Its hard to watch the people around you who are very capable of changing there diets continue on the road to destruction. I’m trying to change my families destination….. heart disease, diabetes, and cancer but its 1 against 30.
Congrats on your decision. About a month ago, I made the choice to become a pescatarian, which has been challenging in some respects. I live in a city where socializing happens over food and family time is a feast. Ordering food that’s meets my dietary preference can be uncomfortable with a group of people.
Because your decision is about honoring your value system and your body, I encourage you to be honest with your family. Let them know you’re transitioning. Offer to bring a veggie dish that everyone can enjoy. And if you want a rib on occasion, have one (I had two on Memorial Day)! At the end these family gatherings, I think you’ll find the most peace in staying true to self…whatever that looks like.
Why does everyone equate going vegetarian or vegan with health. I went vegetarian for 5 years almost and became fat and unhealthy to say the least. I exercised and began a regular diet on weight watchers and the pounds dropped. I’m glad you’re trying something to help yourself but don’t think vegetarianism is some magic pill
@Don’t Believe the Hype: I don’t think anyone here believes that being vegetarian alone equals a healthy diet. Though several studies have shown the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Here’s one: http://frugivoremag.com/2010/12/frugivore-recommends-3-books-to-start-you-on-a-frugivore-lifestyle/
But being healthy–whether you are a meat-eater or not–requires making healthy food choices. Pie, M&Ms, cheese pizza and strawberry daquiris are all vegetarian (and yummy!), but eaten too often do not add up to health and longevity. You can be an unhealthy and sedentary vegetarian
@Tami (Writer): I agree with you Tami. I’m not trying to tell you that it’s not possible. I take exception to the inference that meat-eaters in your family are going about it wrong. Turkey ain’t the food that kills. It’s the bread and sugar, and mac-n-cheese.
@Don’t Believe the Hype: Oh, I don’t believe at all that my family or friends are going about their diets the wrong way. In fact, my mom is a very healthy eater. Sorry if the post gave that impression. I just realize that my decision will be (at least momentarily) disruptive to a family that eats a lot of meat and I want to find a way to ease the transition for me and for them.
@Don’t Believe the Hype: It is automatically healthier for some people. I am one of those people whose bodies do not agree with meat of any kind. I always ate natural food, but cutting out meat has done wonders for my body. I think that except for special cases (maybe that was you), you’ll stay away from getting fat as long as you eat right and do not indulge daily in frozen veggie burgers, fries, and chips.
@Don’t Believe the Hype: Hon, if you’re doing vegan or vegetarian with plants in mind, meaning little to no starchie carbs or processed foods, then there’s no way you can gain weight and become unhealthy. So yes, if you’re living on a plant-based diet this is more often than not the road to sincere health.
I’m living proof: The first time I took to a vegetarian diet I worked for Kellogg’s, the parent company over MorningStar, Garden Burger, Koshi and Bare Naked. Because of this I thought I had an advantage and prided myself over being able to “have my cake and eat it too”, since most of these labels produce many meat-like products. Well, I ended up becoming very bloated and gained weight in no time. All the soy, tofu, salt and preservatives took a huge toll on my body, and I couldn’t figure out why. I can tell you now that most of the companies, aside from Bare Naked, care little to none about your health, and utilize genetically modified ingredients to supplement their pseudo healthy products. Their main target are vegetarians who don’t really know how to be vegetarians without meat-like products. If your previous diet consisted of a lot of these foods, then you weren’t taking the healthiest route on the vegetarian express.
Since then I’ve added a lot of vegan and raw vegan foodies to my facebook page and have learned A LOT about the true vegan lifestyle. To be a real vegan and reap rewards takes learning, compassion and discipline . I went on a cleanse and felt better than I had my entire life. After that I went back to basic, dead processed “vegetarian” food and felt the worst.
If you manage to combine healthy organic meat eating with a primarily plant based diet and stay well hydrated I’m sure some great effects could be produced as well.
People around me are supportive, although they sometimes forget I don’t eat meat until I remind them. The only negative reaction I’ve gotten is from distant friends “Really? No meat? Why? I couldn’t do that…” But I don’t care. I let it roll off my back.
I’m also newly vegetarian…well mostly. I eat seafood every once in awhile. My family has been very supportive. I made the decision to go vegetarian once I really started to learn about nutrition and discovering the fallacy that meat is necessary. Also, I’ve live in rural area due to being a student and the factory farming is awful. The chicken “farms” (if you can call them that) is nothing more than a metal building. Atrocious and I don’t want to contribute to that anymore. Vegetarianism is easy, once you’ve figured out what works for you. Good luck! You can do it =)
Coming from a Haitian background, my family don’t really understand and actually assumed I’m part of a no meat eating cult [insert side eye]. As for my friends, they make little comments here and there, and would try to taunt me with the smell of meat which surprisingly doesn’t faze me at all. My reaction to them is that for the first time I feel healthier, stronger, and Grrrrreat and that maybe they should try it and see how their bodies react to the change. I’ve been trying to lead more of a vegetarian lifestyle for about 2 years now because my body literally rejects meat. It can’t tolerate it anymore. I started listening to my body a few months ago and gradually eliminated meat from my diet to the point where I don’t even crave it. I’m actually repulsed by meat now. I’ll eat fish maybe once or twice a month just for the extra proteins but that’s about it. At some point the people around you get used to it and will have no choice but to accept and respect your decision.
I went pescatarian nearly 20 years ago, and left fish (save for the occasional indulgence) about 3 years ago. As you encounter friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances and the like over time, the reactions will be, well, quite varied to say the least.
My best advice would be to simply be firm but respectful. Don’t ever waver in your answers or your position; that is the first step to your family and friends accepting the new/better you. Educate, but don’t preach. Have interesting anecdotes that will make people think twice about what they have accepted as truth (e.g. umm, where do think cows get their protein? Ever seen one eating a hamburger?)
I have also found that, as you can’t make the “horses” drink the water, I never make the first move when it comes to discussing veganism/vegetarianism. The questions will come; they will range from the silly and wholly uninformed (“where do you get your protein?”) to the incredulous (“give up meat? How could you do it?”) and everything in between. Arming yourself with information is a great way to help; people are always caught off-guard when I respond to the ‘protein’ question by asking them if they know how much protein the body needs.
But again, as someone who’s gone thru this many times over with family and friends (my background is West Indian, so I totally understand what you are about to face when it comes to family, holidays, etc.), just be firm and respectful. Laugh at their silly jokes (if they’re funny); don’t react to them trying to ‘tempt’ you with meat; educate them on the fallacies of, well, everything they’ve accepted as truth, but do it in such a way that they know it comes from a place of love, not of disdain or being judgmental. Be strong, and good luck!
It may certainly be a challenge when dining with family and friends to explain why you choose not to indulge in the the same foods they do. But it has been my experience that as long as you are very clear on the reasons why you have chosen what others may consider a more ‘alternative’ lifestyle your friends and family will gravitate towards you with curiosity rather than frustrating pestering. Maybe you can bring a vegetarian dish to family dinners and after everyone comments on how good it was hit them with the, “Its vegetarian!” or “Those meatballs were made from was faux meat!” You’ll be fine. Instead of making vegetarianism ‘your’ thing among family and friends, think of it as the new thing you want to share with those you love.
I have been dabbling with vegetarianism and it has been a wobbly transition. As a cancer survivor I need to be more food conscious so I have had a lot of family support, however, my kids don’t seem to take kindly to the veggie burger’s., brown rice, veggie dinners, etc. But I say I want them healhty. As for you, I say go for it! Stay strong and committed. You will do fine and don’t worry about what family says they will learn to accept your “new palate”. If you feel the urge to cheat once in a while, just indulge slighty.
Last Thanksgiving, I explained to my family that I was a vegan. They were much more supportive than I thought they would be. They really went out of their way to make me feel comfortable. If people see that you are taking your commitment seriously, they will have to support you.
I’ve been Vegetarian over 1 year, it was challenging cooking for my husband ( still eats meat). I’ve adapted to it, i cook like normal and just add what ever meat I’m cooking for the husband. Family just couldn’t understand and always ask “WHY”. There are a lot of great website to explore for great recipes: http://www.vegetariantimes.com, http://www.forksoverknives.com and http://www.allrecipes.com to name a few. I haven’t looked back.
I’m a vegetarian (have been since 1984) and I’m married to a life-long vegetarian. If you’re making dietary changes for health reasons, not for religious, ethical or environmental reasons, then I don’t see why you can’t eat foods with meat in them every once in a while. It all depends on what suits you.
Just don’t say you’re vegetarian because using that word will confuse everyone. Say that you’re on a mostly plant-based diet.
Best of luck to you!
The best advice I ever received was from Raw Food Goddess Karyn Calabrese. She says that it’s ok to keep things to yourself, especially in the beginning. Don’t announce it to friends and fam and give whatever other reason you want for not indulging in other foods. They will attack and I finally understand why. Basically, our identities are wrapped up in our lifestyles and when anyone that bucks the status quo comes around they are seen as “attacking” those that have chosen the beaten path. Why? Because, just by doing your own thing, even if you don’t try to convert others, people feel as if you’re attacking their way of life, and since that is part of their identity you are “attacking” them. A natural that walks into the room meets eye rolls from many of the straight haired sisters that think she is questioning their “blackness”. A vegan is met by lots of comments about his lifestyle just because he brought in the almond “ice cream” for lunch. People feel bolstered by group think on certain topics and because their lifestyles are supported by so many people, they easily dismiss the validity of other choices as being extreme. Skyrocketing cancer, heart disease, diabetes-that’s pretty extreme. So, rest assured, I believe you’re on the right path. But, IMO, you shouldn’t really share it until you are strong enough in your choice that their opinions won’t matter. Remember, a lot of these foods (meat, sugar, dairy, etc.) actually have addictive properties for evolutionary reasons and/or we shouldn’t be eating them reasons. So, they’ll attack you first because they’re addicted still. Don’t take offense because it’s the addiction talking. Have you ever seen Intervention when the drug addicts are confronted? The first thing many of them do is run or lash out at those that love them. It’s the same thing here. Many people are afraid of living life without their beloved food items and that they’ll fail if they try. So, tearing you down or “exposing” you for being a hypocrite is their first line of defense and their best attempt at making themselves feel better. Opt out of the game, you can’t win anyway. In the end, when they see your glowing skin and fit, new self, they’ll sing a different tune. I promise. Good luck!
I stopped eating meat in 1993. I have gotten tired of the questions about why I became vegetarian, so my answers to those questions are short and curt. I no longer try to educate anyone in conversation, but anyone who is Facebook friends with me might see me post articles about the animal welfare and environmental and health reasons for eating less or no meat. The majority of people I know eat meat, so when I eat with them in a home setting, I will just eat the side dishes (or if it’s me who’s making the meal, I make clear beforehand that none of what I cook will contain meat), or when I eat out with them, we usually just go to a regular restaurant and I eat the vegetarian option(s). I try to make as little a deal about it as possible, but still I get some meat eaters who want to make a big deal out of it for me, mostly (in my opinion) out of their own guilt over continuing to support the factory farming industry. Dining around people like that is tiresome.
Over and above all else, I find vegetarianism and veganism (even raw foodism) to be a strong form of consciousness. When you become conscious about what goes into your body, you become conscious about your way of thinking and your life in general on levels you didn’t believe possible.
I’ve been vegan for over five and a half years now. I don’t get the ribbing like I did when I first started (okay, every now and again I get dumb comments from the unenlightened). People see that I live what I claim to be and I look healthy and don’t complain about being sick or in pain. I don’t make a fuss about being vegan. I do my best to lead by example.
Keep doing you, educating yourself and being a positive influence. Eventually, people will come to respect what you’re about. Sometimes it’s a good thing to change one’s perspective on the veg lifestyle, even if they don’t adopt it for themselves.
I know exactly how that feels. I am vegan. So no more delicious mac-n-cheese deviled eggs or even cake and ice cream. But there comes a time in a persons life when you know you have to do something and there is nothing that can stop you. When that time came for me even though i was terrified of what my family and friends would say I did what I had to do. And I thank goodness for the family and friends that i have because not only did they accept my new lifestyle I have managed to make some of them change the way they eat and they even “veganize” alot of foods just for me.