I get asked on a daily basis why I ‘turned’ vegetarian. Turned. I hate that word. It has such negative connotations. To me, it signifies rejection, wrong-doing and contempt. I haven’t turned anything, I simply am. I am now a vegetarian. For my friends and family, this sudden lifestyle change has been a bit of a shock, mainly because I am the biggest carnivore in the world. Or at least I was! Over the course of the last four months I have stopped eating meat and fish. I am not a vegan but I have eliminated certain animal products from my diet. I can already hear the majority of you reeling back in utter bewilderment right now. But why Charlene? Why would you do that to yourself? Do you miss it? I could never be a vegetarian! How do you get your protein? You probably don’t get enough iron! Are you vegetarian by choice? This post is not an attempt to convert your meat eating ways. Believe me, there is nothing I hate more than people who shove their beliefs down others’ throats. This post is to answer all the questions that I am constantly being asked and to help people understand the reasons why I no longer choose to eat meat & fish.
I am surprised at how misunderstood the term vegetarian is in Irish society. I am one of those optimistic people who choose to see Ireland in a more modern light as opposed to the romantic, but albeit slightly backwards, view that many countries have of us. We played catch up for years but we’re finally on par with the rest of Europe and the U.S. Ireland is currently the number one country in the world for business. Sure we even have electricity and indoor toilets now!! Yet despite this progress, we still can’t grasp a concept as simple as vegetarianism. While a vegetarian diet is now considered mainstream, there are still many common misconceptions as to what a vegetarian actually is. Over the last few months I have been asked if I eat chicken. No, I do not. I have been offered fish as a vegetarian option in a restaurant. Um, no thanks. The words hippy and animal-lover tend to be thrown around a lot. Please don’t stereotype me! So what is being a vegetarian actually all about?
There are many types of vegetarianism with a diverse range of dietary customs. If you are not a vegetarian, know someone who is or do not have an interest in the vegetarian lifestyle, the chances are you have not come across the several branches of vegetarianism that exist. So allow me to briefly explain. In general, a vegetarian is simply a person who does not eat meat, fish or fowl, or any living creature for that matter. However, some will eat fish; some will eat chicken. Some vegetarians don’t eat eggs or dairy products. Some do. Some vegetarians won’t eat or use any product that comes from a living creature. Some do. This is where the confusion starts. I’ve found that people who work in the restaurant industry don’t even know the difference! I know what ovo-lacto vegetarians, vegans, pescetarians, fruitarians, raw vegans etc etc etc can and cannot eat, but do you?
Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian: Does not eat meat or fish, but eats eggs and dairy/milk based products
Lacto Vegetarian: Eats dairy/milk based products but not eggs
Ovo Vegetarian: Eats eggs but not dairy/milk based products
Fruitarian: Eats food that does not harm the plant – i.e eat apples as they grow on a tree that will reproduce more apples, but will not eat carrots as they are the plant.
Vegan: Does not eat meat, fish, eggs, dairy/milk products, honey or ANY product derived from animals.
Raw Vegan: Only eats fresh, non-processed, uncooked plant based food i.e a simple diet inclusive of all fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, vegetable sprouts etc
Pescetarian: Does not eat meat but will eat fish. This is often seen as a stepping stone to vegetarianism.
A full list of terms by the Vegetarian Society of Ireland can be found here
I did not wake up one day and randomly decide today I will be a vegetarian. It happened gradually, and like most gradual things, I really did not see it coming. If I was to visualise a turning point in my lifestyle, it would be April of last year. I moved home after spending three months in Paris. I had over-indulged on bread, cheese and wine and was feeling heavy, sluggish and round. I had minimal energy and I knew I needed to start looking after myself better. I mentioned to my mum that I wanted to incorporate more fruit & veg into my diet and she leant me a copy of 12 Steps to Raw Foods. This book introduced me to the raw vegan world, the healing power of food and cultivated my interest in this lifestyle. I had a thirst for knowledge that couldn’t be quenched. So I started researching and subscribed to a couple of Raw Foodists on YouTube to learn more about their diet. I had zero desire to only live off of fruit & vegetables for the rest of my life, but I began to understand the benefits of their lifestyle and the science behind it. The more I learned, the more it made sense. Out of curiosity, I started to incorporate the knowledge I had gained into my every day life. My love affair with smoothies & juicing began.
Over the next five months, my cupboards and refrigerator were packed to the brim with fresh produce. I was feeling great and had loads of energy. I noticed that if I had fruit & veg at home, I was less likely to pick up a ready made sandwich or grab something from the deli. Interestingly (and unintentionally), I never bought meat to prepare at home. However, whenever I went out to eat (which was too often), nine times out of ten I would order a big juicy steak. I loved my steak. Or duck or lamb or venison or any other delicious mouth watering meat. The rarer the better.
Fast forward a few months and I moved to the Netherlands. I was still watching my Raw Food YouTubers and marvelling at their lifestyle, but with no real motivation to ever partake in it. I had heard the name Gary Yourofsky mentioned again and again so I decided to see what his story was. I stumbled across an hour long speech that he gave to a group of Georgie Tech students in 2010 about the ethical treatment of animals and veganism. Now, this may sound harsh, but I’ve never been a real animal lover. Don’t get me wrong, I like animals as much as the next person, but I’ve never had an emotional connection to any animal since my two goldfish Bubble & Squeak when I was a child! They died after two weeks of having them. I was devastated. But I forgot them soon after that. Needless to say I wasn’t expecting this Gary dude to have any effect on me whatsoever.
I’ve never seen anyone so passionate about anything before Gary Yourofsky. His goal was to “awaken some emotions and some feelings and some logic, that has been buried and suppressed, intentionally, by our society” and he certainly did that to me! Through his inspirational words and use of horrendous visual images, he ignited a new interest in me – where does our food actually come from? And so started a week of reading articles and watching documentaries. From Vegucated to Earthlings, I’ve seen them all. And they were all horrendous. If you’ve seen them, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen them and are happy with eating meat, I’ll advise you to stay as far away as possible! They completely changed my eating habits. I didn’t consciously tell myself to stop eating meat. I went to a cafe for lunch one day, looked at the menu and felt physically ill when I was contemplating between a chicken or ham sandwich. I just couldn’t do it. So I went for tuna instead.
I was a pescetarian for about two weeks when I was searching YouTube for a few new fish based recipes. I stumbled across a video showing you how to prepare a certain type of fish which name escapes me right now. The first step of the preparation began with actually diving under the water and spearing the fish. That didn’t bother me. It was when the voiceover started hysterically laughing at how much the fish was in pain as the diver was cutting off it’s venomous fins (while it was still alive and still under the water) that really made me think. Fish are living beings with feelings too… I clicked out of the video. I couldn’t watch it anymore.
Now at this point, I was actually really confused. Why was my brain betraying me? I love fish. I love meat. I’ve never been an easily influenced person so I couldn’t understand why I was suddenly changing my views and lifestyle choices because of a few videos. But I went with it and I haven’t looked back.
Everyone asks me why I turned vegetarian, and that’s it in a nutshell. It’s a lifestyle choice. As of right now, I cannot say that I will be vegetarian forever. I am a firm believer of never depriving yourself of something that you genuinely want. Once I feel like I want a burger, I will have a burger. But for now, I’m both mentally and physically happy and healthy with my meat & fish free diet.
Until the next time,