1. I learned that being a vegetarian won’t necessarily make you healthier. In fact, because many vegetarians struggle with a protein deficiency and often compensate with overeating other food groups, your eating habits can be less beneficial to your health overall. And there are actual studies that back this up.
2. I learned that the United States is a real carb-heavy nation. And you are more likely to overeat complex carbs when you have to be extra diligent about your protein and vegetables. And carbs are so much easier to overeat.
3. I learned the importance of seeking protein outside of animal products. When I became more diligent about my vegetarianism, it was pretty cool to find out all the different ways to get protein. But it was also laborious.
4. I learned that being a vegetarian and being active, especially in terms of running, is not as terrible as I was advised it would be. But I also learned that one has to be extra cautious lest your active lifestyle could be hindered by a poor vegetarian diet that is plagued with bad carbs.
5. I learned that I liked cheese even less as a vegetarian. No I’m not lactose intolerant, I have just never enjoyed the taste of most dairy products. And being a vegetarian just made it even worse. Goat cheese aside of course.
6. I learned that people are really judgy about what other people are eating, and that means everyone – vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Which is not always a bad thing, because we all have to live on this planet together. And what others eat affects the community’s health, health care, environment, and finances.
7. I learned that there’s a lot of hypocrisy in vegetarianism. Some people do it out of wanting to support “animal rights” but still wear leather, fur, and other animal-made things. They also still purchase things that are tested on animals. I mean either go big or go home right? But maybe perfection is the enemy of progress so everyone is a hypocrite of sorts.
8. I learned that what society and grocers mean by “organic” food is not what we think it means. Organic can and does include lots of man-made, synthetic, non-natural things. But that’s what happens when you live in a society where everything from seed to plate is politicized. Remember how Orwell told us everything is political? Well he also told us, “We may find in the long run that tinned food is a deadlier weapon than the machine-gun.” He was right.
9. I learned that a lot of people don’t really understand the deplorable state of food production that the United States is in, and has been in a while. Indeed it is a function of privilege but if you’re not in a financial position to make better choices, you’re for the most part not going to eat real food. And that goes beyond animal products. And even if you are in a position to make better choices, a lot of the marketing will deceive you if you don’t have the time or desire to do your research.
10. I learned that a lot of people get really high and mighty when you decide you don’t want to be a vegetarian anymore. Either in an “I told you so” or a “You just couldn’t cut it” kind of way. Even though they didn’t know the reason you became one to begin with.
My initial reason for starting vegetarianism was somewhat political. And it wasn’t because I was or am against the eating of animals. It was because I despised the food production system and I still do. It was a form of resistance to the system. My reason for returning back to being an omnivore was at first for health-reasons – I was borderline anaemic and that was affecting my running, my ability to heal from injuries, etc. But then when I truly made the change was after reading Michael Pollan’s books In Defense Of Food and Omnivore’s Dilemma. I reflected on my upbringing and how I lived in a completely different context.
Till this day I consider my parents some of the healthiest people I know. But they are not extreme people in anything, least of all food. And my upbringing was one where we ate well and healthy, almost effortlessly. But now I lived in a system where I can’t take anything for granted. The labels and fads and advertising and all – nothing is what it seems. But I found vegetarianism wasn’t the form of resistance that fit my needs. A certain consciousness in buying and eating would have to be – the conscious consumer if you will.
Because despising the treatment of animals in food production hasn’t stopped this treatment. But purchasing products from those who are humane in treatment and production, helps to encourage their process. Knowing how fur is procured requires more work and diligence than simply banishing fur. Paying attention to the products you use on your skin does more good for society than claiming ignorance. I decided I wanted to change the system by being more active than passive – by doing, rather than not doing.
Now I am not particularly against any food choices that other people make for any and no reason at all. But I do think a lot of things are fads and done for the sake of popularity. And to me, that is the biggest mistake you can make when you want to change the way you eat. Be conscious about your food but it should also be in line with other aspects of your life.
It’s easy to feel defeatist because we live in a world such that our pleasures – everything from the computers we use, to the clothes we wear, and of course the food we eat, is usually at the cost of someone else’s pain. And that can be an overwhelming thought. But perfection isn’t the goal – awareness is, followed by positive change. And as a consumer you have the power to change, in as much as you have the privilege too of course.
So I reverted back to doing what I’d always done – eating like an omnivore. (Still with pesceterian tendencies and with a love of plants.) But this time as someone who was a conscious omnivore, sometimes to the detriment of the purse. Alas, change isn’t real until it costs you personally. Vegetarianism hadn’t done for me what I wanted it to. But that’s okay. What matters I think, is that people are thinking about their choices intelligently. But not going to lie, I am really happy to not have to say no to goat meat at Nigerian parties anymore. I really missed you goat meat.