As a lactose intolerant vegetarian who has dabbled in veganism, I have received a lot of questions throughout my almost 10 years of meatless living about. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been in this position, so I created this Vegetarian & Vegan 101 Guide. This also includes my favorite brands and resources that have empowered me to continue this way of life.
Flexitarian - Will eat meat and seafood products on rare occasions, mostly if the source is known and sustainable.
Pescatarian - Does not eat meat, but eats seafood and other animal byproducts.
Lacto-ovo Vegetarian - Does not eat meat or seafood. Does eat eggs and dairy plus other animal by-products.
Lacto Vegetarian - Does not eat meat, seafood, or eggs. Does eat dairy products and other animal by-products.
Ovo Vegetarian - Does not eat meat, seafood, or dairy. Does eat eggs products and other animal by-products.
Vegan - Does not eat meat, seafood, or any other animal by-products including eggs, dairy, honey, etc.
Plant-based or raw vegan - Same as a regular vegan, but avoids manufactured products that aren’t clearly just fruits and vegetables.
Why I am a Vegetarian
Growing up, I was never a big fan of meat. I remember wishing I could be a vegetarian as early as 4th grade. My parents, however, thought I didn’t get enough protein already, so until I could “up” my protein intake, they wouldn’t allow me to make the switch. That advice still seems counterproductive, because instead of offering different protein sources like lentils and beans to get me to eat protein, they wanted me to eat more of the thing I was trying to avoid.
Fast forward to my freshmen year of high school when I was doing some research for a paper on the ASPCA website. I saw an article on why you should become a vegetarian. A quick scan of the article spouting facts about how a meatless diet can save the planet and animals convinced me by lunchtime to declare my new dietary choices. Later that evening, my parents were quite skeptical about this new shift, unsure how long it was really going to last. It was cool to be a vegetarian at my age, but they didn’t think I would hold up in the long term. So they gave me a week. For the record, this was the week of Thanksgiving, so I had good reasons to cave, but I didn’t.
THEN vs. NOW
Of course, my motivations have definitely shifted over time. Initially, it was merely eating preferences. Then it was about what I did and didn’t want to eat. Now, it’s for my health, because I believe I get SO many more nutrients from a vegetarian diet. Now, it’s for our environment to help reduce methane gas, excessive waste and packaging, and unneccessary strip farming for animal feed (read this article). Now, it’s also for my wallet, because beans are SO much cheaper than meat!
I am now going on year nine as a vegetarian, and I wouldn’t change it. I have learned so much about myself, our food industry, and other cultures’ relationships to food. Here are some of my favorite resources for you:
Thug Kitchen Cookbooks
Forks Over Knives
*Most of these are available on Netflix!
If you’re curious about making the switch, here are some general guidelines.
ON BEING A VEGETARIAN/VEGAN
Not everyone needs to know you are a vegetarian or vegan.
Break the stereotype people. I have gone on many dates and made many friends without mentioning my dietary restrictions. I recognize my body’s preferences do NOT have to be someone else’s burden, and I don’t want them to be. Realistically, if you want to eat meat, that’s YOUR personal decision, and not my problem to worry.
International cuisine is your best friend.
The American and Western diet are not vegetarian or vegan friendly. I’ve come to find that most of my favorite nutritious meals are from Indian or Mexican cuisines, because you can easily substitute in beans or tofu for the meat and leave out the dairy. These are also your best places to find good guaranteed vegetarian menu options. I love getting a good chana masala or burrito when going out to eat with family and friends!
Eating out can be a pain in the butt, so get used to cooking your own meals at home.
I enjoy cooking and baking, but only after this was kind of forced upon me. My parents refused to make a separate meal for me at dinner time, so I had to learn to fend for myself. Happy Herbivore is the main cookbook I use nowadays for a variety of my favorite recipes. Recently, I also purchased the How Not to Die Cookbook, so I’m excited to try those new recipes. Of course, I also love Pinterest for recipes, because it’s free!
You can become malnourished. But don’t be that person.
Oreos and french fries are wonderful vegan foods, but your diet’s foundation shouldn’t be fried potatoes and overly processed soy. A variety of protein sources like beans, nuts, and whole grains (not just mock-meat products made of soy) and lots of fruits and vegetables should be a majority of your diet. Complete proteins are SUPER important so check out this handy guide to make sure you find a way to give your body everything it needs.
Learn how to read ingredient labels.
Most ingredient labels now have in bold major allergens (e.g. egg, dairy, soy, nuts). However, there are trickier animal byproducts like gelatin that you may choose to eliminate from your diet. Take some time to learn about byproducts and “iffy” ingredients you might want to avoid.
My Why (Cont'd.)
Over time I have grown more confident in my decision to be a vegetarian. I feel like what I eat and how I eat it aligns with my value system. In particular, it helps me to pursue a more eco-friendly and zero waste lifestyle! I enjoy trying new foods, experimenting in the kitchen, and feeling good about what I put in my body.
Of course, I understand everyone’s relationship to food is circumstantial and personal. However, I highly recommend that everyone at least try to aim for Meatless Mondays. It would cut our greenhouse gas emissions greatly, and you’ll probably feel a little lighter starting your week!
If you have any questions or comments about my vegetarian/vegan journey, please comment below! Also, please share your favorite recipes and resources. Life’s too short to not enjoy the food we eat!