It all began the summer after my sophomore year of high school. It was my first summer as a nanny. One rainy day we decided to go to the cinema down the street, where they were playing a free screening of Charlotte's Web, not the cartoon one, the real-life people one with an innocent Dakota Fanning (pre-Twilight, post-War of the Worlds) and animal voices played by Oprah, Reba and Julia Roberts. Everyone knows the story: Dakota's character, named Fern, forms a bond with a special pig named Wilbur who forms a bond with a spider who forms a bond with her webbing to bond together letters and the whole town bonds with the curly-tailed snout face. Call me eccentric, but I, too, bonded with the babe. I made a decision to never touch pork again. And with the exception of a quick relapse Spring quarter, 2010 (a piglet Dark Age), and a mild surrender to the temptation of the Nacho-Flavored Slim Jim, I have not eaten it since.
So the sixteen year old Erin did her research and learned a lot about the Pork industry. Pigs are actually intelligent animals. They rank up in the brain department with Apes and Dolphins, and have learned how to get out of their gates, because they actually understand their future and its nonexistence.
We can now get the hog-hugging hippie moment out of the way, and make room for the more rational Erin to explain where she went from here. I swear it's legitimate.
I started realizing exactly what I wasn't realizing at the time: I wasn't aware of the food that I was feeding myself with. When the "I'm hungry" thought came into my mind, I was satisfying it with whatever I was craving instead of being cognitive of the different food groups and nutrients I was getting.
To be more aware of the things I was putting into my body, I made a priority in adding vegetables and fruits to every meal. I realized how great I felt when I drank enough water. To take it a step further, I stopped including meat by looking to other sources of protein like beans, and if I did have meat with my meal, I didn't make it my main dish. "Okay, now I'm eating a vegetable, now I'm adding a fruit to my meal..."
If there's one thing you should know it is that I absolutely love meat. I was never a lean-meat kind of girl, I didn't enjoy low in fat meat like grilled chicken and deli-turkey. I liked bacon. I loved beef jerky. My mouth watered at the thought of filet mignon. I mean, you know what they say: "There's nothing like a big, juicy hot dog to ease your troubles after a bad break-up."
What do I miss most of all? Plain white bread with a piece of bologna on it.
To start, I designated two days a week as "meat days" where I could include it in my meal. This was especially helpful for days when someone was cooking for me, or going out to eat, because i didn't have to be that girl that needed the special dish. I didn't want to seem picky or needy or high-maintenance.
Eating meat twice a week provided me with thinking out-of-the-deli with the food that was on my plate. Variety was the key. I knew I wanted my plate to have color; fruits, legumes, and vegetables were the place to get it. (Here are some great Vegetarian Recipes.)
Eventually, I no longer craved meat. It became easier and easier to omit it from my plate. And eventually, I started to feel good. Really good. I had more energy, my workouts proved more successful, and I wasn't sick nearly as much. My brother and I once stumbled across Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead on Netflix, a documentary that tells the story of a man who was eating nothing but junk and started on an all-natural juice diet. He was amazed with the way he felt.
The last time I had meat was Christmas dinner in a last hoorah before I endeavored into what would be my New Year's Resolution: no meat for one year. It was filet mignon and it was delicious. I thought it would be hard to go for a year without eating meat, but I have really enjoyed it, and I'm pretty sure I will keep at a vegetarian diet.
"But Erin, you're just one person. How do you think you will ever make a difference?" Vegetarianism is becoming so widespread that it is actually starting to make an impact on the industries it fights against. I am constantly finding more arguments towards a vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diet. It's much better for the environment, for the world population, and for YOU when done right. I'm not telling you to go vegetarian, but I am encouraging you to be more conscious of what you're putting into your body. Hell, I could be a vegetarian and eat nothing but cheese pizza and fries. That defeats the purpose. Don't focus on what meat is the main dish, focus on colors, variety, fruits and vegetables.. I promise you'll feel better.
If you decide feeling good or eating healthy or not being bloated all the time isn't "your thing" then I encourage you to have a little more respect for us vegetarians. Most of us don't do it just because we believe "animals are people too". Most of us enjoy taking care of our bodies. I first started out being afraid to be high-maintenance when it came to my diet. But eventually I got over that. I am allowed to be picky when it comes to taking care of myself.