3.28.2009

Vegetarianism: The Healthy Alternative

by Z*

While my compatriots are celebrating Nowruz (Persian New Year) munching on meat-loaded national dishes, I savor every bite of my crunchy homemade spinach salad sprinkled with roasted almonds and dried fruit with a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Yes, I’m a vegetarian and this week I proudly celebrated my first year anniversary of my myth-busting meatless diet.

At first, I decided to keep it secret. Part of it was my uncertainty that I could stick to my new diet. But more importantly, I did not want to be attacked by questions like, how do I get my protein, why did I decide to become a vegetarian, did I just realize how meat ended up on our plates, and why can I not simply enjoy being at the top of the food chain.

My secret did not last long and very soon people around me started campaigning against my decision. Led by my mother, my relatives formed a coalition that bombarded me with a conventional truth that people cannot survive without meat (especially not people from the Middle East or the former Soviet bloc). So in counter-attack I resorted to an excuse that proved to be the most effective: “I just don’t feel like eating meat, and once I do, I surely will eat it.” And they retreated.

What I find curious about my case is that my diet started solely as a conscious crusade against animal slaughterhouses. But later it evolved into complete meat aversion. Even when, while interning during the summer, I had to eat plain rice every day for lunch, I was not tempted to eat meat.

And there are too many good reasons not to become or stay vegetarian. For environmentalists, vegetarianism is a way to reduce greenhouse emissions, land and water overuse. For the health-conscious, a vegetarian lifestyle means decreased risks of heart and kidney disease among other benefits. Even urinary tract infections have been linked to meat consumption. (And let's not even discuss in any deep way the revelations this week about the mortality of those who favor red meat in their diets.) And then there is a third category of meat haters. These are the rarest kind of humans, whose attitude is best summed up by a distinguished Czech writer Milan Kundera in his famous novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being:

"True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals."

While I relate to all three types of reasoning to be vegetarian I also like it because it is more adventurous. The relative lack of variety of vegetarian-friendly products forces you to spend more time pondering what to eat. Now I enjoy hunting down tasty colorful recipes and even coming up with my own. Vegetarianism is easy and rewarding, you should give it a try.

*Z is from a country that made up the Soviet Union, and her writing on cultural and political matters could have a backlash when she returns home from the U.S., so she writes under a pseudonym.

(The photo is by jeltovski of Canada via morgueFile.)










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