What I've Learned From a Month of Being a Vegetarian

On April 1st I started a month-long experiment in being a vegetarian. It’s not a particularly unique 30 Day Challenge, but a challenge nonetheless. As I’ve learned more about myself and how to live more consciously, I’ve discovered that the best way to do anything is not to read about it or think about it — but to actually do it. So, after months of reading about other people who have made the switch to vegetarianism and experienced impressive improvements in their life, I decided to give it a shot myself.

I had two main reasons for doing this. Firstly, I simply wanted to see if I could do it. I like challenging myself and giving up meat is something that requires at least a little bit of willpower. I wanted to see if I was capable of changing my diet that drastically. Secondly, I was interested in any potential health benefits. I’m in pretty good shape already but I wanted to see if maybe changing my diet would change how I felt on a day-to-day basis. These were my two reasons for giving the experiment a shot, but you’ll see that they did not end up being my most compelling reason to stick with it.

But first, a couple things that I learned:

  1. It was much easier than I thought it'd be: I’ve largely lost my taste for meat. Maybe this is only a temporary sensation but I don’t feel some guttural longing when I see a slab of steak on a plate. Vegetables just look more appealing, lighter, and more energy packed than any piece of flesh. Other than a few moments of momentary social pressure, I haven’t found the switch very difficult.
  2. I have a wider array of food choices: I assumed I would feel like my food options were incredibly restricted once I made the switch to vegetarian. The opposite is true. When you remove meat from your options suddenly a bunch of items you never considered become available. I’ve tried more new recipes and types of food in the past month than I have in the past 24 years of my life.
  3. A life-wide increase in mindfulness: Having a “rule” of no meat has made me more conscious about everything. Obviously, I’ve become more mindful about what I’m putting in my mouth but I’ve found that increased mindfulness has spilled over to other parts of my life. I’m not some kind of Zen master now, but I do find myself questioning some of the things I’ve always taken for granted.
  4. I'm developing a new skill: To be a healthy vegetarian you have to be able to cook. It’s not like I never cooked before, but now I’m doing it a lot more. I knew that if I didn’t want to eat salad and pasta for every meal I was going to have to try some new recipes. It has been a ton of fun and I’m developing a skill I can use for the rest of my life (and impress the ladies, obviously).
  5. Some people seem to take what I eat very personally: I was surprised how many people reacted to my vegetarianism with outright hostility. I spent exactly zero time proselytizing about all the benefits I was experiencing with this life change and yet on several occasions people very close to me decided that I was personally affronting them by not eating meat. It’s truly remarkable how dearly some people hold their habits and how unwilling they are to see other people doing something completely different. Strange and a little disheartening.

While all of these were good reasons to keep going throughout my monthlong challenge, something surprising happened. I developed and tapped into my moral reasons for doing this.

THE SURPRISING RATIONALITY OF BEING A VEGETARIAN

I’ve never considered myself an animal rights activist or anything close to a PETA member. I thought animals were delicious and that’s about as far as I ever followed that train of thought. However, over the past few months, and especially during my month of vegetarianism, I have clarified some moral thoughts that I’ve been having.

If I have two options that are very similar in difficulty, expense, energy, and convenience but one requires the suffering of an entity that very obviously feels pain, why should I select that option? Over the past month I’ve discovered that it’s not hard to not eat meat. It’s not more expensive to not eat meat. It doesn’t take much more energy or inconvenience me to not eat meat. So, why should I eat meat? Because it tastes good? Is that reason enough to justify killing an animal? I’m not convinced that it is.

Additionally, it is very apparent to anybody that has done one iota of research on the industry of factory farming that it is not a.) sustainable b.) humane for the animals and c.) particularly humane for the workers that run it.Why should I participate in a diet that supports this industry when I know I can easily, and at almost no inconvenience to myself, change my actions to support a more humane, logical, and sustainable way to feed people?

Before this experiment I think I just assumed that it would be very difficult to switch to a vegetarian diet. I’ve learned that I was very wrong in making that assumption. I don’t feel deprived or weak in any way. In fact, I feel like I’m in better health both mentally and physically than I was before I started this experiment.

MOVING FORWARD

As you can probably guess from the tone of this article, I’m planning on continuing my vegetarian eating habits for the foreseeable future. I’m going to continue to take it a month at a time but for now, I’m happy with the way I feel eating this way. I know I can still make many improvements to my diet and I’m excited to explore more of what vegetarianism has to offer.

I think the underlying lesson that I learned from this month is the truthfulness of the overused cliche, “Don’t knock it until you try it.” I used to think vegetarians were pretty weird, irrational, and uncannily disciplined. Then, I tried it for myself and found out that I don’t think I’m any weirder than I used to be, I feel MORE rational than I ever have now that I’ve thought about the implications of my diet, and that making this change has required less self-discipline than many other changes I’ve made or need to make in my life.

If you want to make a change in your life but aren’t sure that you want to commit to the long haul, just do it for a month. Give yourself complete permission to revert back to your old ways at the end of the 30 days if you don’t like it. You might just find out that you’ve been missing out on something pretty great.