At the start of the year, I made a resolution to switch at least the majority of my diet to vegetarian, and even try to make vegan choices as often as possible. Three quarters through the year now, it’s been mixed, but there have been some major wins to balance out from the slip ups and misses. At this point, I have a pretty good sense of where the biggest challenges lay and what goals will be feasible for the next year and beyond. The best part is that after nine months, I’ve found a sustainable balance to diet and almost entirely cut out all red meat and feel better for it.
Initially, I set out to go fully vegetarian this year. I knew it would be an audacious challenge, but I wanted to see how much I could realistically do and kick myself to change. Even with the way we’d been eating at home, there was plenty of meat still in our regular meals, and when we ordered food or went out to eat, I almost always jumped to a meat option. If I could swap out more meals at home for vegetarian friendly meals and push myself to change my approach at restaurants, I’d make a huge reduction in meat consumption. While I still have to remind myself at every meal out to go plant based, each time I do feels like a little win I can celebrate, and I get a huge positive boost of feeling for doing it for myself.
I wanted to shift more of my diet away from meat, especially red meat, for health and environmental reasons. With more and more focus on our fitness from running and our daily strength workouts thanks to Peloton, diet became important for me in the past year far more than I’d really thought about before. Not only was fueling up important, but eating smart and healthy has a direct correlation with how I feel when I wake up, during workouts, and throughout the day. With the kids taking even more energy with school and activities now, it’s important to feel good and be able to keep up.
I also wanted to take some steps around individual accountability for sustainability, the environment, and ethically. With the increase in availability and decrease in cost of plant based substitutes for meat, milk, and eggs, it’s easier now than ever to switch over with less effort. We’d already switched almost entirely to oat and almond milk at home for our coffee and cereal consumption, but we’ve been able to go 100% both at home and out and about this year and I’ve actually found I enjoy the flavor and creamy texture of oat milk more than cow milk these days. By making some small changes in my own choices like switching to Beyond and other plant based meat, I could still enjoy grilling, eating outside as a family, and cooking together while reducing our impact on the environment and reducing harm to animals.
While it’s important to recognize that individual actions like this are far less impactful than the larger systematic changes we actually need, they still do something and help send signals that may make plant based or plant augmented diets more possible for everyone, not just those that can afford it. At this point, I’ve seen and read enough about the meat industry and how dreadful it is to the animals and to the planet to have a strong motivation to steer (pun completely intended) away.
When you can get a delicious plant based burger at the local tavern at the exact same price, it becomes an easy choice, at least to me. I know many people still prefer the taste of meat, but after about a year of switching over, I completely prefer the taste of a plant based burger, sausage, and even tacos now. Even the meatballs have their own unique and delicious taste. Our local chain supermarket, Aldi, and even Ikea all have a wide plant based selection now, so shopping and cooking really don’t feel like any kind of sacrifice or trade off. It’s as simple as deciding to try something different and work with it, no different than what we do with meat.
Of course I also care about the impact that industrial farming has on the environment, worldwide. Whether it’s deforestation for farm and ranch land, the increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock and removal of trees and plants, or the destruction of habitat and diversity of species that come with huge scale farming that the world depends on, there are a ton of downsides. Plant based food still has these effects, but they are greatly reduced thanks to the reduction in food chain and infrastructure needed for livestock. Again, it’s not enough on its own, but even a small reduction in meat consumption can reduce the effects and signal to food industries that customers want plant based foods.
So three quarters of the way into the year now, I’ve had some big wins that I felt great about. The first time I ate out with friends at a bar and got an Impossible Burger instead of a meat based one or some other meat based entrée, I fel a glow of pride and satisfaction the rest of the night. The first time I ordered a veggie pizza instead of pepperoni, I felt much the same. I’ve even changed my usual order at Jersey Mike’s from the classic Italian to the mushroom melt. This from the person who used to pick the tomato pieces out of a taco and couldn’t stand mushrooms. Now I’m only down to eggplant that gives me the willies and I’ve even moved on to at least give it a try each time. There are some meals my partner makes with them that I enjoy.
There are plenty of misses too. I’ve had plenty of meals where I still chose chicken, salmon, or other seafood. Our trips to the shore and Martha’s Vineyard challenged me too much. I knew I couldn’t say no to the local seafood specialties there and indeed I ended up subsisting on lobster, mussels, clams, and oysters on those trips. I still get the default “meat” (horse?) at Taco Bell. I’m not going to be able to say no to carnitas while we’re in Southern California.
But even around those misses, I’ve still made strides in shifting my diet. It’s not perfect, but neither am I. Comparing this diet to mine from even a few years ago is stark. For someone who used to subsist on burgers, microwave burritos, and considered chicken a light meal, I’ve made a hug improvement. That’s exactly why I set this goal for myself. I knew I wouldn’t make it 100% and didn’t want to give up the second I slipped. Instead, it’s a constant, day over day improvement. Each day I can make new and different choices, and over time I will see an evolution in diet and health.
By a year in, I will be mostly vegetarian. I would guess that 75-80% of my meals are vegetarian and of that maybe 25% are vegan. I’ll probably never get to 100%, but that’s ok because it still represents a huge shift for me. Every time I make a vegetarian choice at a restaurant, grab the vegan cupcakes at the store, or help find a plant based recipe for the week’s meals, I will celebrate that win.