An Unpopular Opinion: I’m a Vegetarian, But I Don’t Think Everyone Should Be

Why am I a vegetarian? Don’t I want everyone to be a vegetarian?

Well, I’ll tell you. And no. Hear me out.

I already started off not being a fan of steak or pork. As a kid, I could only eat steak if it were near burnt and doused in ketchup. My family never made pork and, that’s right, I didn’t really like bacon. Ok. You may now judge me.

Even when my parents made beef it seemed very different to me than what was served outside of our house. Of course!

One of my friends had been a vegetarian since we were very little kids. I kept saying I was going to go vegetarian, because I didn’t really care too much for eating meat and didn’t enjoy the thought of eating someone’s flesh, but that was that. I wasn’t about to demand my family make a separate dinner for me in the hectic years of high school. Who would have time for that?

Then, one day, I was at a Wendy’s with my friend. I know, possibly not the best standard of meat, but it was the only thing open later at night within 45 minutes of where we lived, other than a Barnes and Noble. My friend joked, “If you look at it, you can’t eat it.”

And I looked at it. And I never ate it again.

That left chicken. For some reason, grilled chicken had started to gross me out. One day, before an audition, I tried to eat my leftover grilled chicken for lunch. I’m not sure if it was the texture, the thought of it, the nerves for my audition, but I ran out of the cafeteria, gagging on the meat, promptly hurling it out. Lovely. End scene on grilled chicken.

At this point it was just fried chicken, and I figured if I liked it just because it was fried, then what was the point?

I went to college as a pescetarian (someone who only eats fish outside of a vegetarian diet).

Somewhere between then and graduating college, I just went full vegetarian. A few years ago I went vegan, then weekday vegan, and then back to vegetarian.

Yes, the more I learned about factory farming, the less I wanted to eat animals, but that wasn’t the crux of my decision. I don’t really enjoy eating meat, the texture is gross to me, the thought of biting into skin and flesh that used to be part of a living animal is also gross to me, and the smell is something I also find unpleasant. Sure, learning of animals packed full of antibiotics and sitting in their own feces, chicken meat that has to have chicken flavor added to it because the chickens were so sickly they taste awful, or animals being mutilated while still alive definitely DOES bother me. It’s insanely disturbing. It’s grotesque. Reading some of the counts from people who work at these places, or seeing video, makes me wonder how detached you have to be from what you’re doing in order to cause something to suffer like that. I don’t wear leather because it also doesn’t sit well with me to have some animal’s skin on me, but I see why some people do. But don’t get me started on wearing fur. That does make me angry. Sorry/not sorry.

Papa gorilla looks at us with skepticism. I don't blame him. ©Farah Joan Fard

Papa gorilla looks at us with skepticism. I don’t blame him.
©Farah Joan Fard

But here’s the thing: I grew up in a farm town. We got hay from a farm that had cows. One of the cows was named Annie. She was adorable, and we would often pet her when going to get corn, hay, etc. I’m pretty sure Annie ended up as the family’s dinner. But they also milked her, fed her, treated her with kindness.

One of the earliest field trips I can remember was going to milk a cow at the farm and then making butter out of it.

I know you might be thinking something like this:

But I swear that’s not it. However, I know a good deal of people who have worked around cows, and I don’t see the harm in milking a cow the natural way. The assembly lines of cows being milked by factory machines is creepy and unnerving, though.

Some chicken friends back in NH. ©Farah Joan Fard

Some chicken friends back in NH.
©Farah Joan Fard

Ok, ok. So we’ve got the vegetarian part. And, honestly, aren’t you used to people who are on a specific diet kind of looking down on others who aren’t on that diet? But there are three main reasons why I’m not about to hit everyone in the head with Eating Animals (good book; very disturbing).

I’m not a doctor.

Health conditions.

“Processed” food.

I’m not a doctor.

Well, hey, you don’t say! But really. Though I read a lot about health and nutrition (for a while I wanted to be a medical reporter), listen to NPR daily, read all of the labels on what I buy, yada yada yada…I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist or, basically, anywhere near educated enough or, hopefully, arrogant enough to think I should tell other people how they should be living their life in the kitchen. Outside of the pretty obvious statements, such as ‘sugar/fast food/boxed foods/soda/cigarettes/not exercising/you get the idea’ is not healthy, I’m not about to turn my nose up at others like that. It drives me nuts to see some of the ‘fitness and health experts’ out there who are just self proclaimed health geniuses. There have been many instances where I’ve looked up an individual who is the namesake to a fitness or diet trend, only to find that this person, while getting rich off of telling others that what was good for their body is good for everyone else’s, doesn’t have much of a background to back that fact up.

Man, you sound smart when you back that fact up!

Some diets are trendy because they’re just that…trends. Fads.

A marvelous piece of dietary advice I found within an old LIFE magazine.

A marvelous piece of dietary advice I found within an old LIFE magazine.

And…newsflash! Every one of our bodies is different!

This leads me to…

Health conditions.

I remember hearing of people who were really annoyed when Zooey Deschanel declared she was no longer a vegan for health reasons. I’d seen her at a concert shortly after this and remember being startled by how frail she looked. Deschanel is allergic to eggs, dairy, and gluten, and stated that she could not stay healthy on a vegan diet with these health problems.

There’s no reward in suffering. Honestly.

A few years ago I was tested for a nickel allergy, where I would have had to adhere to a nickel free diet. As a precaution, the doctor gave me a list of what I could not eat. YOWZA. Goodbye beans, peas, chocolate, dried fruits, pears, asparagus, cabbage, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, nuts, grains, and even tea. It would have made a vegetarian diet very difficult. Luckily, the severity of my nickel allergy does not make its way to food.

Someone I know who cannot eat gluten recently posted this, and I couldn’t agree more. Some of these diets are for medical reasons, and using at as a way to be trendy can be infuriating to some. My freshman year roommate had celiac disease and it was not fun, or hip, and I am betting she would have wished not to have to go through that. Her diet was very limited. One day she ordered a salad with no croutons and yet a few crumbs of bread may have found there way in there. She was sick. Celiac disease damages the lining of the small intestine. It’s not a fad to lose weight.

I also have friends and family who can’t eat too many carbs for reasons like Lyme disease, or because of intestinal issues that have landed them on the FODMAP diet. Being a vegetarian on that diet would also be very tough.

Everyone’s body is different. Some of us absorb things differently, or our bodies reject them. That doesn’t mean we should all eat the same way. And if following a certain diet is going to make you miserable, because you already have  dietary restriction, wouldn’t it be better to be healthy?

Speaking of healthy…

“Processed” foods.

I use quotations because sometimes I feel the word ‘processed’ is thrown around the way the words ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ or ‘free range’ are.

It’s like when people seem to think everything is healthy if it comes from Whole Foods. Cake, candy, soda? It’s ok! It’s from Whole Foods!

So? Candy doesn’t grow off of trees, does it? If it does, please don’t tell me where because I will want to go to there.

I didn’t find it that difficult to eat vegan. Baking was actually pretty easy without animal products. I found hummus or avocados to be great substitutes for cheese or buttery cravings, though making pizza was disappointing. Vegan ice cream is actually quite tasty. Chia seed pudding is delicious, in my opinion. And I don’t like drinking milk, anyway, so woopdy doo. I started to find that I didn’t crave cheese so much, or eggs, except nothing can ever replace The Gouda.

But while I made a lot of vegan stuff at home to take with me, such as breakfast foods or baked goods for parties, I was constantly reading labels. Even more than I used to! And I wasn’t too fond of what I saw.

Some of the best tasting vegan cookies I have ever had? Read the label. Oof. The amount of fat, oil, calories, you name it was outstanding. A lot of vegan products tried to make up for animal fat by loading it up with other junk. And I was consciously avoiding soy products, too.

Try to find me one vegan butter substitute (outside of peanut butter, avocado, or pumpkin, etc) that does not have palm oil or cottonseed oil in it. I couldn’t.

When I was a kid, I didn’t understand some of the things my mom bought. I always felt slightly jealous of the kids who had Pop Tarts or the fancy juices, the cool cereals, or the Lunchables. Everything seemed much more plain on my side sometimes. But every time I went to a party and piled on the junk food, I’d come home feeling like I had the flu. I wish I had appreciated it then. I certainly do now! Thanks, mom, for the healthy food! And I still love brussels sprouts!

Point being, I guess I feel like if I have to choose between something that is vegan or gluten free, and something that is more to its true form, less processed, or made from scratch…I’d rather go with the less processed item.

I still try to buy cheese that is made without animal rennet, but its not always labeled. We try to buy the most animal friendly eggs we can find, or buy them from a local farmer. I admit I try to avoid foods with gelatin. I also see other vegans trying to hard to minimize animal suffering by restricting sugars that could be burned and processed with animal bone. But if the goal is to cut out anything that harmed an animal, you may end up on a strict diet similar to Jainism. Which is fine if that is what’s for you. My question is, what is really worse for the environment and animals? Eating eggs from the farm up the road, or using a butter replacement full of palm oil (read up on palm oil if you haven’t) and other ingredients that may also plug up your cardiovascular system? Eating locally sourced goat cheese on our homemade bread, or buying a vegan and gluten free food that is riddled with refined sugar?

Sign outside of lovely Lull Farm. ©Farah Joan Fard

Sign outside of lovely Lull Farm.
©Farah Joan Fard

And that’s that.

What about you? Do you follow a specific diet? Did you do it to follow a trend or for health reasons? Are you unable to go on a trendy diet due to health restrictions? Does it bug you when people follow a diet that you have to follow due to allergy or other medical concerns?

Let me hear it!




6 thoughts on “An Unpopular Opinion: I’m a Vegetarian, But I Don’t Think Everyone Should Be

  1. Have you tried coconut oil as a butter substitute? It doesn’t work for everything but it’s delicious as a spread and can be used in many baked goods.
    And thanks for the recognition that everybody needs to eat what’s right for them. A lot of holistic practitioners, including colleagues of mine, shame patients or preach at them about what they eat. Not helpful.

    1. Hi Elene! Thank you so much for the thoughtful feedback.
      I have not tried coconut oil instead of butter, though I am sure it tastes great! A few years ago I had a bad skin reaction after using coconut oil as a moisturizer and, though no connection was proven and I use other coconut products, I admit I’ve been afraid of it since just because it was such a bad experience. I know that is silly of me! I have a contact allergy to a compound derived from coconut oil, so that fuels my fear. However, I know a lot of things are made with it and I’ve had some of them just fine. You have prompted me to research this more! Great suggestion!

  2. Hey! I am also a taste&texture vegetarian! Even when I was little I couldn’t stand to eat meat (especially bacon!). It’s a pretty tricky thing to explain to people but you’ve hit the nail on the head. Thanks!

  3. Don’t know if this is appropriate posting in this old article, but i’ll do it anyway I’m kind of desperate.
    I’ve found out recently in the last few years im very sensitive to inflammatory foods and i develop Inflammation really easily. So i thought Vegan food could save me from my joint pain. Boom today i had a Dyshidrotic (nickel allergy) reaction. From what? i don’t know but i eat a lot of vegetarian. and i love peanuts which i ate a lot of yesterday. You say here you can still eat food with nickel. Is this the same for everyone with a nickel allergy?
    Are your symptoms totally gone even if you eat nickel rich foods.
    What do you in that case avoid coming in contact with?
    Would love an answer im panicking a bit. inflammation is a huge problem in my life and i love an athletic lifestyle.

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