Reasons or Excuses?
I was a meat eater for most of my life, but last year I finally made a change that I’d been contemplating for years: going vegetarian. The switch has gone far better and easier than I had ever imagined.
Throughout my lifetime of eating meat, I’ve experienced varying degrees of guilt about my diet. I knew a bit about factory farming, and was bothered by both the way that the animals were treated and the impact that it had on the environment. At an even more fundamental level, I regretted that I was living a lifestyle that was causing unnecessary suffering to other living creatures.
How did I respond to these feelings? In general, I did my best to just ignore them. I liked the taste of meat and didn’t want to think too hard about the consequences.
Whenever I did start to consider going vegetarian, I’d manage to talk myself out of it. It never felt too hard to find one reason or another to keep eating meat.
Now that I look back on my thinking though, I’m forced to ask myself: did I really have good reasons for continuing to eat meat, or was I just making excuses?
The biggest reason that I used to justify continuing to eat meat was that going vegetarian might harm my health. Specifically, I was worried about getting enough protein.
I knew that meat was packed with protein, and that it made up the majority of the protein in my diet. I wasn’t sure if I could ever get enough plant-based protein to actually replace it.
As I started exercising more in my late twenties and early thirties, this concern grew even stronger. I just didn’t believe that a vegetarian diet would get me all of my nutrients.
Now that I’ve cut meat from my diet, I’ve realized that staying healthy on a vegetarian diet really isn’t difficult at all. In fact, I think that I’m actually eating healthier these days than ever before, because I’m forced to think more carefully about what I buy at the grocery store.
As for protein? It turns out that there are plenty of vegetarian sources. These days I get most of my protein from lentils, beans, tofu, and post-workout protein shakes.
“I Hate Tofu”
A much more ridiculous excuse that I used for continuing to eat meat was that I didn’t like the taste of tofu. I have two reasons for calling this ridiculous: the first is that there are plenty of healthy vegetarian diets that don’t include tofu. The second is that I actually hadn’t tried tofu in years.
When I first stopped eating meat, I mostly stuck with foods that I was already used to: pasta, lentils, rice, and vegetables were my staples. That diet was fine, but eventually I decided to start branching out and trying the more stereotypical vegetarian foods like seitan and tofu.
I was particularly blown away by tofu. I had heard how adaptable it was, but didn’t believe it until I started trying it in a wide variety of dishes. Tofu can take on many textures and nearly an infinite number of flavors. I’d recommend it even to meat eaters.
A third reason that I put off going vegetarian was that I felt too uninformed. I had a vague understanding off factory farming, but I was certainly no expert. I also knew almost nothing about alternatives like hunting and small organic farms.
I felt like it would somehow be irresponsible to go vegetarian without knowing all the facts. Even if factory farming was wrong, was there another way to keep eating meat that would align with my ethics and morals?
In retrospect, I think this was a bad reason to delay changing my diet. I was framing my dilemma as if I wouldn’t make a choice until learning all the facts. What I ignored was that by continuing to eat meat, I was already making a choice.
Whether you eat meat or don’t, you’re making a decision about your diet at every meal. It’s no better to be an uninformed meat eater than an uninformed vegetarian.
The final excuse that I used to delay going vegetarian was that I had higher priorities. It seemed like there was always something more important in my life than worrying about my diet. Why go through the stress of giving up meat when I much more desperately needed to quit smoking?
I still think that there are valid reasons to prioritize different aspects of self-improvement, but I no longer believe that going vegetarian actually would have gotten in the way of anything else I wanted to accomplish.
When I stopped eating meat last year, it went much more smoothly than I had ever expected. I slipped up a few times at first, but the standard day-to-day task of not eating meat really didn’t take any energy.
If anything, going vegetarian sooner might have helped me make other life changes. I had felt a lot of guilt about eating meat, and I was pleasantly surprised how much stress dissipated as soon as I stopped.
Looking back, each of these “reasons” for not going vegetarian feels much more like a flimsy excuse. I’m happy and relieved that I finally cut through the excuses and started eating a diet that aligns with my morals.