Honoring the earth: A month of vegetarianism
When I decided that we were going vegetarian for a month – and I say “we” because despite our attempt to break down gendered roles in our home, I am the primary cook – my husband was expectantly dubious.
“Like, no meat?” he asked back in February, when this idea began percolating in my omnivorous mind.
“Mm-hmm, only bean spouts and organic kale,” I teased, pretending to be more certain of my ability to construct balanced vegetarian meals that could fuel my marathoner hubby and myself than I actually felt.
So over the next three months or so, I casually researched really juicy stuff, like non-animal sources of protein, quick vegetarian dinners, and even how to host a party with plenty of veg-friendly dishes. By the time that May rolled around, I felt prepared to embark on our journey, only slightly anxious about the chicken breasts I was leaving behind.
You may be wondering why we decided to do a month sans meat. Well, back in January I had chosen the word honor as my word of the year. I had decided that 2011 was to be a year in which I focused myself on honoring my truest desires, my body, my relationships, and the earth. Specifically, I said that I wanted to live with more awareness and respect, and I decided that shifting from a meat-centric lifestyle to one that was more earth-friendly was one way to do so.
When I learned about the how entire ecosystems are being destroyed across the globe in order to create room for livestock and crops to feed them, I was intrigued. When I learned that producing two pounds of beef creates more greenhouse-gas emissions than driving a car for three hours, I was stunned. And when I learned that the United Nations considers a plant-based diet the most important step to be taken in reducing global warming, I was blown away.
If you’re interested in going meat-free for a month or another set period of time, I encourage you to consider the following:
Do it for the right reasons
As I’ve talked about before, making a change in the way that you eat should not come from a place of fear or desperation. Those who have struggled with disordered eating can be particularly vulnerable when it comes to eliminating a major food group from one’s diet. In fact, research shows that vegetarians are more likely to have had eating disorder thinking or behavior, and young vegetarians tend to more susceptible to binge eating. Thus, it’s important to honestly assess your reasons for forgoing meat or animal products. Consider things like:
- What need might I be trying to meet by engaging in this practice?
- What emotions are behind my decision? Am I experiencing fear, frustration, anger? [If so, eliminating foods might not be the best choice right now.]
- How will I know if my thinking about this is becoming rigid or distorted?
As with any challenge, the buddy system is best. Not only can you support one another when the going gets tough (though if it gets too “tough”, I recommend returning to your normal eating patterns), but it can enhance the enjoyment of this experience. It was fun for my husband and I to search out vegetarian options at new places we visited, and I loved getting to taste test my lentils recipe on him (so, I might have some work to do on that one, given his less-than-thrilled expression). Not only that, but a friend can help you assess whether a meat-free lifestyle is a healthy option for you.
As I mentioned, I spent several months researching vegetarianism before delving into this lifestyle. I wanted to be sure that I had a cadre of go-to recipes on hand that would offer me all of the essential nutrients I needed. I visited some veg-friendly blogs, like Daily Garnish and Savvy Vegetarian. I also made sure to not let this month of no meat go by without truly appreciating the choices I was making. For me, this meant reading up on the environmental and economic impact of meat production and doing a lot of self-reflection about my own values and beliefs. I also happened to catch the new documentary, Forks Over Knives, which primarily details the incredible health benefits of a plant-based lifestyle.
Think about what you’re adding, not what you’re taking away
I also wanted to look at this experience not as something to restrict my eating, but something to enhance it. Unsure as to whether this would become a longer-term venture, I decided that I at least wanted to expand my repertoire of vegetarian meals. One can both improve health and reduce their carbon footprint by even incorporating a couple of meat-free meals per week, so I took this month as an opportunity to create more options for myself. What I found is that there is a whole world outside of chicken breasts and bacon! Not that I don’t love those foods, but this month forced me to broaden my horizons and try new vegetables and legumes that I definitely would have overlooked.
Stop if it’s not working for you
If you’re feeling weak, fatigued, restrictive, or just like you’re really missing your barbacoa burrito, for goodness sake, stop! There are endless ways to honor the earth, and yours doesn’t need to be by eliminating a food group. Just as important as the preparation is the self-awareness it takes to know when something is not the best idea for you. Remember, you are part of the earth as well, and honoring our planet starts with taking care of your own body and mind. So do what works for you!
Are you vegetarian or would you consider going vegetarian for a period of time? Why or why not?