By Lexie Kline, Suzie Skalmoski and Ashley Jenkins-Altan
Vegetarianism – something most of us think we should do or try, but mentally cannot push through. It’s easy to look at people who are vegetarians and think, “I can do that,” or, “That’s easy, they make a big deal out of nothing.” However, the truth is, being a vegetarian is not easy, and it takes a lot of mental toughness to go from being a meat eater to a vegetarian.
Amanda French, a vegetarian and interior design student at Mount Mary University, explains the journey of going from a meat eater to becoming a full-blown vegetarian.
“It was definitely a transition,” French said. “But I couldn’t face eating it. I couldn’t do it anymore.”
It isn’t for fun that French went vegetarian, and it certainly wasn’t a dare. French saw a slaughter video that she said gave her terrible nightmares.
“There was a video I saw of baby chickens being put into a grinder for chicken eating purposes,” French said. “I just couldn’t justify seeing innocent animals being put into a machine that brutally kills them for human gustatory pleasure. For me, this video is something that can’t be unseen and now gives me nightmares.”
For many people who have seen these videos, they can sympathize with French’s feelings. Killing animals for one’s own gustatory pleasure is one act that many vegetarians struggle with, including French.
Understanding why vegetarians don’t eat meat is important. Knowing that they eat foods that don’t affect animals is why most vegetarians do what they do. So, as a meat eater, it’s hard to understand– until you take on the challenge yourself.
The Vegetarian Challenge
It was the week of November 27, 2017 two Arches reporters, Suzie Skalmoski and Lexie Kline – both meat-eaters – wanted to understand the life of a vegetarian. It’s more than not eating meat. It’s the understanding of why you’re doing it, the mental tenacity you need to go through with it, and exploring the food options that are out there for vegetarians.
So, why did we do this? Why did two college girls decide to try the vegetarian lifestyle? Simple. We wanted to help build our own awareness about the food that we are putting in our body.
We decided the rules of this challenge would solely be based on eating no meat. However, we also decided that we were going to make sure we were trying to eat healthy. We did this so we could see the benefits of transitioning into a vegetarian lifestyle.
So here we are starting our adventure of vegetarianism and doing the best we can.
Check out this video of our journeys.
The transition for each of us was rough. According to Christopher P Sobczak, M.D., Skalmoski’s primary care doctor who works with patients with multiple different diseases,“In order for one to evaluate whether diet impacts overall mood, energy and health you need to adhere to the diet closely for two weeks and ideally four weeks.”
Not only did we not go for long enough, since we only did the challenge for a week, we couldn’t properly evaluate our progress.
For Lexie, she made the mistake of having a cheat day. Once she took a cheat day, she had a really hard time getting back to the strict diet. And like Sobczak said, you need to adhere to a very strict diet in order to see, feel and understand your results.
For Skalmoski, whose journey went a bit longer than Kline’s, her body started to fight her as the week went on due to a lack of protein and variety in her diet. She, too, struggled to follow Sobczak’s advice of keeping a strict, but healthy diet. Because her choices at the dining hall became limited as the week went on, she started mainly eating foods like cheese pizza and pasta everyday.Skalmoski claims those were the only foods from the dining hall to keep her full, but they also contributed to shakiness, extreme headaches and an upset stomach. This was all due to the lack of variety in nutrients and protein.
Ordering Pizza Hut pizza and garlic bread sticks will not suffice for your nutrition needs and body’s overall health. You need to know how to make up for the nutrition that you are losing when you decide to cut out meat. Sobczak explained this in way that helps us understand.
“These effects can be negated however by improper choices with a diet high in sugar and even carbohydrates even while adhering to a vegetarian diet,” Sobczak said. “Processed carbohydrates such as trans fats can more negative to health than lean meats.”
In order for us to know how to make these meat substitutions correctly, we need to know how much protein to intake.
According to health.com, an average woman should be eating around 46 grams of protein per day. This may be easy to achieve eating meats, but it is also easily achievable with vegetarian foods. The below chart helps put into perspective what vegetarian food options you have for just 10 grams of protein alone.
If we don’t replenish our bodies with the good nutrients that we are cutting out that normally meats give us, then our bodies will experience a deficiency. This deficiency will not help our bodies but instead reduce the correct amount of protein and other important nutrients that we normally intake.
So, for us to correctly become a vegetarian, we need to understand what kind of options are out there and what kinds of food we are unable to eat.
As defined by Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, “[a vegetarian] is a person who does not eat meat; someone whose diet consists wholly of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and sometimes eggs or dairy products.”
Meats from cows, chickens, pigs, lamb, geese, and other animals of this sort help define meats that vegetarians must stay away from. An important thing to note as well is that, for most vegetarians, this also includes fish meat. Salmon, tuna, walleye, perch, and other such fish are just a couple of examples of fish that vegetarians must stay away from as well in order to keep their status of a vegetarian.
In addition to the foods shown in the infographic above, below is an example of what a typical meal might look like for a vegetarian. The person might mix up the foods, but here are some examples of foods that could be adequate protein substitutes.
What To Eat And What Not To Eat
We know what it takes and what is all involved to be a vegetarian, but the real question is: What can vegetarians eat? It seems like it’s nothing, but with the proper knowledge of what is all out there, your transition can be much more better (and successful) than ours.
The first thing you need to understand is that food that you thought you could eat as a vegetarian may not be the case anymore.
“Anything that has a chicken flavoring in it most likely will have ground up chicken in it,” French said. “That means you can say goodbye to Stove Top chicken flavored stuffing, chicken flavored Ramen soup, Parmesan cheese (which has enzymes from a lamb’s stomach), all jellos, and a lot of other foods. They both have chicken flavoring that contains ground up chicken in them.”
Reading boxes will become very important when you make your own home cooked meals. Knowing exactly what is in the food you are making will help yield you on a straight and narrow path to being a successful vegetarian.
As far as finding good vegetarian meals, it isn’t easy at first. However, French finds it to be quite easy if you know how to do it right.
“I have been a vegetarian for a little over six years, so I know how to find really good vegetarian meals,” French said. “However, I definitely think it’s tricky for a beginner.”
There are many resources you can go to to find scrumptious vegetarian meals, such as being cookinglight.com. They have a web article that provides you 113 amazing vegetarian meals. This article has such a wide variety of meals, from soups to sandwiches to fancy dinner meals, that can get you through many meals without screwing up with meat products.
If you find that to be overwhelming, here are some we have created as basic (and broke) college students. There are options out there for everyone – even if you’re super picky.
“I hate lettuce and that’s a staple for vegetarians,” French said. “But I feel like there are so many other substitutes you can use. You just have to put a little work into finding what your substitutes for meat will be.”
A little work is true. That is all one needs to get to the vegetarian lifestyle eating down pat. However, like said earlier, it isn’t easy to do the transition – which is why some people, like Dr. Jennifer Kontny, English professor at Mount Mary, has deviated from the lifestyle. Listen to her story about how being a vegetarian isn’t an easy transition.
Much like Kontny, many others can attest to this difficult experience with staying on track and continuing their journey into a vegetarian lifestyle. However, there is hope.
“It is so possible to be a vegetarian,” French said. “Never give up. This is your body and your life. Don’t do it because it’s popular or trending – do it because it’s what you believe in.”