I became a vegetarian in 4th grade (age 9). At that point I completely stopped eating meat, fish, chicken, pork, turkey, etc. I still ate eggs and drank cow’s milk. I am now 24, so I have been a strict vegetarian for 14 years.
My parents were very reluctant to the change. They didn’t really understand why I was doing it. We ate meat with most meals, so my diet was changed significantly. I had always loved red meat, especially big steaks. But at the same time I had been an animal lover from the day I was born. I had grown up with dogs and many other animals such as: parakeets, fish, hamsters, rabbits, etc. I always felt a very strong energetic connection with animals.
I was watching television one day and I saw what a chicken factory/slaughterhouse looked like with lots of dead chicken hanging by their feet moving around on a metal assembly line. I was extremely disturbed and disgusted! At that moment I decided I did not want to eat dead animals anymore. At this age, I was not aware of the abuse that went on in the egg and dairy industry as well. So I began to refuse to eat meat/chicken/fish.
My parents were very upset and tried to force me to eat meat, but I was and still am extremely strong-willed and stubborn. They told me I couldn’t have dessert if I didn’t eat the animal products and dessert was of course my weakness. I loved sweets! But even that couldn’t stop me; I decided to go without the dessert and the animal products. After maybe a year of the battle going on they finally gave up and by fourth grade I ate absolutely no meat/fish/chicken/turkey/pork/bacon etc. It was very hard to get a balanced meal because the animal products were such a staple in the meals that my parents cooked. I ate a lot of vegetables, fruits, carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, bread, cereal, and cheese, milk, sugar/candy, etc. My parents did not cook tofu or beans much and had a limited range of vegetables that they cooked for dinner, so my diet was limited and probably not as well balanced as it should have been. They tried as best they could to feed me a well-balanced vegetarian diet, but they were just not knowledgeable on the topic.
However at the time I had 2 best friends that were also vegetarians, and their mothers were vegetarians as well. So I ate over at their houses often and was exposed to a wider array of vegetarian foods. I always got enough to eat no matter where I ate and who I ate with because I was flexible and willing to eat anything as long as it wasn’t a dead animal. I found it easy growing up as a vegetarian; it easily adjusted into my lifestyle. I was very proud about my decision. By high school my parents got so tired of trying to find things I would eat, that they gave me money to go do my own grocery shopping. I was such a picky eater, and my preferences changed so much from week to week that they finally gave up and thought that that would be the best solution. I bought a lot of the Amy’s brand frozen meals, they are vegetarian meals with organic produce and can be bought at most grocery stores. When I was in high school I also cut out cow’s milk from my diet. When I have digestive problems milk will make these problems even worse. Then when I was in college I began to read about all the abuse and all the hormones in the dairy/egg industry. So I started limiting eggs and other dairy products from my diet.
Now I am 24 years old and attending a graduate school for acupuncture, herbology, and Traditional Chinese Medicine. I drink no milk, eat eggs on very rare occasions (and they must be organic & free range) and I eat organic cheese. I still eat no meat/fish/chicken, etc. I hope to never go back to eating meat it if I don’t have to.
My Chinese medicine doctors have recommend I consume some red meat to help with my blood deficiency that they think may be contributing to the digestive problems that I still continue to have. But I refuse to eat it until I have tried all other options and nothing has worked. I am very happy being a vegetarian. The thought of eating meat/chicken/fish/etc. disgusts me and does not appeal to me in the slightest bit. I have had no cravings for it since I stopped eating it. I do not really consider it a food group.
My diet currently consists of: organic nuts (especially pecans, walnuts, almonds, & peanuts), sprouted grain bread, organic fruits and vegetables from the local farmer’s market, organic whole wheat pasta with organic tomato sauce or pesto sauce, organic cheddar cheese, organic soymilk, veggie burgers, whole grain cereals, brown rice, tofu, edamame, etc. I also try to eat as much organic food as possible, so I can limit my consumption of pesticides, fertilizers, and other toxic chemicals. I do most of my shopping for food at either Trader Joes or the local farmer’s market. I love all this food and am very happy with my diet. I still have digestive problems, but I attribute these more to my busy lifestyle and perfectionist personality, rather than my lack of eating meat. My extended family, friends, and boyfriend’s family are all very aware that I am a vegetarian, and they are all very accommodating when they cook meals at their homes or when they choose restaurants to out and eat at with me. It is nice that they are all so understanding. It makes it much easier on me and I don’t have to miss many meals that way. I hope that my kids will also grow up eating vegetarian food. I would recommend it as a diet as long as you get enough protein, enjoy eating fruits and vegetables, and are willing to be flexible when you eat out. A balanced diet is especially important when you are a vegetarian.