“Are you sure you don’t want any?” This question is posed to me countless times per day, over cold turkey sandwiches, greasy chicken McNuggets, fresh hot dogs, and, believe me, the inquiry ages quicker than a piece of steak. “Yes, I’m sure…” I answer begrudgingly, as I politely nudge away the fresh piece of flesh forced in front of me and replace it with a soy-tofu-seitan Creation.
And then of course, comes: “Why are you a vegetarian anyways?”
Because I don’t like eating death? When was the last time you went out and slaughtered a cow?
Because animals are treated completely, unjustly cruelly? Have you read PETA.com lately?
Because it’s degrading to women? How often do you eat bull steak or rooster nuggets?
The truth is, while each of these responses is more or less a legitimate reason for vegetarianism, I find none of them personally imperative. Yes, answering with any one of these responses creates wonderful dinner table conversation, but the pre-programmed answers have almost nothing to do with my leafy green diet.
I’ve always been a picky eater (I know refer to it as a delicate palate), separating the peas from the potatoes, the salad from the dressing, the milk from the cereal. I can taste an onion from a mile away, and if my food has been within that mile, it will not be consumed.
However, despite these miniscule inconveniences, I’ve found that my vegetarianism has shaped me throughout the years. I’ve discovered that I do not need to sacrifice other lives in order to live my own. I’ve found that I actually possess some self control, realizing that when the sitting girl next to me in Spanish Lit eats popcorn chicken, resulting in some extra drool landing on page 45 of a Lorca drama, I don’t actually want the deep fried carcass, it’s just that fast food smell we all love…
I’ve realized that I don’t always need to answer people’s questions. I’ve also realized that “Because I am,” is never, never, an acceptable response. I emphasize that it was a choice I made many years ago: a conscious decision to live my life a little less morbidly, not eating things with visible veins and bones and tendons. I repeat time after time that if I actually wanted the steaming chicken soup placed in front of me, the bagel with lox kindly offered at Sunday brunch, the hamburger grilled in a backyard barbeque, I could eat it. I am fully capable of consuming meat, yet, I have no desire. If I ever did, I would. I don’t.
Will I be a vegetarian forever? Who knows. I do know, however, that I like being healthy, feeling good, and doing what I’m doing has gotten me there. I realized that when I fully dedicated myself to vegetarianism (there were a few shaky points in between) I became more aware of myself and my body. More conscious as to what I let myself indulge in, what harm I prevented my body from, and what I did to improve myself. I started thinking of salad as more of a necessity than a burden, as working out as a desirable, fun activity, filling myself with endorphins to lead me to a better day.
In my thousands of days as a vegetarian, not one has passed where I do not truly consider what enters my body. Whether it’s hydrogenated oil, chocolate, or something worse, I found a new pride and responsibility towards the caring of myself and my ability to make myself happy.
I also found a new passion for food. An addiction to the Food Network shortly followed my vegetarian lifestyle change. An obsession with Rachael Ray and Giada De Laurentiis somehow ensued. I found my kitchen to be a new magical place, where I could create something from nothing, where I could make my own variations or original creations to please myself and others. I found myself plating basil in our kitchen or trying new techniques for cooking a once-favorite chicken, currently-favorite tofu recipe.
And best of all, my lunches were the talk of the town. (If high school is a town, which it most certainly is). I spent hours each night putting together lentil salads, portabella sandwiches, quinoa stews, mixing together carbs and proteins, sweet and savory, packaging everything in my Scooby Doo lunch bag for the coming day. I would sit down at my desk (I took too many classes for an actual lunch period) and modestly chomp down on my lunch while other students would question my recipes with envy, offer money for me to pack their lunches, and beg for a taste.
I didn’t choose to become a vegetarian for anyone but myself. I never wanted to impress/stun/confuse anyone. Sometimes we can improve our lives, sometimes we just have to go with the flow. There are fates we cannot change and others that we absolutely have power over. Was I destined to become a vegetarian? Who knows. Can it change? Certainly. We can change the color of our hair but not the color of our skin, we can wear high heels but never necessarily achieve a certain height, we can decide who we date but never pick out a sexual orientation.
Our diets, along with our fashion sense, our language, our relationships, are always changing. And while we may not always make mainstream decisions for these lifestyle choices, we have to understand and respect why people decide what they decide, what they control and what they do not, that people are who they are, and while change is inevitable, some things will always stay the same. Why everyone always wants to know why you’re different, as if you have a good answer, is the part I cannot quite grasp. I do what makes me happy, and if that changes it changes. But for now, I truly would not like a bite of your brisket, a sip of your tortilla soup, or even a taste of your super-delicious, world famous, critically acclaimed slab of ribs.