Even a simple everyday life can be turned into a battlefield if we want to. And sometimes we find a reason to do this.
This time I tried a vegetarian challenge. I decided not to eat meat for one month and observe how will I feel about it. I failed and decided that being vegetarian is not for me. Here’s why.
My eating habits
First of all, I am not a frequent meat eater. I never cook meat by myself, I prefer vegetable dishes, especially in summer when I have plenty fresh vegetables from my own garden.
I eat meat very rarely because I believe that it is not good for my health to eat too much of it. Just like some kinds of nuts – small amounts are OK, but one can be even intoxicated by too much of them. I even heard a real story from a guy who got sick from too many cashew nuts.
So, the same is meat. It is good for health, but we should not eat it all the time. We do not eat nuts all the time, right? And do not eat coconut oil all the time no matter how healthy it is, right? There are limits.
Usually, I eat meat once or twice a week when I visit my friends, relatives or eat out in some restaurant.
And I’m concerned more about my health, that about animals. I believe that if only everyone managed to care well at least about themselves and their closest surroundings, the world would be a better place.
So, the challenge was simple. To adjust my eating habits just a little bit – to avoid that once or twice a week of meat. For 30 days. Simple, right?
And there were no exceptions, that meant in no way I can put any product of meat in my mouth. Dairy is OK, I was not going vegan, only meat or any parts of a body of living creatures.
The two moments of failure
In the beginning, it was everything so simple. I just took some vegetarian food in restaurants instead of meat and experienced no problems.
But then something happened!
My mother invited me to have some our national food. Meat wrapped in mashed potatoes. Well, now the story begins.
I could refuse, and to say that this month I do not eat meat. But that would not be nice because the reason of the meeting is not the food. The meeting with my mother is the thing that matters itself. So, obviously, I must and want to go.
Then I could say, that this month I do not eat meat, and she could prepare some other kind of food. But I got the invitation the same morning, so, she had already bought the products and was preparing the meal. Well, I did not want to cause embarrassment by my challenge games. My mother is not good at preparing vegetarian food, she would need then to invent some other dish, to buy new products and so on.
There are priorities. What is more important? My challenge games, or meeting with people important to me? Everyone can choose according to their values. For me continuing the challenge would cause additional social embarrassment. My reasons not to eat meat were too weak to defend them firmly against the wish to have a peaceful family meeting without any drama.
Of course, after this dinner, I tried to come back to challenge. But I realized how important is to announce one’s eating habits clearly and loudly for everyone. I do not laugh at vegans who keep telling everyone they’re vegans. They must do that.
But then another thing happened!
In my favorite Chinese restaurant, where I can always easily get vegetarian dishes with lots of vegetables I got a surprise.
There were particles of meat in a soup! The soup was supposed to be a vegetable soup, but the chef added some meat, probably to give the soup a better taste.
Of course, I followed my challenge and did not eat the meat, but still, the soup was with meat, and had a taste of meat, and had particles of meat, that I still ate, no matter how thoroughly I was playing to catch them all.
Where was the problem?
I did not want to refuse the soup because it was everything OK with it and it would be disrespect to people who made it. Again, why to make so much drama over those few particles? What I really should have done, I should have asked in advance – is there any meat in the soup? Or in vegetables? Or in tea?
I have some vegetarian friends, and I see how much they struggle each time to make sure any kind of food they want to order does not have meat inside. What an amount of exhausting social interaction! Distraction from the conversation with friends! Creating tension and embarrassment!
It is a big deal because some restaurants do not have dishes without meat. Some of them have, but potato pancakes fried in oil are not a healthy food at all. There are vegetarian restaurants – and they are expensive. There are raw food restaurants and they are bloody expensive!
There are no problems at home, I can eat what I want, the problems start when I go out because it is virtually impossible to be a “secret vegetarian” – eating is a social thing. I see two social problems here.
Two social problems of being a vegetarian
They’re my personal problems, but some introvert vegetarians do relate to them and confirm, that it’s a specific struggle.
First. There is a plenty of social interaction required to make sure, that the food served will be really vegetarian. This social interaction creates stress, anxiety, additional pressure on the mind, distract from the original purpose of the meetings. Calling myself vegetarian is not worth of this. And I believe this stress is even harmful to health.
Second. The food becomes the center of life. If I want to be real vegetarian I must always warn others “I do not eat meat”. I must always fight for the right food for me. When going out everyone must always adjust to my preferences, and I am the one who never adjusts.
Here I talk only about vegetarianism, but how much more people care about food when they become vegans or go raw!
Again, everyone chooses according to their values. My challenge showed me, that I cannot be and will not be a vegetarian because it is unhealthy for me. Too much stress, brrr…
Two lessons learned
That is not the whole story. I posted the above text on many facebook groups of vegetarians and introverts and got lots of comments. I learned more about vegetarian and vegan views on food from those comments than from the challenge itself. I had lots of wrong assumptions about this whole vegetarian thing. Here are the two most important findings:
1) Health is not important
I was sure that the main concern of people who eat vegetarian or vegan food is health and nutrition. Veggies and crops are easily digestible, full of nutrients (proteins too), do not increase bad cholesterol, the risk of cancer or alien abduction.
But the main reason why people stop eating meat is their concern about animals and their lives. So, when I was thinking is it healthy for me or not, am I causing embarrassment for my relatives or not, real vegans just laughed at my arguments claiming, that I should fight for those who cannot speak for themselves – animals. If there are wrong customs, wrong habits, wrong traditions – they must be changed.
So, there is a much deeper reason that leads even introverts into this social fight for the right not to eat meat.
2) It’s not a diet
The biggest lesson I learned is that vegan is not a diet, it’s a philosophy of life. It’s a belief which they are ready to defend against all odds. Real vegans think not only about what do they eat, but also about what do they wear, what personal hygiene products do they use and so on. For them, my tiny problems about “not being nice to others” and “not being able to adjust” also seemed irrelevant.
So, vegetarian or vegan diet is not a game, it’s a way of life, which I do not want to accept and respect those who decided to accept. However, I love tomatoes, carrots, and broccoli.
Vegetarian food in Buddhism
For the end of this topic, I would like to add some things I learned while traveling in Buddhist countries. There are three ideas about vegetarian food in Buddhism and they are a little bit contradictory, because of different traditions of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. If you practice Mahayana, you must be strictly vegetarian. If you practice Theravada, you can eat whatever you want.
So, the three ideas are these:
1. You are not supposed to eat meat because eating meat means killing, harming the animals. And Buddhist should refrain from killing or doing harm to anyone.
2. You are not supposed to eat meat because digesting meat makes the mind heavy, and one cannot be mindful while digesting meat. Also eating meat makes one’s mind agitated, and one cannot maintain perfect calmness and stillness while having meat in his ration.
3. You are supposed to eat meat because you must accept any food you get. There must be no attachment to any idea. If someone gives you meat, you must accept.
I believe that excess social interaction is serious enough reason for an introvert to cancel some ideas and projects he or she does not consider essential to his or her life. If animal lives and veganism are essential – fight for it! But if not – it’s OK to make only small adjustments.