Thursday, June 16, 2011

I Never Knew the Word "Vegetarian" until I was 14 Years Old


I'm always interested in stories about how people find their paths, whether people espouse Buddhist beliefs or beliefs from another spiritual tradition.  I've been vegetarian since I've been 14 years old, although I didn't find Buddhism until I was 26.  I guess this reveals how young/old I am.  Up until now, I've never really shared my story of becoming a vegetarian, so here goes....

My mother tells me that from the time I was a baby, I refused to eat meat.  She said I wouldn't eat meat baby food, although my mother apparently tried diligently.  I graduated to being a "picky eater", as my parents said. I didn't rarely ate meat as a child.  Occasionally my mother would convince me, but those instances were few and far between.  My father was mostly absent during my childhood, so he didn't have any idea what I was or wasn't eating.  I was a child in the early '80s, and my mother mostly fed us from boxes and cans.  I really can't remember eating fresh vegetables or whole grains at all during my childhood.  My parents were from the middle class, but apparently a lot of middle class people ate the way we did in the 1980s.

When I was a teenager, the problems began.  My father was slightly less absent and started trying to micromanage my diet.  He claimed I wasn't getting enough protein or calories and that I couldn't possibly have a healthy diet unless I ate meat.  Around this time, my parents started cutting out all vegetarian options.  My mother said we weren't going to have two different meals, and the majority ruled, since they ate meat.  Meals at my house now consisted of meat and starches and "salad", if you consider iceberg lettuce doused with salad dressing to be "salad".  We also started going to steakhouses and to my parents' friends' houses for dinner.  All of these establishments shared the same views about salad, and my parents never told anyone that I was vegetarian.  At the time I didn't consider myself vegetarian, but I'm assuming that my parents knew that word.  At most, if I really complained, they might tell someone once we got there, "Lola doesn't eat meat," but that was usually when the interrogation began.  My parents tried so hard to convert or reform me, but their efforts didn't work.

Although my mother didn't always know what to do with me, she's the reason that I began to consider myself vegetarian.  When I was 14 years old, my mother worked at a library during the afternoon and evenings, and sometimes I'd go there with her and read or do homework in the library.  It was at the library that I learned the word "vegetarian" for the first time.  It's amazing what a secluded life I'd lived, never knowing the word before then.  Keep in mind that this was during the time before real home Internet the way it exists today.  That tiny library in Reisterstown, Maryland had a subscription to Vegetarian Times Magazine. I checked out every copy that I could, and I was in heaven.  I was reading about the millions of Hindus in India that are vegetarian, and I realized I wasn't some freak who doesn't fit in; I was normal.  That is a huge realization for any teenager, but it was the light in the darkness that reassured me that I was going to survive.

So why did I become vegetarian?  Because you can't truly be compassionate if you are eating the flesh of other beings or contributing to their harm.  It really shocked me later in high school when students protested that they had to dissect animals and animal parts, but these same students went to lunch and happily chowed down on their ham sandwiches.  It also shocks me when people who say they espouse Buddhist beliefs eat meat regularly.  I don't believe that the karmic problem can be avoided by eating meat mindfully because eating meat mindfully still contributes to suffering, and therefore continues the cycle of samsara.  Some compassion is better than no compassion, but there are no valid excuses for failing to do what's right.  We must do everything with the right intention, even if the outcome is not what we hoped.  Of course, we all fail sometimes because we are human, but we need to always strive to do what's right.

What's the story of how/why you become vegetarian?

Posted as part of Best Posts of the Week.

7 comments:

kris10na ☮♥☺ said...

I've been a vegetarian too for a few months but then too much pressure from others reverted me back to eating meat.

But I don't think it's a sin to eat meat especially those that were made for consumption because that's how our ecology has been design. As long as we are not doing massive killings that affect already the balance of our ecosystem eating meat is just fine.

Because if you are going to think about it everything has life even those plants you eat so it's just a matter of perspective.

Lola said...

Kris10a, thanks so much for your comment.

If you're talking about "sin" in the Christian sense, then I think you might be right. God gave man dominion over the animals, plus there are plenty examples of animal sacrifice, etc. in the Bible. Seventh Day Adventists are strongly encouraged to be vegetarians for health and moral reasons, but that group seems to have some opinions that differ with mainstream Christianity.

True, some plants are killed in order to be eaten, but harvesting fruits, nuts and seeds does not require killing the plants. But no one yet has proven to me that plants feel pain or loss. There's a great post about reasons for vegetarianism over at Snow Branches that covers that most of the issues raised here.

My post is really just about why I made the choices I did, but I understand and accept that other people see things differently. Some people don't accept my choices for myself, such as my parents. Other people wouldn't want to make the same choices that I've made for themselves. In the end, everyone has to walk his or her own path.

delphiandreams said...

I never really liked meat very much either. Chicken every once in a while that's about it. Then I started having gastrointestinal issues in high school and I found that cutting out all red meat helped a lot. Soon I was just like, whatever, I'm going to cut out meat and poultry...and I was never one for fish either. I could never be a vegan though. I would die without milk and cheese!

Lola said...

You know, I never considered myself to be vegan, but I suddenly became lactose intolerant in the middle of my life. One day out of nowhere I decided to go to McDonald's, which I hadn't been to in forever, and get a vanilla milkshake. I don't know what possessed me. I got sooooo sick, so I had to give up dairy. I still eat honey though, so I'm not truly "vegan" yet.

Arti said...

Hi Lola, I have been a Veggie all my life and believe me its very good for your health... There are so many vegetables which can be cooked with so many different combinations and in so many different ways that you can always be satisfied...
And as you rightly said here in India it is very common to be a vegetarian so there is absolutely nothing wrong in it...
Infact there are a couple of communities which refrain even from eating onion, garlic, potato due to various reasons!
Loved reading your post, looking forward to reading to reading more of your stuff.
Have a nice weekend:)

Scoop said...

I eat meat. I'm a carnivore through and through but if I could go back, there are some things I would advise differently. I would tell my younger self to be more tolerant of vegetarians... I never hated or discriminated in any purposeful way, but I dated a vegetarian in college and didn't make any effort to understand the value of her commitment to herself. I would advise my younger self to do a little more research into how healthy a vegetarian diet can be - I just never bothered to know.

I now have daughters of my own and my youngest is an animal-lover and has vegetarian leanings... my wife and I are supporting her and we try to accommodate her desire to avoid eating meat at every meal...

I admire your commitment to your lifestyle. I look forward to your future posts... I expect it might give me some insight into my daughter's thoughts...

Lola said...

Thank you all for your nice comments.

Scoop, you should be commended for being supportive of your daughter. I think my relationship with my parents would have been a lot better then, and would be a lot better now, if they had shown me that they were trying to understand. Parental support means the world and also helps stave off rebellion. :)

When I first began avoiding meat, it was just because I didn't like it. It was only later that I started reading about Hinduism and Buddhism and groups that choose vegetarianism as a lifestyle.

Even when I was in my 20s, I used to tell everyone that I didn't want to date a vegetarian and didn't want my kids, if I ever had any, to be vegetarian. I felt like it was a choice I'd made, but it was a hard choice that wasn't socially acceptable, at least among the groups I was in at the time. My boyfriend back then was a carnivore. :) I was OK with him eating almost nothing but meat, but he was not OK with me being vegetarian.

For the first time in my life, I'm actually contemplating the possibility of dating a vegetarian. It's weird because I've been so against something like that my whole life, but I guess I'm more open-minded now.