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.