Moving into my fifth year of being a vegetarian, I think I have the authority to say that eating meat-free isn't always the easiest thing in the world, but it isn't as hard as one would think.
Its difficulties are clear: sometimes a juicy steak on someone else's plate or a sizzling piece of bacon on a griddle beckon me to dig in. However, after only a few months of being a vegetarian, meat is more often repulsive to me than mouthwatering.
The biggest difficulty lies in social situations, but even that obstacle can be handled with practice. Either brown-bagging a veggie sandwich or opting for a salad or baked potato bar in the cafeteria can solve problems with school lunches.
Going out to a restaurant with friends or on a date can be daunting at first, especially when the restaurant is lacking vegetarian options. But I've found that a lot of entrees can be tweaked to become meatless: a pasta can be ordered without shrimp or chicken, a taco salad can be ordered without shredded beef. If all else fails, asking the waiter if the chef can whip up anything special usually works -- usually a restaurant is more than happy to accommodate.
Some of the worst situations include dinner parties, Thanksgiving festivities, and the most arduous event for a vegetarian -- barbecues. It is here that vegetarians must manage to make a meal out of watermelon slices and potato salad (if it is a lucky enough circumstance that there is no bacon in that salad).
Making a choice
Dealing with a modest meal isn't the problem, however. It doesn't lie close to toughest task of a meat fest: the bombardment of quizzical people.
Don't get me wrong, I love being able to tell people about why I choose not to eat meat. I have plenty of awesome reasons and I love to share them. I tell my story of my seventh-grade self stumbling upon some PETA video on the Internet and giving vegetarianism a try for a week and never stopping. I then soon find myself lost and rambling on about ethical problems and how the meat industry only contributes to them -- environmental problems, human hunger, and even health.
More often than not, though, people have attempted to drive my ethical spew into a corner. Some of the questions posed are specifically designed to get a meat-loving confession out of me. Asking if I would eat meat if I was on a deserted island with no trace of nutritional value besides animal protein isn't exactly the best argument against vegetarianism, since we aren't either on a deserted island or on the brink of starvation.
The most common response to my vegetarianism, though, is something along the lines of "There is no way I could do that." My response to that is that everyone can do it, but the catch is really wanting to do it and having good reasons backing your decision.
A few mistakes
The first few weeks of going without meat were a struggle. Not only did I crave meat, but also all of my friends and family didn't know about my conversion. Yet I stuck at it. After a month or two, the cravings went away almost entirely and I began to not recognize meat as food; it was just like seeing a completely inedible piece of material on a plate
The people in my life were kind enough to treat my vegetarianism as if it were something like an allergy: not a controversy, but rather simply a fact that I can't eat it.
I know I've messed up a few times in my meatless diet: cream of chicken soup in potatoes a gratin, veggie spring rolls that actually have chicken in them at Chinese restaurants, larded beans at Mexican restaurants. I try to take these mess-ups with a grain of salt, however, and move on. Everyone makes mistakes. But it's the effort and intention that counts.
A lot of people ask how long I plan on staying a vegetarian. My response to that is I haven't a clue the day that I will stop, but I have no intention or desire to return to my old ways. I'm so incredibly happy about my decision; it leaves me with a clearer conscience and a more keen sense of ethical accountability.
Emmie Oliver is a senior at St. Joseph Catholic High School. She can be found on the volleyball court or snapping photos in her free time. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.