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Everyone who is a vegetarian has his or her own personal reasons for being so. Whether or not their reasons are based in religious, health, or animal cruelty issues is not for anyone to question or condemn. But the decision to adopt a vegetarian diet is a growing trend in modern America, especially among health conscious individuals and young people. I could fill this article with a thousand reasons to become vegetarian, but it is not my place to tell you what you should or should not eat. I am only trying to express why I am a vegetarian, and provide those thinking about nixing meat from their diet with some general information about staying healthy as an herbivore.

I became a vegetarian for virtually every reason possible. After studying a good deal of Hindu philosophy in college, I spent some time traveling throughout India and came to the conclusion that a vegetarian diet is practical for both the body and the mind, and in my case especially, the conscience. I always thought it was hypocritical that so many of us treat our cats and dogs like royalty, yet we don’t care if thousands of other animals that aren’t quite as cute and cuddly die in slaughterhouses every day. But it is admittedly very easy to look at a hamburger as a meal, rather than the flesh of an animal that used to eat, drink, sleep, and breathe just like a human being. After the last major hurricane hit my home state, millions of gallons of hog sewage was washed into streams and rivers, which wound up destroying much of the marine life and wetlands of my quiet coastal community. That was it for me. I decided that I would no longer support the meat industry that continues to pollute and deplete our natural resources around the world, by eating the meat they sell.

Being a vegetarian is dangerous! Excluding the rolling eyes and heaving sighs of those who say, “You’re some kinda weirdo if you don’t like bacon,” finding true vegetarian foods can be tricky. From potato chips to canned soups, many of the seemingly vegetarian foods in your local supermarket contain some kind of animal product. Chicken and beef stocks, chicken and beef fat, and good ole, heart-healthy lard are the most common. You must be very careful, and read all food labels to avoid being slipped a chunk of meat in your purchases. Restaurants also use meat in the preparation of many so-called vegetarian dishes, so make sure to find out if what you ordered is 100% vegetarian. You might get frustrated at first because it seems like everything has meat in it, but once you shop around at various stores (health food stores usually have a large vegetarian/vegan section) you will find a ton of products that are tasty and safe to eat.

Critics of the vegetarian diet love to harp about its lack of protein, and while this can be true, you must make sure you eat enough protein every day. Protein is essential to numerous functions within the body, including brain functions. But you can find ample protein in plenty of foods that do not contain meat. All dairy products contain generous amounts of protein, as do foods like tofu, nuts, wheat gluten, and soy milk. For extra protein, I usually drink a whey protein milkshake once a day, and they don’t taste like dirt either! You should try to eat at least 80-100 grams of protein each day to stay healthy, but it is really not as hard as it sounds. If you have two slices of cheese pizza at lunch for example, that is about 30-40 grams of protein.

Of course you need to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and as much starch and carbs as you want to. Many of these new diets call for really low levels of carbohydrates in the diet, but carbs do provide a lot of energy. If you like meat dishes but don’t want the meat, there are tons of meat substitutes out there. There are vegetarian hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken nuggets, chicken patties, sausage patties, and just about any other type of meat imposter you can think of. I recommend Morningstar Farms products because they are high in protein, low in fat, and in many cases you won’t even know it’s not meat! The options for the vegetarian today are endless.