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Setting the record straight on vegetarianism

October seems to be national everything month: National breast cancer awareness month, national book month, national pork month, and in stark contrast, national vegetarian awareness month. I will write on the one I am most familiar with.

I would like to clear up some of the stereotypes and misconceptions about vegetarians. We exist, and we’re not aliens or the punch line to a redneck joke. This is not meant to preach or convert, but rather explain some common problems vegetarians and their meat-loving counterparts face.

First, we get all the protein and iron and other nutrients we need from our diet, just like our omnivore friends. Spinach, nuts, beans, and even soy bacon (it’s not as bad as it sounds) are great sources to supplement a meatless diet. I don’t know where this myth started, but I’m looking at you, USDA.

Second, vegetarian means we don’t eat meat, pretty simple right? Apparently not. My favorite question I’ve received in my five years as a vegetarian is, “Don’t you eat chicken?” No, I don’t. I also don’t eat pork, beef, lamb, veal, fish or whatever bacon-coated heart attack is trending these days.

For clarification, people who eat fish are pescetarians. There’s also a “flexitarian” diet, which is when you are a vegetarian on certain days and others, you’re not. I don’t know why this isn’t just referred to as “normal eating habits,” but I don’t make the rules. As a general rule of thumb, if it had a face or parents, a vegetarian won’t eat it.

But what about vegans, you ask? First, those are some strong-willed people. Vegans do not use or consume any animal product, including dairy, eggs, leather and honey. Also, please don’t assume I’m a paint-throwing, screaming protester. I don’t mean to speak for the group, but I know that I’m just as freaked out by that behavior as everyone else. Animal rights activism and vegetarianism seem to go hand-in-hand, and many times they do, but it depends upon the individual whether they engage in this type of behavior.

Finally, every vegetarian is different. Some choose this diet for its health benefits, others for environmental reasons and even more have moral motives. For many it’s a combination of issues that stir them into becoming a vegetarian. Some people are disturbed by their dining partners eating meat. Personally, I don’t care. We are individuals and each person has their own opinion on these issues. I have found the most problematic issue surrounding vegetarians are these myths and assumptions. If you have a question about vegetarians, ask them. I love it when people are curious about my diet; it gives me a chance to clear up some misconceptions about what I eat.

One of my roommates last year was immediately upset when she found out I was a vegetarian. She was worried I wouldn’t allow any meat in the room and that I would preach at her about her carnivorous ways. But once I explained why I was a vegetarian and that I would never judge her eating habits, she was relieved and it was never a problem again.

Like I say, live and let live (including animals.)

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