I became a vegetarian when I was thirteen years old. Before that I had been an avid meat-lover, coming from a Middle Eastern family where there was always an abundance of skewered meats at the dinner table accompanied by large platters of rice and modest platters of vegetables. It was a great shock to the family when I refused a meat dish for the first time, but I had reasons for doing so. I had accidentally stumbled upon a video revealing the horrors of animal abuse inside a slaughterhouse, and I could no longer look at a plate of meat without seeing the suffering that lead to its production. Perhaps some may consider this a “dramatic” or even an “emotional” response, but there is research-based data that indicates that there are too many people who are eating meat at an excessive rate, and this is damaging our planet and its natural resources that we depend on to survive. I realized it was not right to support an industry that benefits from the abuse of animals and from exploitation of the planet. Thus, my journey into the plant-based world began.
I say plant-based because I am not arguing that veganism is the only valid diet; we all have different needs, capabilities, and resources. The point is to shift the focus from animal products to plants. While those who commit to a diet entirely based on plants are doing an incredible job, those who occasionally indulge in animal products still deserve credit. It is important to take the impact of your lifestyle into consideration, but you should also keep in mind what is right for your body. If making this journey is something you’re considering, I hope sharing my experiences will help you make a more informed and comfortable transition.
I started my journey with several misconceptions, one being that I would be eating salad every day for the rest of my life. Changing my eating habits made me a better cook. I learned how to be creative in finding meat replacements for dishes that I had loved before switching to plant-based. Have you ever tried eggplant lasagna? Homemade falafels? Vegetable Thai curry? I never would have learned to make these dishes if I hadn’t taken the initial adventurous step. Apart from knowing I’m making a positive impact, this is one of my favorite outcomes of going plant-based.
There were also unexpected social benefits that came with going plant-based. You would be surprised at how many people follow plant-based diets, especially nowadays that recipes are easily accessible online and meat alternatives are appearing in local supermarkets. Some of the coolest people I’ve met are people who I have gotten to know better after bonding over our favorite plant-based restaurants, vegan dessert recipes, and more.
Not everyone, however, will be your friend when it comes to making this change. Some people will criticize your decision and taunt you with the fact that you’ve decided to do something that is still not considered “normal” in many places. This has been one of the most challenging parts of going plant-based. Mentioning your dietary restrictions can cause people to feel defensive. Others have good intentions and will want to know more about why you made the choice you made, and this can either turn into a fruitful, educational conversation or a heated, political debate. My advice is: if you plan to go plant-based, it’s a good idea to have done your homework first.
Even if you do not want to commit fully to veganism or vegetarianism, at least lowering your meat consumption will benefit our planet and send you on a journey of discovery. If you can, try replacing as many animal products with plant products as possible until you reach a place where you’re comfortable. The plant-based movement is not about restriction; it’s about adventure, discovery, and love for all beings.