By Maja Lambeck
Photo By Rongyi Chai
Picture this: It’s seven pm on a Wednesday night in 2017. You’ve just finished your grade nine math homework and never want to see the equation y=mx+b ever again. You are partaking in a well-deserved break when you hear your mother call out “Dinner!”. You rush downstairs to see your kitchen table set up for “build your own burger night”. Lettuce, tomatoes, buns, and delicious, juicy, beef patties. You savour the aroma and your mouth waters. What a perfect way to finish a day of hard work. This was more or less how I spent my evenings in the ninth grade. If it wasn't burgers, it was spaghetti and meatballs, or chicken and rice, or some sort of feast involving chorizo or bacon. My parents are amazing cooks and dinner is always delicious at our house.
While I appreciated dinner invites from my friends, I usually headed home at around six pm, to ensure I could eat in the comfort of my own home. It’s not that their parents' cooking was bad, per se, it was simply…vegetarian. Rice with no chicken? Blasphemy! Spaghetti with no meatballs? Disgraceful. I could not comprehend how people lived like this. Growing up in a house where meat was a part of at least one meal a day, going vegetarian seemed ridiculous to me. Most of my friends, however, were vegetarian at the time. They claimed that it wasn’t a big deal. “It’s just like any other dietary restriction,” they’d argue. I begged to differ. Where would you get your protein? Where would you get your flavour? The idea was preposterous. Needless to say, I graciously turned down their dinner invitations and continued my omnivore lifestyle.
Now picture this: It’s 2018. You come home from school. The television is tuned to CNN. An urgent headline flashes across the bottom third of the screen: BREAKING NEWS: UN OFFICIALS REPORT WE HAVE 12 YEARS TO LIMIT CLIMATE CHANGE CATASTROPHE. You do the calculation quickly in your head (maybe grade nine math wasn’t so useless after all) and realize that in twelve years you will be twenty-seven. Only twenty-seven.
This was me two years ago, suddenly hit with the fact that our species had one decade to save our planet. Rather than let my hopes for the future sink into despair, I sprang into action. I researched, sent emails, signed petitions, and told anyone who would listen about the climate crisis. I quickly realized that, unfortunately, not every teenage girl can be Greta Thunberg. My emails to government officials remained unanswered, I had run out of petitions to sign, and in my research, I had found that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. As an individual, I felt useless. I wasn't old enough to vote or to run for government. I wasn't rich enough to donate millions of dollars to climate organizations. What more could I possibly do? I turned to Google for the answer, and my search came up with one result: The best thing an individual can do for the planet is to go vegetarian.
“No way am I doing that,” was the initial thought that popped into my head. I couldn’t do that to my tastebuds. I couldn’t do that to my sanity. But then a second thought entered my mind, “Would you rather go vegetarian or die by the ripe old age of 30 due to rising sea levels?”. The first option was infinitely better than the latter, so it was decided. I committed to a vegetarian lifestyle. At least to the best of my abilities. Living in a house with two meat-eaters made my plant-based diet hard to follow. At first, my parents would occasionally forget that I had dedicated myself to saving our planet, and would make meals that still contained meat. Then, there would come the visits to my grandparents’ who would force sausage onto my plate. “You’re a growing girl, you need protein”. I realized how annoying it was to have someone judge your eating habits and suddenly felt bad about all the times I had turned down my friends’ dinner invitations. It was a process, but I eventually phased meat completely out of my diet.
I find that most other vegetarians and vegans I know tend to glamourize this lifestyle. They say that it’s the easiest thing they’ve ever done and that they can’t imagine their life any other way. I have to disagree with these statements. In my experience, going vegetarian has been no walk in the park. For starters, forget about endless selections on restaurant menus. While most establishments have vegetarian options, they are mostly variations on the age-old classic of salad. While leafy greens can be delicious, sometimes I'm in the mood for something a bit more filling. It’s also harder to find good recipes that satisfy your dietary restrictions. No matter how hard companies like Beyond Meat try, meat substitutes will never taste as good as the real thing. There will definitely be times that you are craving a burger or tacos, but you just have to persevere.
Even after surviving the unparalleled horror of having to order a salad at a restaurant, I am still extremely happy that I decided to go vegetarian. I feel great knowing that my diet is beneficial for the planet, animals, and my health. As more people go vegetarian, there will evidently be less demand for meat. With the demand for meat decreasing, less land will be used for livestock, leaving more room for green spaces around the world. It also means fewer animals will be bred for the sole purpose of being slaughtered. I’ve also learned that a vegetarian diet is good for your heart, lowers your blood pressure, and lowers your risk of cancer. To me, it feels ethically correct and gives me confidence in my health.
I do have to admit, that while going vegetarian did have its challenges, it was much easier than I anticipated. I understand why so many people are hesitant to switch their diet (meat is very tasty), but I would encourage everyone to give it a try. I acted as though it was the most difficult task I’d ever face when in reality it was a small lifestyle change. My parents have now started eating significantly less meat, and I introduced my grandparents to the wonders of vegetarian lasagna. I recommend easing into it. Start with Meatless Mondays, or trying to substitute beef with tofu in a few meals. I know it might seem difficult, but it’s extremely beneficial in the long run.
Finally, picture this: It’s 2030. Our world has made progress in the battle against climate change. We have met carbon emissions targets, sea levels are stable, and we have stopped the rise of global temperatures. You are a vegetarian. A change in your grocery list was a small sacrifice to save our planet, and it was completely worth it.