Being Vegetarian in a Meat Happy World

I very briefly titled this, "Well meaning people who break your heart."  but felt it didn't convey the primary message of this post.  It does however convey the underlying message.  Read on...

There I sat, in my most recent counseling appointment, where it happened to come up that I and my thirteen year old son are vegetarian.  Mind you, I go to this person because of my depression...not for nutritional advice.  Anyway....

He began to go over every question that vegetarians and vegans get asked:  "Where do you get your protein?"  "You know you need B-12, right?"  and then was told that it was fine for me being Vegetarian, but that it was going to be detrimental to my sons brain development. Seriously that is a new one on me! 

Here is the part where I mention that I am fantastic at standing up for other people, but myself....not so much.  However this situation was not only about me, it was about my son too.  My bright, brilliant boy who decided to become vegetarian about 6 months after I did, which means he has been meat free for 3 years and going strong!  In our household that means we are half herbivore, (my son and I) and half omnivore, (my husband and daughter)  Our meals are always made in such a way that all of us get enough of what we want to eat.  No one is coerced to eat meat, and no one is coerced NOT to eat it. 

In the beginning of my sons decision to go vegetarian, I kept asking him at meal times if he wanted whatever meat I happened to be preparing for the meat eaters in our house.  He kept saying no.  I made sure to tell him that he didn't have to be vegetarian if he didn't want to be.  I made sure he knew if he ever wanted to start eating meat again, it was his choice and his father and I would support him.  Still, three years on and he's still choosing to be meat free. 

Let me tell you just how remarkable this young man is.  Like my son, I too became vegetarian around his age.  (I've been vegetarian off and on throughout my life)  The difference there, is that I did it in happy, hippy, liberal California where I was NOT the only one like me.  There were other kids trying out vegetarianism.  We didn't have teachers telling us, in front of the whole class, that we weren't getting our nutrients.  (by the way if you are a teacher and you single out one of your students in front of the whole class in this shouldn't be teaching.) We didn't live in a place where it's not uncommon to see bumper stickers that actively make fun of vegetarianism with such snappy quotes as "Vegetarian is an old Indian word for bad hunter."  or "The west wasn't won on salad." 

My son is vegetarian in Oklahoma, in a place where it's actively made fun of. (No offense Oklahoma but this is the truth.)  My son doesn't care about that,  He is stronger at his age than I am now.  I still worry about having these uncomfortable conversations.  So when my counselor had finished his diatribe of anti vegetarian nonsense, I did something that is rare for me to do...I stood up for myself.  I stood up for my son! 

My counselor and I had an exchange of ideas whereby I explained the how and the why of being vegetarian and he explained how, I was completely wrong by saying, "The vast majority of nutritionists would disagree with you." 

I became filled with a rage that is common in the women in the O'Neal side of the family from which I come.  We have a tendency to be called crazy anytime we stand up for ourselves.  I have to say this is a trait I have had a hard time allowing to flourish, probably one of the reasons why I suffer from depression.  Today however, I channeled a bit of that energy with the following statement:

"You know, as for what "nutritionists" have to say, which ones are you referring to?  I have been overweight my whole life.  I have been vegetarian off and on throughout my life.  I, also, for many years followed the Atkins Diet, which is a high fat, moderate protein, low carb way of eating.  Most people who follow that plan eat a ton of meat for the fact that it contains high amounts of fat and protein.  While I was doing that, I read all kinds of articles and studies from Nutritionists and Doctors alike, who supported the Atkins plan.  All of them had their various degrees and certifications by their names. 

On the other side of the coin, when I followed a vegetarian lifestyle, I also read studies and articles from Nutritionists and Doctors who supported plant based eating.  They ALSO had their various degrees and certifications.  Who am I to consider as more legitimate then?  The ones who *I* agree with or the ones who YOU agree with?  They all have a string of letters by their names and credentials supposedly proving their expertise.  Who is correct? "

He finished up by saying that we wouldn't touch on the subject much more for the time being.  Really?!  Maybe I should be "crazy" more often.

With the last few months leaving me feeling very unwell emotionally I left this appointment feeling rather victorious!  I said what I wanted to say, when I needed to say it.  Unlike many other similar situations in my life I didn't shut down and bottle up my thoughts because it had been made clear that they were deemed to be useless this time,

I ... SPOKE ... UP! 

Flash forward a few hours when I went to see some people who I thought had been supportive all this time about our vegetarianism.  These people also know the struggles I've been having these past few months, as well as in the very same week, dealing with my husband being seriously ill in the hospital.  I had a lot on my plate that week and my mustering up the courage to defend myself, felt like winning some kind of award!  Really I felt awesome for finally speaking my mind.   So when I tried...mind you .... TRIED to tell them all about my triumphant way of standing up for my beliefs I abruptly had the rug ripped out from under me.  One of these people said, " Well I agree with your counselor on this, your son needs extra nutrients."  Mind you this is a person who also thinks drinking soy milk will cause a man to grow breasts.   (THAT IS NOT TRUE EITHER! BTW)

In conclusion, I really wish to convey that I do not actively try to convert anyone to my way of doing anything.  I do however expect the same respect in consideration. Enough with the protein questions already!  Humans are remarkable creatures who can thrive on all kinds of nutrition philosophies. 

Being meat free is not harmful to any human no matter the age.

I have a very dear friend who raises meat.  We get along just fine.  Without even asking, her and her husband always go out of their way to make sure my son has vegetarian options when he and my daughter stay at their house to play with their kids.  This is they way humans should work together in my view.  I treasure their friendship very much. 

Please also read my blog post, Education not judgement.

For anyone who is interested in vegetarianism and veganism I recommend the following:

Cowspiracy - Now streaming on netflix!

Potato Strong - Hearty, tasty, healthy, quick plant-based low fat no oil diet !

We Don't Eat Animals - by Ruby Roth   - Books and Art and Activism for a New Generation.

Dr. John McDougall - Plant based nutrition from a medical doctor.

The Kind Life - with Alicia Silverstone

P.S. If you are a meat eating parent of a vegetarian kid....don't sneak meat into their food. It's not necessary AT ALL, and it only teaches them they can't trust you.


  1. The only vegetarians who don't get everything they need are the ignorant ones, who don't learn how to get everything they need from plants and babies. Babies shouldn't go veg. They need breastmilk, or if that's not possible, a substitution.

    That's coming from an omnivore, by the way, who could never go totally vegetarian.

  2. But see, breast milk isn't dairy, its made for baby humans, just as cows milk is made for baby cows. I breastfed both my children well past the age of two. Vegans don't ascribe to keeping infants off breast milk, far from it. :) My half sister was allergic to regular baby formula made from cows milk, and fed a soy based alternative called "soyalac" or something like that.

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