I say a lot of great things about being vegetarian. I even listed 75 of them once.
And why not?
Since I stopped eating meat, I’ve achieved fitness goals—qualifying for Boston and running a 50-miler—that I wasn’t able to achieve before. Most days, I have more energy than ever. And beyond health and fitness, it just plain feels good to know that I don’t eat animals.
But being vegetarianism is not all roses. As is the case with most things worth doing, there are times when it sucks, and this post is all about the (relatively few) drawbacks of vegetarianism.
I don’t want those of you who decide to try it out to be unpleasantly surprised and give up right away, cursing me for leading you astray and exacting your revenge by eating one of those big bacon explosion things that spread through email inboxes like no No Meat Athlete post ever will.
So today I present to you seven of the reasons why, every once in a while, I wish I didn’t care so much about what I ate.
#1: You can’t enjoy a lot of local delicacies when you visit new places.
To me, the best thing about traveling is eating the food that defines a region, living like a local for a few days. Seafood in Maine, vinegar-based pork barbecue in North Carolina, beef in the midwest, chorizo and jamon serrano in Spain, tripe in Florence. You get the idea: Almost all of them are meats, and that means your experience as a tourist is a little less authentic.
On the plus side: Travel costs less and is healthier, as long as you prepare. You need to bring food or buy it at a grocery store if you want to eat anything good at all, and that’s always cheaper than buying food out.
#2: Steakhouse dinners are no more (and eating out, in general, is pretty lame).
My wife and I used to love going out to dinner. Once a month or so, we’d go somewhere nice, order wine, appetizers, and desserts along with the meal, and not worry about the cost.
The best of these dinners that I can remember was at a steakhouse. Something about a steak dinner and a bottle of red wine big enough to stand up to it, like a Cabernet or a Brunello, will always sound good to me, no matter how long I’m vegetarian. I don’t think it’s the steak, but rather the experience, and I’ve found that hard to recreate.
Maybe there are great vegetarian and vegan alternatives in different corners of the country. But where I live, going out to eat now means either Indian food, pizza, or salad. And that gets pretty old, fast.
On the plus side: After a big dinner out is when I used to feel the absolute worst. Stuffed, bloated, tired, and just a little bit tipsy. While “tipsy” still happens from time to time, “so bloated I can’t sleep” never does.
#3: There are times when you have to eat worse than you would if you were an omnivore.
Being able to eat both plants and animals is helpful when it’s several thousand years ago and you’re trying to survive. Whether it’s a bunch of bananas or a wounded antelope that you find, you can eat it for energy that will sustain you for the next few days.
Nowadays, survival is slightly more certain, and it’s nice to have the luxury to choose not to eat certain foods. But having more choices still increases your chances of finding something good to eat.
If you’re out, or traveling, or at a wedding or party or anything like that, and you forget to plan ahead, there’s a good chance there won’t be much for you to eat. Maybe some bread, potato chips or pretzels.
Solution: You fill up on junk or you don’t fill up at all.
On the plus side: Not having meat as an option saves you from a lot of times when you’d probably make a poor choice. You drive right past the sign advertising the new fried chicken sandwich from fast-food-land that you certainly would have wanted to try before.
#4: Cooking just isn’t the same.
I used to love cooking. Really, honestly, love it.
Now I don’t. I still cook good, healthy food, but the ritual of planning the meal, shopping for the ingredients, and preparing it is simply going through the motions necessary to get that meal on the table.
From time to time, I’ll still get excited about cooking, and I might make gnocchi or pasta from scratch and enjoy the process. But that used to be every night; now it’s rare.
On the plus side: I save a lot of money on groceries now that I don’t buy meat, which allows me to buy more expensive, local and organic produce. Also, my experience isn’t universal: A lot of people tell me they got into cooking because they went vegetarian or vegan.
#5: Having dinner at friends’ houses becomes iffy.
Do they know we’re vegetarian? Do we need to warn them? What happens if they serve us meat, or something that’s not quite vegetarian? Do we just eat it?
Hard questions. And so far from the good feelings you should have when someone else is taking the time to prepare a meal for you and inviting you into their home to eat it. I’ve heard of vegetarians and vegans who will not refuse a meal that a friend prepares for them, an idea I’m still wrestling with in my head.
On the plus side: Most close friends are really cool about it. I suppose that’s why we call them friends.
#6: Just because it’s not meat, doesn’t mean it’s vegetarian.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read a post I wrote called “Warning: 8 Common Foods You Thought Were Vegetarian.” Guinness, some cheeses, certain candies, and more. Lots of stuff you wouldn’t imagine is made with ingredients you can only get by killing animals.
On the plus side: Some will argue with this, but I’d still consider you a vegetarian if you were to simply avoid meat. So start there. I didn’t worry about these other things at first, but over time I’ve naturally started avoiding them.
#7: People think you want to convert them or that you judge them.
I hate preaching. I think it comes from a place of insecurity, and from the idea that if you can convince others to do what you do and believe what you believe, then that validates your own beliefs and actions.
When it comes to vegetarianism, I want to share it and be a positive example. And perhaps even to point out misconceptions or facts that are hidden from view.
But the idea of trying to change friends, family members, and others when it comes to such a personal decision as what they eat is something that turns me off.
I know there are lots of vegetarians and vegans who feel the same way. But they’re not the most visible, and for that reason, there’s a tendency for people to think that all vegetarians and vegans are that way.
On the plus side: When you see someone make a positive change because of your example (and without any preaching) it feels really good. Even if they don’t completely stop eating meat.
Vegan for a Month
None of this has made me question my decision to be vegetarian. In fact, I’m ready to go farther with it.
It’s been a long time coming, but after close to a year and a half as a vegetarian, I’m ready to try a vegan diet. I’m pretty happy being vegetarian, and I’m still not convinced veganism is for me, but I owe it to myself to try it.
So for the month of September, I am not going to eat any animal products at all. Actually, this won’t represent a major shift in my diet—cheese pizza and Rita’s gelati (minor addiction recently) are about the only dairy products I ever eat. And I don’t like eggs at all. But eating out will be even harder than it already is, and I’ll have to read fine print and ingredient lists even more carefully.
I can do anything for a month. And then I’ll go from there. If you’re up for trying it with me ( or even a vegetarian diet, if that’s where you are), let me know with a comment!