If you eat meat, please don’t say you’re a vegetarian

It bugs me when people who aren’t really vegetarians claim to be vegetarians. I don’t go around telling people I’m a vegetarian, but if we happen to be having a meal together and looking at a menu, or if someone is about to offer me food, then I will bring up that I’m a vegetarian. I will always follow that with, “I don’t care if other people like eating meat.” In response to that, people will either say, “Oh, I can’t live without meat,” or some will say, “I’m a vegetarian, too.”

It would be fine if the ones who claimed to be vegetarians actually were, but after their order arrives, I witness them eating mussels, or a roast beef sandwich. I don’t understand why some people feel a need to tell me they’re a vegetarian too when they actually are not. It does not help to build rapport, since I already mentioned I don’t care what other people eat. In fact, it only works against them when I see them eating curry chicken.  (What do you call a vegetarian who eats meat? A liar. 😛 ) Some say “I’m mostly vegetarian,” because there are certain animals they don’t like, such as lamb or beef, but they still eat fish and chicken. However, saying you’re “mostly vegetarian” doesn’t make sense; you either eat animal flesh or you don’t.

I did more research on vegetarianism, and it turns out, the term flexitarian or semi-vegetarian is used to describe people who have a vegetarian diet most of the time and eat meat occasionally. I’m fine with that. It’s problematic, however, to call a flexitarian a vegetarian because by definition, vegetarians don’t eat meat. The bottom line is, a flexitarian is not a vegetarian.

While I acknowledge that flexitarians are doing their health and the environment a favor by eating less meat, labeling themselves as vegetarians has led to a lot of confusion for people who aren’t familiar with vegetarianism. It’s quite common for me to be met with questions such as “Do you eat chicken?” when I say I’m a vegetarian. That’s ridiculous. By definition, it should be obvious that a vegetarian does not (intentionally) eat animal flesh.* I’d understand if people ask “Do you eat eggs?” since lacto-ovo vegetarians (the kind I am) consume eggs and milk products, whereas vegans (another type of vegetarian) don’t consume any animal products. If you eat fish and other sea food, but no other animals, you’re a pescatarian, not a vegetarian. Thanks to such pescatarians, I once got a “vegetarian” sauce that contained sea food. Now I know to specify “no meat, no sea food” when I order that dish.

I am curious as to why some flexitarians tell people that they’re vegetarians. I’d understand if people with sea food allergies or certain religious dietary restrictions find it too complicated to explain all the details when eating out, so they choose the vegetarian option to avoid accidental consumption of what they’re allergic to or prohibited from eating. Perhaps people think it’s easier to just say they’re vegetarians because not as many people are familiar with the term flexitarian? (Or maybe they themselves aren’t even aware of the term?!) Unfortunately, doing so leads to more people thinking that vegetarians do eat meat.  (Hence, I’ve had people who know I’m a vegetarian tell me, “It’s just shrimp. Don’t you eat shrimp?”) If there’s time, why not take the opportunity to explain what a flexitarian is? After all, when people ask me if I eat eggs or dairy, I say I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian, and explain what that means.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have no problem with other people eating meat, or how frequently they have it. My only resentment is when those people say they’re vegetarians, because they are misusing the term. Consequently, others will get the wrong idea of what vegetarianism actually is, which affects actual vegetarians. It’s good that the term flexitarian exists to describe the people who are mostly vegetarian but still occasionally eat meat, since it would be inaccurate to consider them vegetarians. I hope more people will use these terms appropriately.

*I added the word intentionally, because there have been occasions when I have unintentionally eaten meat because I was unaware of the ingredients, or there were no vegetarian options and I had to remove the meat from the food and might have missed a few tiny pieces.

Vegan: to be or not to be?

Some of you may already know that I’m a lacto-ovo vegetarian, which means that I eat dairy products and eggs, but no animal flesh. I also want to make it clear that I don’t care whether other people eat meat. I respect your choice, so please respect mine.

My choice to become a vegetarian was simply because I did not like eating meat, so it was rather easy for me to give it up completely. As a child I didn’t like sea food. I was even revolted by occasional white crunchy areas in sliced turkey ham. (I felt that I got those a lot—my sister, who had the same lunch, never seemed to get pieces like that.) I will admit that I liked chicken and pepperoni pizza, but after not eating them for a long time, I now think they have a stench. (Of course, I won’t say anything when I’m in the presence of people eating meat, out of respect for their choice.)

Ever since taking a course on nutrition three years ago, I’ve been debating whether or not I should give up eating animal products completely and become a vegan. The following is my sorting of reasons, primarily from a health perspective, based on information from the class and a few other sources. It is primarily for myself. I’m not asking for any opinions on this matter and I’m not trying to convince anyone to give up animal products or prove I’m superior here. I’m simply including this information on my site for anyone who might be interested in becoming a vegan.

Reasons for being vegan:

  • It can be the healthiest diet if well balanced.
  • No cholesterol: cholesterol is only found in animal products. (Of course, the body makes some because it is necessary.)
  • Low in saturated fat: This is a major reason for me, since when I analyzed my diet for the class, I found that my saturated fat intake was quite high from all the cheese I was eating for calcium.
  • High in fiber: only plants contain fiber, which is important for heart health (soluble fiber), gastrointestinal health (insoluble fiber), and feeling full.
  • High nutrient density, low calorie density
  • High in phytochemicals
  • Based low in the food chain, so there’s generally less exposure to environmental toxins. This is because pesticides are stored permanently in the fatty tissue of animals, so they get more concentrated going up the food chain.
  • I’ve heard several people say that since becoming vegan they have much more energy. That’s something that I really need!
  • I know of a few people who lost significant amounts of weight after becoming vegan.

Vegan Diet Nutritional concerns, and sources

  • Iron and zinc: beans, whole grains, fortified cereals, supplements. Iron supplements and iron from plant sources should be taken with citrus for better absorption, because the plant fibers bind the iron in a way so that it’s not as easily absorbed as from red meat. Iron can also come from using cast iron cookware.
  • Calcium: fortified foods, beans, most tofu, supplements
  • Vitamin B-12: is only naturally found in animal products, so it must come from fortified cereal and supplements.
  • Vitamin D: fortified soy, sunshine, supplements.

Protein deficiency is NOT a problem as long as protein complementation is possible. You may have heard before that plant protein (with the exception of soy) is incomplete, meaning that it does not contain all the essential amino acids, whereas animal protein is complete. Well, it is possible to get around this problem with protein complementation, or combining two incomplete proteins. This is done around the world by eating grains with beans (e.g. rice and beans/tofu, barley and lentils, even a peanut butter sandwich). The sources must be eaten together because once digested, proteins are broken down into individual amino acids and all the amino acids must be present for the body to synthesize new proteins with. (If one is missing, the protein cannot be made.) Note that once protein is broken down to individual amino acids, those from plant sources and those from animal sources are indistinguishable, because amino acids are amino acids.

In the U.S. vegetarianism is the exception, but the vast majority of people in the world are vegan, though not necessarily by choice. (Meat is not as cheap as it is in the U.S.)

Being vegan is also better for the environment than animal husbandry and more efficient in terms of the energy needed to produce one Calorie of food.

Of course, I don’t want to be so extreme as to deprive a baby of its mother’s milk, since I believe that a new mother lactates for the purpose of feeding her baby.

So what’s the hard part?
I like cheese, yogurt and ice cream, and I have mixed feelings about eggs, meaning sometimes I enjoy them and sometimes I think they’re gross. I never liked drinking cow’s milk. I thought it had a “cow” stink. (I prefer soy milk.) The things is, there was a time when I abhorred eggs and cheese. When I was a child, I would only eat tiny crumbs of scrambled eggs; the bigger chunks were too nasty for me. I didn’t like most cheese, other than cheddar and mozzarella on pizza, and even so I often would refuse to eat it.

I started eating sharp cheddar when I was in high school, and found that I actually liked the taste and texture. (I would avoid smelling it, though.) Gradually, I opened up to trying more types of cheese, and I liked a lot of what I tried. (I can’t stand the smell and taste of Swiss cheese, though) Recently whenever I eat cheese I feel guilty and I also think about how the saturated fat is clogging up my arteries, and it makes it less enjoyable. Considering how cheese is third highest when it comes to carbon emissions (source), I’m also inclined to eat less. I’m still not completely decided on this, yet, but knowing that I once avoided cheese might make it easier for me to cut it out of my diet altogether. Also, not having it as frequently this past year made me crave it less.

I think becoming vegan might actually be doable for me, since I love tofu. (Tofu jiggles because it’s mostly protein and water, not fat!) I used to avoid eating nuts and beans but now I think they’re not so bad (in terms of taste). Falafel is wonderful, too.

I’m thinking I should give it a try for a week and see how I feel about it.