Words by Marissa Barnhart
Photo by Andre Forrest
“Did you know bacon bits are vegan?”
Well, no. I didn’t.
Putting my tray on the counter, I interrupt Eastway’s dining services employees to voice this thought because, if I remember correctly, those little bacon pieces are made with cured bacon and have natural flavors added.
The Eastway employee swipes my FlashCard, lets out a laugh and says, “Well, they’re not actually made with real bacon,” and I let that one slide because many bacon products do include meat. From what I heard of his conversation, I infer he is a vegan. I respond with, “I’m a vegetarian.”
As it turns out, McCormick Bac’n Pieces, which are sold in the Eastway Market, are indeed vegan.
After nearly six years of being meat-free, I feel I should know more about foods that are vegetarian-friendly, but I don’t. Daily, I learn something new about what I can eat, and sometimes, like with the bacon pieces, I am astounded.
Jack Link’s original flavor nuggets: the last meaty food I ate. When people hear this, they laugh. “Why didn’t you choose chicken or steak?” This conversation usually follows the highly expected, “Why did you become a vegetarian?”
So why did I? Because I’ve always been picky about meat. Because my stepmom undercooked one piece of chicken, and it was on my plate. Because I was a rebellious 15-year-old. I made the decision on a whim, completely uneducated on what I was getting myself into.
I’m not a spontaneous person by nature. I have my moments, but generally, my lifestyle includes an over-analysis of everything I do. I did research the pros and cons of vegetarianism, and I read up on slaughterhouses and food pathogens, even though I was already sure of myself by that point. On Aug. 31, 2009, I went cold turkey into my new diet.
While I went head first into vegetarianism, Kristen Barath, a nurse practitioner at Kent State, says there are many positives to starting a plant-based diet, such as decrease in illness.
“Most of our heart disease is related to our saturated fat intake, and most of our saturated fat is from animal products,” Barath says.
She also says there is a direct relation between a vegetarian diet and a decrease of Type 2 diabetes because vegetarians tend to consume more fiber and fewer high-glycemic-indexed foods. The glycemic index (GI) provides information on how food will affect blood sugar and insulin—the higher the GI, the higher a person’s blood sugar.
While going vegetarian has a number of health benefits, there are also things to look out for. According to the American Heart Association, people interested in vegetarian diets should consider their intake of protein, whole grains, soy protein, iron, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, calcium and zinc.
Most nutrients come in various forms—iron from leafy greens, vitamin D from sunlight—but others, such as B-12, are only found in meat products. Taking a multivitamin can help balance nutrient intake.
Barath also says there are other ways people can start a vegetarian diet.
“You can just go right on in and cut [meat] out cold turkey—it won’t hurt you, but I think most people do better if they slowly eliminate things from their diet,” she says.
She also recommends the app MyFitnessPal, which has a feature that allows users to log their daily meals. They can track their weight, calories and nutrient intake for the week to make sure their protein, iron and other vitamins are at a stable level.
She says that anyone planning to switch to a vegetarian diet should get basic blood work done to avoid deficiencies. Certain deficiencies, such as iron, can lead to anemia and hair loss, so it’s best to make sure everything looks good before starting.
Bryonna Manes, junior communication studies major, says she met with her doctor in Canton every three months while transitioning to and from a vegetarian diet.
Manes, who was raised vegetarian, took a three-year break from the diet and restarted when she was 13.
“[My doctor] was concerned about me being vegetarian during those crucial growth periods,” says Manes about changing her diet.
Manes is currently a pescatarian, meaning she eats fish, eggs and dairy, but has been transitioning to a ovo-lacto vegetarian, meaning she still doesn’t consume meat but eats eggs and dairy foods.
Manes says she has been slowly eliminating fish from her diet and feels it is easier than going cold turkey.
“It’s a big change for your body,” Manes says. “While you should be strict with yourself, and you should stand by your beliefs or your opinions, you also need to listen to your body.”
She also says she would recommend a vegetarian diet to anyone who wants to challenge themselves.
“I like what it says about me, about anyone who can keep a strict diet,” Manes says. “I think that helps you take that self-control from that setting and apply it elsewhere.”
Becoming a vegetarian is a process that takes a lot of adjustment. Every person I’ve ever talked to about it says, “I couldn’t do that. I love meat too much.” But anyone can do it with some patience and motivation.
I started at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school while I was taking a gym class. Two weeks into my diet, my class had a fitness test—I didn’t have the energy to complete the mile run along with 50 situps and pushups. It was easily the worst timing (and my gym teacher called me an idiot), but I stuck it out. I’m glad I did.
I’m 21 years old and haven’t consumed a meat product since I was 15. It has become a second nature, and I’m only reminded of it when I go out to dinner with friends or people who don’t know I’m a vegetarian. While it takes dedication, it does get easier to manage.
To anyone wanting to try it: Do it.