Don’t be a vegetarian. No amount of love for animals, or the environment, or even the promise of weight loss is worth giving up meat, worth giving up Jollibee’s Chickenjoy or BreadTalk’s Pork Floss, and worth giving up the chance to eat something with bacon for every meal of the day. Those will be the kinds of silly food you’ll miss–not the steak, not the rack of lamb, not the salmon sashimi.
Don’t be a vegetarian. Because unless you’re rolling in dough (the green kind), chances are you won’t be able to afford eating at veg-friendly places everyday. When your only choice is McDonald’s, you’re stuck with fries that go straight to your thighs. At Jollibee, at least you have the criss-cut option–cheese or sour cream. But still, there’s nothing worse than looking at the menu, your eyes shooting straight to the vegetables section and seeing that every veggie dish actually contains ground meat, fish, or simply doesn’t sound appetizing. It can get so bad that I’m not sure whether it’s better or worse for you to find no veggie dishes at all, forcing you to subsist on mashed potatoes or leche flan.
Don’t be a vegetarian. Your friends, God bless them, will have to consider your needs all the time. You will be the onus and unwanted conscience that weighs down their decisions at every mealtime. You don’t want to be a wet blanket, making them feel bad about the grilled liempo (with unlimited rice!) they just ordered. “It’s okay, kahit saan!” you’ll say whenever you’re asked where you want to eat, with you (and your rumbling stomach) resigned to the fact that you probably won’t find anything decent to eat wherever you end up going. It’s not that you (or your stomach) are complaining; you’re used to compromising. You’ll just find something else to eat at another time. No matter what you do, though, your friends will still feel guilty. They’ll ask you what you’re going to order, call the whole table’s attention to your “special” needs. You lie, saying you can eat at home or that you’ve already eaten, as you take a sip of your bottomless iced tea.
Don’t be a vegetarian. Eating with new people will be a nightmare. They’ll offer you pizza, watch you pick off the pepperoni and italian sausage (you’ve learned not to be so picky), and ask you why you’re doing that. Either someone else at the table will say it, might eve be you, but you know it’s going to be said eventually. You’ll be outed as a herbivore. And then, the inevitable follow-up questions start to come. “Oh cool, since when? So what do you eat, salads lang?” Eventually you’ll get used to explaining—there’s this book I read, this video I watched, this life-changing experience I had. But there’s always going to be some awkwardness, all eyes on you as you tell a story you’ve told a hundred times before. The worst is when people actually argue with you. Eventually you’ll have no strength to argue back and defend yourself. It’s exhausting.
Don’t be a vegetarian. You’ll have unrealistic expectations of yourself. I’m vegetarian, why don’t I look like Amanda Griffin. You’ll lose weight at the beginning, not eating Spam or hotdogs for breakfast will do that to you, but then you’ll soon realize that when you don’t go for a vegetable-based dish, you’re stuck with carbs, like pasta, and lots of it. And we all know where carbs go the moment they touch your lips, right?
Don’t be a vegetarian. You’ll have to learn how to cook. You can’t eat processed food every day after all, so your plan to buy out an entire supermarket’s supply of pancit canton goes out the window. You’ll have to learn to eat unfamiliar dishes. You start getting creative with your tofu, tempeh, quinoa, and kale. You’ll have to start learning the names of every single condiment, all to make your sauces and stir-fry taste better. And cooking takes up so much time, definitely more than it’ll take to buy a cup of rice and ulam at the nearest carinderia. So don’t be a vegetarian. Hassle eh.
But the thing is, if you do decide to become a vegetarian, that’s when you realize the strength of your convictions. Maybe you won’t last a year, or maybe you’ll last forty, but for that one year (or those forty), you’ll know what it takes for you to take a stand–despite being broke, despite the criticism, despite the odd looks and questions, despite the inconvenience, and despite the uncalled for judgment from strangers. When you do decide to become vegetarian, you make a choice. No, I do not want those buffalo wings. No, I am strong enough to resist that cupcake with bacon and maple syrup frosting on it. Well, wait, maybe I can just have the frosting?
You’ll find joy in discovering new surprises on the menu that you would have otherwise passed over for that steak. You’ll find a great Indian restaurant, order a random dish on their extensive vegetarian menu, and wonder how it’s possible for a dish to not have meat and still taste like Diwali in your mouth. That’s the moment you’ll realize that great food doesn’t require meat. Being vegetarian just might be the single greatest thing to happen to your taste buds once you move beyond arugula and thousand island dressing in your choice of salad.
You’ll realize, one day as you’re eating a sad plate of adobong kangkong while your friends are chowing down on crispy pata, that there’s more to you than simply being vegetarian. It doesn’t define the entirety of your identity. There’s more to a person than his or her diet.
Personal sacrifice, no matter how small a difference it appears to create, always reverberates to a greater scale. Every little bit helps. Knowing that you’re positively contributing to animal welfare and rights, knowing you’ve made an effort to be more environmentally friendly, and knowing that you may be helping to curb world hunger in your own small way, are all personally fulfilling as well as globally constructive.
Most people think of vegetarianism or veganism as a grand undertaking but it’s not as romantic as it seems, to be honest. If you’re vegetarian, you’re fighting little battles with yourself every day. You’re dealing with little frustrations and trivial inconveniences, but since you are vegetarian, you’ll know exactly if and why it’s worth it. Your reason might be different from mine, but it’s yours, and that makes it as valid as any other. It’s what pushes you to wake up a little earlier than you should everyday to make your lunch because you know you probably won’t find anything you can eat at the cafeteria.