Making the choice to stop eating meat or animal-based products seems to be increasingly common among college-aged people.
Whether pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan, each diet can draw up certain emotions within people, both positive and negative.
However, despite the constant media attention around these diets and the relatively new production of meatless “meat” products, choosing to stop eating meat is a personal and individual experience.
In my experience, I first chose to stop eating meat my senior year of high school because I honestly just wanted to try something new.
While I was really nervous about it at first, my decision to go more plant-based was one of the best things I had ever done for myself at that point in my life.
While I am not here to try to convince anyone that going plant-based is the only option for the future (we all know that one vegan), I have found that not eating meat does have its benefits.
The biggest and most notable benefit is in regard to sustainability.
Animal products produce far more carbon emissions than plant products so, in reducing individual demand, there is a slight environmental advantage.
While of course I have found my own personal benefit to not eating animal products, there is still value in limiting meat consumption. So, people who do not stick to a strict vegan diet can still have less of an environmental impact.
The second benefit that I have found from a vegetarian or vegan diet is the fact that eating and cooking this way forced me to get out of my comfort zone in the kitchen.
I have ended up trying and making so many new things that I never would have if I was not vegetarian.
All of the plant-based “hacks” to make food that is not meat seem like meat or egg substitutes are so interesting and have really helped me grow when it comes to making meals.
I always like to say to people that even if they are not considering a plant-based diet, just try to cook at least one “tricky” meatless meal. This hands-on experience of just how easy it is to make a delicious meal out of plants is something that everyone needs to experience at least once in their life.
The third major advantage that I have found to a plant-based diet is that it forces me to pay more attention to what I eat and how much I spend on food.
It is really easy to just go out to eat and order anything off the menu not really thinking about what might be in the dish.
However, when I need to consider whether they used butter or fish sauce or eggs as a binding agent, this moment of consideration leads to a much more intentional meal and a greater appreciation for the food that I am eating.
A major misconception about a plant-based diet is that it is much more expensive than a normal diet.
While this may be true if someone is buying exclusively meat replacements or high-end plant-based products, a vegetarian diet can be less expensive than other diets if done right.
For example, fresh produce, a can of beans and a block of tofu would be less expensive than a standard meal but buying a pack of two Beyond Burgers would not.
After three years of a vegetarian diet, I have found that not all plant-based products are the same and there are clear discrepancies between certain things.
For example, while it may seem like the more mainstream product, almond milk is actually worse for the environment than oat milk. Or splurging for a good dairy-free cheese replacement is worth it even though it might not feel like the right move in the moment.
Although a plant-based diet may seem overwhelming and restrictive, I think the positives far outweigh the negatives and, although it seems scary, trying one plant-based meal a week might change your entire outlook on food and your understanding of it.