Feeling misunderstood about being a vegetarian? All too often the words “I’m a vegetarian, I don’t eat meat” are met with eye rolls and judgment. If you’re like me, you know meat may be one of the most staggering forms of waste in existence. You’re vegetarian to reduce the waste of resources and help mitigate climate change. Regrettably, when I try to explain this to my peers at college, I might come off as moralistic and, well, just plain annoying. To add to the struggle, many people think a vegetarian diet doesn’t provide enough protein, isn’t satisfying, and tastes bad. Happily, strategies exist to reverse these attitudes. I should know, because I overcame them myself. If you want to start a conversation with your friends or family about why vegetarianism is a great option full of personal benefits, follow my tips:
1. Forget the Climate
According to the Earth Day Network, if you ate one less burger a week, it would represent the equivalent of taking your car off the road for 320 miles. However, for many people climate change is a scary discussion. There are issues that seem more immediate to them. However, this doesn’t mean that they may not be interested in learning more about the connections between vegetarianism and especially locally oriented environmental issues. If possible, talk about local water use, land use, and deforestation issues that your friends and family care about.
2. Talk about How Tasty Vegetarian Dishes Can Be
The culinary possibilities of vegetarian recipes are as endless as they are delicious. Help disbelievers see that vegetarianism offers the opportunity to try new things and be creative with their meals; more options are becoming available every day. One can even recreate vegetarian versions of barbeque classics. For instance, try jackfruit as a substitute for pulled pork (Chances are, your meat-eating friends will think it’s real pork.) Host a vegetarian potluck where everyone brings a different dish, and surprise your friends with the variety represented. And thanks to new technology from companies with names like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, burger taste-alikes are being created from plants. Learn more about this amazing new technology here.
Need some recipes? Here are some of my favorites, all of which are quick and easy to make:
Italian Pesto Pasta Salad
Zucchini Flatbread with Onions, Arugula and Goat Cheese
Barbecue Pulled Jackfruit Tacos
If you need more inspiration, visit Tasty Vegetarian on Facebook where new recipes are posted everyday.
3. Underscore the Health Benefits of Vegetarianism
A vegetarian diet is just as nutritious as a diet that includes meat. It can also help curb obesity, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. In short, it can help you live longer. As with any diet, it can be unhealthy if one is not careful, but when done right a vegetarian diet will lower one’s risk of chronic disease. Plus, you don’t have to worry about consuming the growth hormones and antibiotics often used to raise meat.
4. Stress How Vegetarian Meals Can Save Money
As a college student, I know the lengths people will go to save a dollar or two. But how about even more than that? Research suggests vegetarians can save at least $750 per year (Time.com). Meat is more expensive than produce, grains, and legumes– it’s as simple as that. You’ll even have some extra time to compliment that extra cash, as vegetarian recipes are generally quicker and easier to prepare than ones that involve meat.
5. Talk About the Cool People
Impress your college friends with the facts that Oscar winner Leonardo Dicaprio has sworn off meat, and has even produced a “Cowspiracy”, a documentary exploring the link between animal agriculture and climate change. Natalie Portman also recognizes the staggering environmental cost of factory farming, along with vegans Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus.
While you’re at it, mention the names of local community leaders who are vegetarians. Share with friends what vegetarianism means to you. Being vegetarian gives me the feeling of having a greater purpose. Every vegetarian meal I eat supports a system that I believe in and helps me do my part to make the planet a better place. It just makes me feel good.
6. Encourage Friends to “JUST TRY IT!”
People don’t have to go ‘whole hog”. (Sorry about that). They can simply cut back on meat some of the time. Learn about “reducetarianism” Here.
So now we can all agree: In addition to helping the planet, a vegetarian diet tastes great, promotes health, saves money, and puts one among the stars, so keep this list handy when it comes time to defend your choice. And be sure to remind your friends that going vegetarian will not turn them into a moralistic hippie!
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Great ideas! In my own efforts to eat less meat, I’ve definitely found gradual changes and creative recipes to be very effective. Social media can also be helpful for those starting a vegetarian diet– following vegetarian bloggers provides both recipe ideas and general motivation.
Great article. Interesting that concern for animals is not on your list of reasons why going vegetarian. My guess is that is the “other” category.
There are so many reasons to go vegetarian and this article listed some great ones. And YES! I never understood the misconception that Vegan/Vegetarian lifestyles are more expensive than diets that contain meat, so I’m really glad that was brought up.
I think the best thing we can do when it comes to our friends is lead by example – show them all the yummy and healthy foods we eat, and that there are in fact so many options!
As someone who is not a vegetarian, this article shed some light on some of the misconceptions I had about the diet, including that it is costlier/elitist and that the food isn’t as tasty. One of the common struggles I face with my own environmentalism is being any environmentalist but still eating meat. This article once again reopened this internal debate and I really like the motto “just try it.” Does anyone have advice for an aspiring vegetarian?
These are really awesome ideas, thank you so much for sharing!! It’s so important to try and educate people and help them try to make a lower environmental impact, hopefully stressing affordability, etc will help convince more folks <3
I really like the idea of stressing the personal gain from vegetarianism- like saving money and enjoying nutritious and delicious meals- rather than scaring people into eating less meat! I think that it is more realistic to sustain a diet low in meat if you are enjoying it instead of stressing about the all the impacts of every food you eat.
I totally agree with all of these points, and also wonder how careful conversations about animal cruelty might also persuade animal lovers to recognize the connection between their food and where it comes from (I know Miley Cyrus went vegan for this reason). Also, using language like “plant-based” might motivate people to make more unbiased food choices, until vegetarianism can be destigmatized. It doesn’t matter what you call it, as long people are doing it!
I totally agree with all of these points, and also wonder how conversations about animal cruelty might persuade animal lovers to recognize the connection between their food and where it comes from (I know Miley Cyrus went vegan for this reason). Also, using language like “plant-based” might motivate people to make more unbiased choices, until vegetarianism can be destigmatized. It doesn’t matter what you call it, as long people are doing it!
Love point #6 – I’ve shifted my language now to encourage friends to simply cut down on their meat intake. I think people get intimidated by the idea of going vegetarian and immediately think, “I could never!” But reducing meat intake (especially red meat) by even just one meal a week can have an impact. It’s important to be realistic because a little bit of change is better than no change at all 🙂
All great points! How do you think that we can change the stigma against vegetarianism and veganism and frame it more in a way that is ‘saving-our-planet’ oriented rather than just an anomalous choice?
These tips to influence others are very helpful! I find that even at a small liberal arts college with a small dining hall, the protein options are not vast and not appealing. Personally, I enjoy eating meat, but at college it was very easy to be vegetarian as the meat options are highly limited. Quite frankly, the vegetable dishes at school tasted much, much better than the undercooked chicken or meat provided. Being a vegetarian at school helped me reduce my meat intake while home for breaks and has also influenced family members to reduce their meat intake for health benefits, cost benefits and environmental benefits. Maybe in your next post, you can add a follow up with specific ways that you eat vegetarian meals while at school and tricks for easy recipes. Thanks for this helpful advice!
Thanks for sharing these tips! As a vegan and environmentalist, I really do believe that the benefits of switching to a plant based lifestyle are so significant to human health, the environment and for the animals. Even the American Dietetic Association stated that a vegan diet is nutritionally adequate and safe for all stages of life, including pregnancy. I definitely agree that not every tactic will convince all individuals to cut back on the meat, such as watching videos of inhumane treatment of animals in meat industries. However, I think it is interesting that you left out concern for animal rights as an option in your survey. There is oftentimes a disconnect between the meat on our plate and where it comes from, and I like to remind myself and others that animals too are sentient, emotional beings that can feel pain. A tip I encourage people to adopt to try to influence others to go meat-free is I ask about their pet and show them that dogs and cats and not much different from cows, pigs and chickens.
The education from mainstream news outlets about the benefits of reducing/altogether getting rid of your meat consumption could be so much better! When I used watercalculator.org I learned about how much one serving of beef was contributing to my total water usage, and from that point cutting red meat out of my diet became an obvious choice for one way I could personally help out the environment. If people were given easy-to-understand statistics of the other water-related equivalents of eating one serving of beef today, I’m sure they would find the decision obvious too.
Great input on the vegetarian diet. I’m 22 and my 6 person family (2 parents, 4 siblings) has been vegetarian for the past 10 years. We started for health reasons–heart disease runs in the family–but at this point in my life I am doing it for the environment. I loved the relation of a burger to miles driven as well as the expression of the variety of flavors and ingredients that you can find. I am also very excited to say that fast-food is finally catching on. Burger King newly released its own Impossible Whopper and Dunkin Donuts released its own Beyond Meat breakfast sandwich, both of which use plant-based “meat.”
In 2007, UN FAO statistics indicated that India has more vegetarians than the rest of the world put together. Animal-based ingredients (other than milk and honey) such as lard, gelatin, and meat stock are not used in the traditional cuisine. Plant based diet is deeply rooted within the fabric of the country’s cuisine.
In my opinion, vegetarianism’s lesser popularity around the world can in part be attributed to aversion to vegetables at a young age. If vegetables can be introduced into a child’s diet as a main course, instead of side dishes, the child will grow up to be an adult, receptive to plant based diets. It is difficult to adapt to behavioral changes as we grow older.
Studies have shown that time spent on farms, interacting with chickens, cows and pigs have inspired people to shift their dietary preferances.
In the end, it’s open conversation, acceptance of climate crisis as a reality and educating oneself about flavorful vegetarian options that would lead to lasting change.
This is the first time I’ve heard of “reducetarianism” and it really fits how I eat. Do you think labeling yourself as vegetarian helps or hinders getting other people to eat less meat?
I am in complete agreement with these points and have even learned some new tips on encouraging friends and family to adapt to a meatless diet. I have been vegetarian for 18 months now and can relate to the topic of discussing it amongst non-vegetarians. I constantly find myself embarrassed going in depth on the reasonings behind my lifestyle choice, but am now aware of other points and benefits to bring up when it becomes the topic of conversation! I am often faced with discussing the negative effects of consuming animal products to people who are uneducated on the subject and believe this post informed me on some new and creative ways to talk about it.
I have been restricting my meat intake greatly in the last two years. My only take is that I can only eat meat if I know the source, which rare instance, I do not have the choice in the matter (ie traveling to a country with very limited options), or special occasion (ie thanksgiving).
I learned how to cook more vegetarian meals. I am enjoy cooking, and people always enjoy my cooking. I can influence people by teaching people my vegetarian recipes.
My biggest qualm so far is I miss Korean food and my part of cultural ties is with food. There’s very little source or way to substitute certain ingredients. So on a special occasion, I treat myself with Korean food. I try to think about others who have cultural ties to their food. That going vegetarian or vegan is hard because it means they’re giving up a piece of their heritage. That’s something people don’t talk about often enough.
I love everything about this article. Another great point to add would be the influence of fast food companies on meat production. As we know, the infamous McDonalds cheeseburger has spread worldwide, and thus has a heavy cost on the reliance of agriculture and meat production. Yet, as mentioned with the Beyond Meat and Impossible foods, fast food companies offering vegetarian substitutions for their staple items could be a great step in the right direction for reducing our meat consumption and promoting the benefits of vegetarianism.
This is a great article! I agree that talk of climate change can sometimes make people feel intimidated and uninspired. I also like that you emphasize just “trying it.” I think a lot of people are afraid of making big decisions in their life, especially when it means giving something up. In this way, I think “reducetarianism” may be more viable for the majority of the population. If we change the narrative from cutting meat out entirely to cutting back on meat, are we giving in too quickly? Or, is this just a good place to start?
I love how this information is tailored to college students like me, who are most likely to be penny pinching and experimenting in the kitchen anyway! And, even when I’m not eating in, I’m encouraged by the increasing number of vegetarian-friendly restaurants throughout the country, which are great places to introduce a friend or aspiring “reductionist” to these types of diets.
I love that this information is tailored to college students like me, who are most likely to be penny pinching and experimenting in the kitchen anyway! And, even when I’m not eating in, I’m encouraged by the increasing number of vegetarian-friendly restaurants throughout the country, which are great places for friends or aspiring “reductionists” to give it a go!
This is great, wonderful tips! I have often felt the eye rolls after proclaiming my vegetarianism, too. Thank you for providing tools to stand up for vegetarians everywhere! In my personal experience, all of these fact have proven true- and without trying to persuade them, many of my friends and colleagues have come to me wanting to learn more. Letting people know that vegetarianism does not have to happen cold turkey usually elicits a new reducetarian!
I am a vegetarian attending school in Iowa, so talking about my vegetarianism is a constant struggle! Starting a conversation can be difficult, especially with the negative stigmas attached to vegetarians. Because so many people think of vegans/vegetarians as a “cult,” I think it is important to approach the topic in a relatable and non-aggressive way. I love how you suggested mentioning the tastiness and affordability of being vegetarian
This post is a great outlet for individuals to feel positive about being vegetarian! I have recently become a vegetarian as a college student and I am having an incredible experience. At school, I am heavily involved in sustainability work and decided it was time to hold myself accountable for my eating habits. Tip #6 especially resonates with me as I have been able to get some of my friends to join me in my vegetarian journey by expressing that they can be flexible with their diet. The majority of my friends are reductionists, but that is better than nothing!