Why I’m An “Apologetic Vegetarian”
This month marks the one year anniversary of my decision to become a vegetarian. Neat! Instead of reflecting on that choice and my journey over the last year, though, I instead want to talk about why I call myself an apologetic vegetarian. To understand where I’m coming from, you need a little backstory. First, I have had chronic stomach issues since I was a baby. Lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety induced stomach aches… my stomach basically hurts at least once a day. If I’m not painfully constipated, then I have what I fondly refer to as the “fire poops”. I can’t safely ingest fatty food, greasy food, fried food, highly processed food, red meat, coffee, milk, artificial sweeteners, black tea, chocolate, soda, or anything else good tasting. Half the time even my safe foods make my stomach upset. It sucks major lollipops.
Second, I have chronic anxiety and OCD. Many of my issues in this department revolve, understandably, around food. I am constantly paranoid about eating or drinking something that will make my stomach hurt, make me constipated, or otherwise isn’t “healthy” enough – based on my own neurotic standards. I can send myself into a panic attack at a restaurant if nothing on the menu seems safe enough to me. It’s bad. On top of this, I also obsess over my weight. Several years ago I was restricting my caloric intake to such a degree that I had dropped from my normal weight of 135 to 111. My period stopped for nearly a year (which was pretty sweet but also apparently not good). My doctor put a stop to that, and a couple years of therapy helped, but it’s still very easy for me to start fixating on my health and weight to a dangerous degree.
Okay, so now you know. Dietary restrictions and obsessive compulsive personality. Awesome mix. I am such a functioning adult.
When I decided to become a vegetarian, I did so because I could no longer take part in an industry that causes pain to billions of animals every year. Therefore, it made sense to become a vegan – the production of milk and eggs in factory farms is just as horrendous and destructive as the actual meat industry, after all. To say you won’t eat a cow but you’re fine with letting one be traumatized its entire life so you can eat cheese is somewhat hypocritical. However, I knew from the beginning that I couldn’t convert to full veganism. Taking any meat-containing meals off the menu would already limit me more than my stomach issues already do. To further limit myself to IBS-safe vegan meals would most likely cause me issues everywhere I went. If I could give myself a panic attack because the only salad a restaurant offered was made with iceberg lettuce, I’d be totally doomed if on top of everything else, I had to question whether the bread housing my veggie sandwich had eggs or milk in it. It just wasn’t going to happen.
When I became a vegetarian, I promised myself one thing: if I was on the verge of a panic attack or wobbly with hunger and a ham sandwich, for example, was my only IBS-safe option, I had to choose my immediate mental or physical health over my morals. Knowing how obsessive and anxious I can become when faced with a dietary lose-lose situation, I had to give myself an out. I felt like a hypocrite and a coward for even doing something like that in a theoretical future situation, but I didn’t have much choice. I’m glad to say this issue hasn’t come up yet, and my first year as a vegetarian went by pretty smoothly. However, I still feel supremely guilty when I consume something I know (or suspect) has eggs or milk in it. I try to avoid such things when I can, but without an ingredients list you can never know for sure. And, unfortunately, OCD thrives on the things you can “never know for sure.”
So that’s why I call myself an apologetic vegetarian. I wish, truly, that I was at a place in my life where I could take on a challenging and rewarding lifestyle like veganism – but I’m not. I hope I will be one day, and I’m definitely trying to move in that direction. Until then, all I can do is minimize the harm I cause to my fellow animals, and help as many of them as I can.