A vegan attempt in Guatemala.

Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet. ~Albert Einstein

When I went vegetarian in 2001, I hardly looked back.

I’ve always struggled with my weight, other than that stray year in seventh grade when I inexplicably ran cross country and looked like a supermodel. Since then, I have experimented with diets and “lifestyle changes” including, but not limited to, the Atkins low-carb diet, pescatarian, raw vegan, fasting, secretly eating meat and openly eating meat. But for the past eight years, I’ve mostly been a lacto-ovo-vegetarian.

This classic yogic diet, drawing from the tenets of Ayurveda (Indian medicine) emphasizes foods with “prana” or life force, meaning fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes– foods that are as close to “whole” and unprocessed as possible. Dairy and eggs are okay in moderation.

The point is ahimsa, or nonviolence,

one of five moral codes in ancient yoga. When I invoke nonviolence as a reason behind my vegetarianism, some carnivorous friends argue that plants have feelings, too, and aren’t we killing them when we eat them? Yes, but we have to eat something. Chickens or cauliflower? Cows or corn? Tilapia or tofu? Consider it the lesser of two evils. Many people also ask what I eat, incredulously, imagining rice, carrot sticks and celery as the lone options for vegetarians. This is not a surprise since I am from Texas, land of BBQ. Beef, it’s what’s for dinner.

Way back in 2001, following a week of Atkins-prescribed hot dogs, cheddar cheese and scrambled eggs, I arbitrarily decided to go vegetarian. My body thrived and I didn’t look back for years. Whenever I ate meat, I’d feel downright ill. By 2004, I had transformed myself into a California granola hippie chick. I did all kinds of detoxes and even went 100% raw for about six weeks. I lost twenty pounds and felt amazing energy and vitality. (The theory behind the raw food movement is that cooking foods strips their nutritional value. As the organic food craze continues to sweep the nation, raw restaurants and food manufacturers abound. My favorite in San Francisco is Cafe Gratitude. In Austin, Daily Juice has expanded its menu to include raw meals and snacks.) The raw scene is a bit lagging here in Guatemala City. I never could keep up the raw lifestyle though, not even in California, due to a lethal combination of laziness and hankerings for queso.

In 2009, I moved to Guatemala, the land of eternal pollo.

I gradually started to nibble on the occasional piece of meat, which was easy because 97% of restaurants here put bacon, beef, or lard in everything. Then I committed (along with my creative writing students) to a “ten-day challenge” in which we developed a new habit for ten days straight. My  high school students chose to give up facebook or to start exercising for an hour a day. I chose to go vegan – to stop consuming all animal products including queso and huevos. In conclusion, my thesis is that the  vegetarian diet is the best, healthiest, and most ethical yet practical diet for humans, or at least those living in Central America.

Vegetarianism is healthier than the omnivorous diet.

Meat consumption has proven links to high cholesterol and heart disease. Carnivores often wonder what I eat besides celery and rice. I enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables. Lentils, beans, tofu, nuts and seeds provide plenty of protein in my diet. Contrary to what I was taught growing up, milk doesn’t do a body good. Cow milk has gross additives like pus and pesticides. There’s a plethora of calcium in cabbage, chickpeas, broccoli, and soy beans. Gorging on sugary treats and processed junk food is no better than being a die-hard meatatarian. Both vegetarians and omnivores need to ingest enzymes to improve digestion. Garlic, raw or steamed vegetables and fresh fruit like pineapple, papaya, mango, and banana give us these essential enzymes.

Additionally, meat is murder. Do you have a pet cat or dog? Would you kill and eat Fido or Fluffy? Cows, chickens and pigs should not suffer miserable lives and deaths purely for human pleasure. Not even fish deserve to be tortured. All animals feel and express aversion to pain. Cultures across the globe have long traditions of eating meat, but traditions can be changed. I understand that lots of people are quite addicted to the taste of meat (I was born and raised in Texas, after all). I understand the philosophical argument for hunting animals for their meat. But, face it, the vast majority of carne in our world is mass produced in malicious corporate factory farms.

Becoming vegetarian is a smart health choice and is possible for everyone. A great way to start is to reduce the amount of meat you eat per week. Although it’s not as hard as you think to be vegetarian, this lifestyle definitely requires discipline and forethought. In most mainstream restaurants, meatless options are scarce. As long as I prepare my own meals, all is well. But if I’m going to eat at a restaurant or dinner party, salad isn’t always satisfying. Being totally vegan in Guatemala is too socially unacceptable, plus I just don’t want to try that hard to altogether avoid dishes made with milk, cheese, or eggs. Hence, I am a vegetarian who indulges in the occasional dairy-liciousness.

Human carnivores are not (necessarily) evil.

They eat meat, just as I did, out of habit, preference, and tradition. However, I proudly declare that I am a vegetarian because it is a healthy, disciplined, and mindful way of life – and because animals deserve freedom from needless suffering. I am confident that every individual and our society as a whole would benefit if everyone would veg out and go vegetarian.

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