Of the 7.53 billion people in the world, only about 375 million are vegetarian, according to the 2014 Meat Atlas of the Friends of the Earth and the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Following a vegetarian diet means excluding meat of any kind (red meat, poultry, seafood). This is different from veganism, with which vegetarianism is commonly confused and is practiced by an even smaller percentage of the population. A vegan diet not only excludes meats but also any animals by-products such as milk, eggs, honey, cheese or butter.
Both diets have undergone a surge of popularity in recent years, evident by the opening of vegan or vegetarian cafes, grocery stores carrying more tofu and other meat alternatives and social media fitness gurus promoting the two lifestyles. We decided to see what all the buzz was about and went vegetarian for two weeks. These are our experiences:
Manzo poses with her fruit smoothie.
WEEK 1 - Grace
I came into this week excited to try something new and see what vegetarianism would do for me, as I have never tried this diet before. I was hoping this plant-based diet would help me feel more awake and energized throughout the day. For the most part, being vegetarian was not that bad. I did not find myself wanting to eat meat and being disappointed eating my sixth salad of the week by Friday. I never knew all the different combinations of salads you could make. My mom went all out at the grocery store, as she wanted to make sure I was getting the protein I would need during this experiment, buying all sorts of vegetarian-friendly foods, namely, tofu. I was initially turned away by its appearance, but I eventually just went for it and put it on my salad. The one flaw in this plan—I did not read the directions on the tofu, and it turned out exactly like you’d probably imagine: under-cooked, mushy and totally gross. Word of advice: ALWAYS read the directions on tofu. Since that incident, I wrote tofu off completely, which in hindsight was pretty unfair, and I might have liked it if I gave it a second chance. Week one consisted mainly of toast and oatmeal for breakfast for me, lots of salads and pasta and smoothies here and there. Overall, this week was a lot easier than I expected. I did not notice any major changes in myself, but I attributed that to this way of eating still being pretty new, and I knew I needed to eat like this for longer in order to get a better understanding of this lifestyle.
Richer holds her protein-infused citrus water.
WEEK 1 - Sophia
I came into this week reluctant to try this new lifestyle that Grace forced upon me. I was not as open to the idea of trying a new lifestyle as she was and did not want to give up meat. However, I agreed to do it, knowing it would be different and I would get to try new things. We had decided to start on a Monday; however, I thought we were starting Sunday, which resulted in my mom having to make meatless lasagna for no reason, which ended up not tasting awful. This week was not as bad as I had expected; I sometimes even forgot I was not eating meat. I did not have to change my breakfast routine that much as I usually have meatless meals like egg and toast or a smoothie. However, I did start to have two eggs and add Greek yogurt or protein powder in my smoothies to make up for the protein lost in lunch or dinner. For lunches, I either had apples and cheese, or vegetables and dip. Dinners were by far the hardest meal, as my mom usually cooks and never had to worry about making it vegetarian before this experiment. One night, I tried a vegetarian burger that my friend who had also tried this lifestyle recommended to me. The burger actually ended up tasting like a true meat burger and was pretty good. Most of the time, I would have what the rest of my family was having but just not have the meat in it. This proved to be a bad idea since I had no protein supplement and was losing the protein I usually had. Overall, week one was not too bad, and I did not have any noticeable side effects.
Manzo eats a Clif protein bar.
WEEK 2 - Grace
All the positivity I had going into week one has gone out the window. Vegetarianism has broken me. All last week, I didn’t feel any different than I did before going vegetarian, but this week, even though I was eating all the same foods as I ate in week one, I felt exponentially worse. It didn’t take much time for me to figure out the problem though. I was protein deficient. Now technically, true protein deficiency only occurs simultaneously with conditions like malnutrition, so I was only protein deficient to an extent, but the effects were still hitting me hard nonetheless. I was exhausted and felt like I had no energy, and I had constant headaches. This was happening because meat was basically my only source of protein, so when I lost that, I had nearly no protein in my diet. Then I added up roughly the total amount of protein I was eating each day and compared that to the recommended amount of protein someone my height, weight and age should be eating. I was eating about 20 percent of the amount of protein I needed each day. I wondered if this was a problem all vegetarians face, but I realized most vegetarians probably supplement the protein they could get from meat by eating foods such as eggs, nuts or Greek yogurt. I don’t like any of these foods, and I honestly wasn’t making much of an effort to find protein-rich vegetarian-friendly foods that I did like. I figured I would just tough it out the rest of the week eating the same way, and all would go back to normal once this experiment was over.
Richer eats apples and cheese for lunch
WEEK 2 - Sophia
Going into week two, I was ready for this experiment to be over. My mom was making tacos,and I did not want to have meatless tacos. However, we believed that one week was not enough to truly feel what it is like to be a vegetarian. So, I went into my second week as a vegetarian, ready to have meatless tacos for dinner; however, my mom, being a very creative cook, decided to make a rice and beans mixture for me to have instead of meat. Although they were not the tacos I was used to, they were not as bad as I expected. Along with meatless tacos, this week, I also tried a vegetarian burger that was supposed to taste like a traditional burger. Like my attitude for most of this experiment, I was very reluctant, but I tried it, and it tasted very good. During this week, I noticed myself becoming more tired than usual, and I realized this was because I was protein deficient. The only way I was getting protein was through eggs, yogurt or protein powder in the morning. After this week, I was definitely ready to stop and eat the delicious chicken casserole my mom had prepared.
Overall, I do not regret doing this experiment, as it was cool to experience a new lifestyle. I am glad this is over and was very happy when I could enjoy a burger when I wanted to. I do not think this is an awful lifestyle and respect those who are vegetarians. I believe this experiment would have gone better if I had planned a better way to incorporate protein into my diet.