A year ago, I couldn't imagine life without meat. I was eating meat at least six days a week. Although I didn't realize it, my food choices were contributing to the unhealthy state of the environment. In September of 2019, the Global Climate Strike took place. I realized I needed to make some changes to my lifestyle so that I could do my part in helping the environment. Early on in my research, I discovered that animal agriculture is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Cutting meat out of my diet seemed to be the most obvious way to achieve my goal of reducing my carbon footprint. When I ultimately became a vegetarian in November of 2019, the only thing on my mind was the environment. However, the change came with some unexpected benefits.
1. Improvement in My Productivity
When I started high school in 2018, I was completely thrown off by the drastic increase in my workload. I had, at minimum, three hours of homework each night. Unfortunately, procrastination was my worst enemy. By the time I got home, I felt sluggish and had almost no energy. As a result, I'd take a nap soon after getting home, eat some sort of quick, unhealthy meal, and do my schoolwork. Most of the time, I'd be up until midnight... Obviously, I'd be tired again the next evening. Not only was this cycle terrible for my physical health, but it was also emotionally draining.
Within two weeks of being a vegetarian, I noticed my energy levels had drastically increased. I no longer required caffeine to power me through my day, and my procrastination was at an all-time low. Although cutting out meat is likely to result in an increase in your energy, recognize that you may have to eat new foods to ensure that you're maintaining a balanced diet.
2. I Became Happier
Soon after going vegetarian, I saw significant changes in my mood. It seemed as if my life had suddenly become more enjoyable. Of course, nothing was different besides the fact that I stopped eating meat. When I realized that I was happier after becoming vegetarian, I thought it was purely coincidence... that something else in my life was subconsciously improving my mood. I was surprised to learn that science shows why vegetarians tend to be happier than meat-eaters.
Arachidonic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid that is present in most animal products. Consuming too much arachidonic acid may trigger brain inflammation, which is associated with depression. Additionally, a trial conducted by the American Public Health Association showed that when adults were placed on a vegetarian diet for two weeks, they reported greater improvements in their mood compared to their meat-consuming peers.
3. It Expanded My Taste
Like most people in the world, I've always loved food. However, I've consistently eaten the same food throughout my life. My go-to meals at restaurants were mac n' cheese, chicken tenders with fries, and pizza -- also known as the generic "picky-eater" meals. Vegetables were not something I included in my daily meals. When I told my family members I was going vegetarian, their first question was something along the lines of: "How are you going to do that? You don't even eat vegetables." They were right. How was I going to manage a sustainable lifestyle when I couldn't even eat broccoli without smothering it in cheese?
I quickly realized I was going to have to expand my taste to incorporate more veggies into my diet... and find ways to make them tastier. I grew up around a Caribbean family and lived in Louisiana for most of my life. So, all of the dishes I grew up with were packed with meat and spices. When I stopped eating meat, it was important that I found plant-based recipes with the same flavors that I was accustomed to. With a quick Google search, I found plenty of blogs that were focused on vegetarian soul food or Caribbean soul food. My favorite sites are Veggie Soul Food, Jessica in the Kitchen, and YouTuber Rachel Ama's blog!
4. I Can Finally Sleep Through the Night
Before I stopped eating meat, I was never able to sleep through the night. No matter how tired I was when I went to sleep, I found myself waking up around 3 AM every morning. It would always be a struggle to go back to sleep; when I eventually got up for the day, I was usually extremely tired. When I became a vegetarian, I was finally able to clock in those crucial 8 hours of sleep per night. Plant-based foods tend to be high in fiber and have a low amount of saturated fat, which a 2016 study links to deep sleeping.
5. The Change is Surprisingly Easy
Despite being an avid meat-eater a year ago, I can't imagine eating meat again. I initially intended to cut meat out of my diet for a month, but I simply didn't want meat after my challenge was completed. The health benefits I mentioned above are just a few out of many. My advice is to start small. If you find it difficult to completely stop eating meat, try "Meatless Mondays" or eating vegetarian three days a week. Challenging yourself to be plant-based is shockingly motivating because you're doing it for yourself and for the environment!