Being Vegetarian - Information

Note : The information on this page is based on my personal experience being a vegetarian most of my life.

What is a vegetarian ?

A vegetarian is someone who abstains from eating animals.
Vegans are those who also abstain from eating animal products like dairy products and eggs.
There are also vegetarians who do eat fish, but not the other animals.

Is it possible to be vegetarian ?

When I once told someone I was vegetarian he reacted: "Yes, I think it is possible to be vegetarian". Since then, I don't take it for granted that people understand that a human can be vegetarian and survive.
Yes, it is possible to be vegetarian all lifelong and live well and even better than by eating animals. If you need proof, just talk to people who are vegetarians all their life, they are living among us.

Why be vegetarian ?

Because you are smart : A research study conducted on more than 8,000 people, and published in the British Medical Journal, suggested that children with an above-average IQ may have a higher chance of becoming vegetarians in their adulthood. (Sorry, I found this anecdotal study and felt an urge to mention it).
The prime reason people choose for being vegetarian is in order to avoid the killing of animals. A human being doesn't need to eat animals in order to survive so eating animals is just a matter of having a good taste in the mouth and also a human social issue (everyone eats animals around me, so why not ?)
Other reasons for being vegetarian:
Some choose to be vegetarian because they believe it is healthier, and it really is with the condition that you are aware of what you are eating.
Some are vegetarians because of religious beliefs (although the big religions of the world are not really vegetarians ones).
Some are vegetarian for economic reasons, but in that case they sometimes eat animals, when they can afford it.
Environment issues are also involved. It is more economic and sustainable to feed the world with vegetarian food than by growing animals.
Growing animals requires a lot of resources (water, animal food, space, medicine, electricity...)

Are vegetarians healthier ?

It can be healthier to be vegetarian if you take care of what you eat. If you'll become vegetarian and eat mostly french fries at the McDonald's (it is vegetarian), you will not be healthy.
Vegetarians are usually more aware of the diet than others so they eat healthy food. If you are very lazy and you don't have access to healthy vegetarian food, so eating a dead animal is a good solution and healthier.
There are scientific studies about this issue all the time. In a large study made in the UK with 45000 participants, it was found that vegetarians have a much healthier heart (32 percent reduced risk of both fatal and non-fatal heart disease) and also fewer cases of other diseases like diabetes.
Also in life expectancy statistics, vegetarians score better than others but you should not take these studies as an indication, first because the differences in longevity between vegetarians and animal eaters is not dramatic and secondly because like in any study the real causes in the results may lie elsewhere and not in the vegetarian one. For instance, vegetarians are usually more conscious about leading a healthy lifestyle and so are smoking less and doing more sports and that may be the cause for the difference in the statistics.
I think you should be vegetarian for the moral cause of not killing animals and not for an health advantage, which is not at all completely clear.

Are vegetarians stronger, weaker ?

My personal experience as a vegetarian is good, I'm doing quite a lot of sports and feel strong and active most of the time. (I don't know how I would have been, if I was eating animals). I know there are weight lifters and professional athletes who are vegetarians, an elephant is vegetarian and he is strong.
If you will eat healthy equilibrated vegetarian food and go to the gym and do other sports you will be and feel strong.

Do vegetarians lack vitamins and other important stuff to the body?

From my personal experience - no. Each time I went to medical checks, I was not missing anything, including not the vitamin B12 which is supposed to exist only in animals (but I do eat eggs and milk).
The human body needs to receive these essential types of nutrients from the food: Carbohydrates, Lipids and Proteins. Vegetarians don't have problems getting Carbohydrates and Lipids, they get plenty of them from vegetarian food, the challenge for vegetarians may be with the proteins. Proteins are the main building blocks of the human cells and make up between 12 and 15 % of the body mass, they are essential for many functions.
Dead animals contain, not surprisingly, a lot of proteins in their meat and these are also high quality proteins or complete proteins (they are an end-product, after all). So if you are a vegetarian you will have to get proteins from other sources. If you eat eggs and dairy products, you have this issue solved because they contain also high quality and complete proteins, but your body can also build proteins by itself if it receives the right amino acids which are the building blocks of the proteins. There are 8 essential amino acids that are needed for our body in order to produce proteins and not all of them are included in each plant, so the right thing to do is to combine in a meal several foods that together provide all the amino acids, for instance: rice and beans, rice and lentils, rice and peas, peanuts and wheat, they complete each other. Diversify your food and it will be OK. Some soybeans contain full proteins.
Some vegetarians are also concerned about lacking the Iron mineral which is also an essential nutrient for the body (oxygen carrying function) and is found in meat, but if you eat an equilibrated diet you should get enough iron from other sources (cereals, fruits). Surveys of vegans have found that iron deficiency is no more common among vegetarians than among the general population.
The B12 vitamin may be another concern for vegetarians. It is an essential vitamin, involved in the metabolism of every cell of the human body. We need very small amounts of this vitamin a day (2 to 3 µg per day) but we still need it. Unfortunately, this vitamin is found only in the animal world and not in plants. If you are vegetarian and you eat cheese and milk, it may be fine. B12 is also produced and added artificially to many foods like to morning cereals.
If you suspect or you were found lacking B12, you should take daily B12 pills for a certain period or even within a multi-vitamin. Taking overdoses of this vitamin is not a problem. 

Do I need to take food supplements as a vegetarian ?

I do not take any supplement and I am vegetarian many years, but there may be cases of vegetarians who lack some nutrients because of the vegetarian diet.
Not only vegetarians but also animal eaters may be lacking some vitamins or iron for many reasons. Animal eaters don't have a guaranteed equilibrated diet just because they are eating meat.
All people, including vegetarians should do a medical check from time to time and if the doctor advise you to take some food supplements like a multi-vitamin or B-12, you should do it and also start to eat natural food that will bring you these elements, like eating more fruits, iron sources etc.

Is it easy to be vegetarian ?

The difficult part of being vegetarian is the social issue it involves.
Western societies and their cultures are non vegetarian ones. Generally speaking, our society is not made to support a vegetarian way of life. If we visit a restaurant most of the menu will not be vegetarian and even the few salads will contain a little bit of meat or tuna fish, just to annoy vegetarians. When you travel abroad, it gets even tougher because you are more dependent on restaurants and can less cook at home. Sometimes you travel and arrive to places where vegetarians have the same status as aliens from other planets. On flights, there are vegetarian meals but you have to order them in advance and the stewardess will bring the meal to your seat about 20 minutes before the "normal" people so that you will feel really different.
In some restaurants when you will say you are vegetarian and you don't eat meat nor fish, the waiter will propose to you Tuna because there are people who don't realize that the Tuna that comes in a metal tin can was once a big fish.
But, the biggest challenge as a vegetarian will be the conversations that you will develop with colleagues and friends while eating at the same table. You will have to answer a lot of questions as a vegetarian, for instance you will have to explain why you are eating plants, because also plants can feel and they suffer when being harvested.
As for the diet, being vegetarian is easy. At first you may need a transactional period in which you will pass from being a carnivore to being vegetarian, but it is OK, most things in life are better done gradually. When I was a teenager and I became vegetarian I still continued to eat hamburgers with friends at the McDonald's during a year or so.
At some point, eating vegetarian becomes very natural and you tend to look at meat products as what they really are: dead animals, and you don't feel an urge to eat animals like you don't feel an urge to eat humans.
To be honest, sometimes the smell of cooked meat is inviting but then I go and eat an ice-cream which I also like.

Are there countries which are more vegetarian friendly than others ?

Yes, of course. India is very good for vegetarians, statistics says that at least 20% of the Indian population is vegetarian, partly because the cows are sacred in the Hindu religion. McDonald's even opened in India a vegetarian branch (unique in the world). Basic Indian food is vegetarian. The Buddhist countries like China and south east Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia etc are not specially vegetarian friendly and you better be in a tourist area in order to find vegetarian food, like for instance the Khao-San road in Bangkok (A backpacker neighborhood).
In the middle east, vegetarians have an easy life: middle east food is basically vegetarian like Humus, Falafel, beans, salad, rice and more.
European countries differ on that issue. In England, there is a lot of vegetarianism consciousness and at the supermarkets products have a special label to indicate whether it is adequate for vegetarians. Germany also have vegetarianism consciousness. France is not vegetarian friendly, even the south of France which it supposed to be on a Mediterranean diet, is quite tough for vegetarians. In Italy food is excellent anyway, so I forgive them for everything, I am ready to eat Italian pasta and pizzas all day. Spain is also not vegetarian friendly, in Madrid there is "Jamón" even in the croissants but Barcelona in Catalunya is fine for vegetarians. South America's countries are heavy animal eaters but vegetarians can manage with the basic food which includes corn products, rice, eggs and beans. Cuba is bad for vegetarians but it is a lovely country with great people and music, I survived there thanks to one Italian restaurant in la Havana.

What can I eat as a vegetarian ?

First, you should realize that once you become vegetarian, you will mostly eat what you were eating before (pizzas, corn, rice, bread, cereals etc...).
If you´ll become vegetarian and not a vegan, you will also eat eggs and milk and cheese and in that case you will get quite a lot of proteins in an easy way. There are different opinions about the right quantity of eggs that is healthy to eat during a week and recent studies show that there is not a special problem with that.
If you stop to eat animals, you will just feel the need to eat more of the other stuff you were used to eat before. The next stage is to try to have a more equilibrated diet: Not to eat only potatoes and pasta but to diversify by eating during the day :Salads, fruits, cereals, nuts, dairy products, eggs and  combinations like rice and beans for proteins.
Now, if you are lucky you will also have access to special vegetarian meals that are meat substitutes and look like hamburgers but are made of tofu, seitan, quinoa and more healthy ingredients. These foods can be delicious, depending on who is making them. Try to live beside a cheap vegetarian restaurant and you are settled in life.
In the following picture you can see a vegan meal (from a vegetarian restaurant in Colombia). Beans and rice provide amino acids in order to build proteins. There is a meat imitation (beside the rice) and the drink is a soy milk.
vegetarian meal

Do religions support vegetarianism ?

Practically no, they are all disappointing in this regard. All big religions regard vegetarianism as a moral ideal but they do little to make the world a more vegetarian one. The Western religions (Judaism, Christianism and Islam) tend to understand that there might be something wrong with eating animals and so they have rituals and rules about killing the animal or there are certain days which are supposed to be with a vegetarian diet, but usually members of these religions do eat animals.
The big religions in the east like Hinduism and Buddhism are not better. In theory they are pro-vegetarianism but practically even the Buddhist monks are animal eaters. When I visited Burma which is a peaceful and very nice Buddhist country, I was surprised by the cruelty that I saw in the treatments of animals in the markets, the same with Vietnam and other countries in the region. Unfortunately the big religions are not promoting vegetarianism.

Is Vegetarianism a religion ?

No. But it may be a good idea to create a new religion based on Vegetarianism and non aggressiveness. Probably in a few generations all humans will be vegetarians and history books will tell strange stories about people who were slaughtering animals in cruel ways and eating them.
There may be a future solution that will permit to eat meat without killing animals and that is by using the still not mature technology called in vitro meat which consists of growing animal proteins in a laboratory.
Once you will become vegetarian you will not belong to any new religion or ethnicity but there are many vegetarian organizations around the world and also animal rights organizations, you can join some of them if you want.

Are vegetarians less aggressive ?

Because vegetarians don't express their aggressiveness by eating animals, they tend to get out all the extra energy in sexual activity (just kidding).
It could be that vegetarians are less aggressive. Statistics say that 68% of the vegetarians are female and only 32% are male. Being a vegetarian is at least a sort of commitment and an intent to be peaceful and non aggressive but you can never know, there are rumors that Hitler was a vegetarian (others deny it completely).

Should I be Vegetarian or Vegan ?

This is a sensitive point. Vegans would tell you that being Vegetarian is not enough because also the dairy industry is cruel and involved in the killing of animals. The Vegans are right. For instance the male calves are killed because the industry doesn't need them as it needs the cows for the milk. Also the cows are treated cruelly till their slaughter.
So to be Vegetarian or vegan ?
Each one should reason and decide by himself, but here is why I am Vegetarian and not Vegan :
1. Today, humanity is far from being vegetarian (or vegan), it is still a small stream in the population. Hopefully, with time, vegetarianism will expand in the developed countries, but it could take several more generations till eating animals will be banned. Current efforts should focus on making vegetarianism more accessible and more prevalent in society. The biggest contribution of a vegetarian (or vegan) person today is to spread the idea of vegetarianism and not necessarily saving animal's life, simply because we have not reached yet a critical number and the industry of killing animals continues as usual.
A great contribution of a vegetarian person today could be the establishment of a vegetarian successful business. There is nothing more effective to make people switch to vegetarianism than to offer them a product that is tastier, healthier and cheaper. Try to imagine if someone will succeed to build a vegetarian competitor to McDonald's (I'm talking about a global network offering tasty burgers made of lentils, quinoa, etc. plus french fries and Coke). Another important role for a vegetarian person, is to spread the idea among those around him. Just the fact that people see you refraining from eating animals is a good publicity for vegetarianism. In conclusion, if you can be vegan, go for it. It is just that in the world of today, even a vegetarian is a righteous.
2. Most things in life, are done gradually. If you are a "beginner", it is better that you start being Vegetarian and maybe later switch to being Vegan, that to start right away to be Vegan, then fail and return eating animals.
3. In human society as it is organized today, it is hard to be vegetarian and even harder to be vegan. This is especially true if you are traveling a lot around the world and you don't have a daily routine.
It's not the vegan part itself that is difficult, but the fact that the infrastructures in society are not built to support such a diet. 
If for example you live near a vegan supermarket and you don't use to travel, so it's great, but if on the other hand you use to travel to places like Vietnam and the restaurants there can offer you mainly rice and eggs because all the dishes include some kind of animal and they don't really understand what is a vegetarian and why one would be vegetarian, so you better eat an egg in order to survive.
4. As I have mentioned before, the dairy industry as it is today, is cruel and involved in the killing of animals. This is true for this industry as it is today but not necessarily as it could be. We may get what we want from these animals (milk and eggs) without killing them and without cruelty. Of course it will cost much more but the persons who will want to eat dairy products will have to pay for it.
It will require, for example, not to kill the calves when they are young and not to kill the cows when they get older and no longer producing milk.
It will require to limit the milking of the cows to only a quarter or so of what it is done today, in order to leave the cow most of her milk for her children. It will require also to considerably improve the living conditions of the animals, in the farms. Is it possible? I don't really know, no one has looked at it seriously, because today humans are doing whatever they want with animals and treating them as products.

Where can I find books and videos about vegetarianism ?

First, I would like to recommend 2 books that are not treating directly with vegetarianism but are about the history and future of humankind. In these books, the author, Yuval Harari, puts our relationship with other animals in context. The author is vegan himself. These are best sellers, very interesting books : Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and : Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.
You should also read the best seller Eating Animals from the famous writer Jonathan Safran Foer.
Next you should watch the famous video of the animal right activist, Gary Yourofsky. This video has been translated into several languages and the lecture is notorious around the world. See also Gary Yourofsky website. for a lot of information about vegetarianism.
If you are looking for vegetarian recipes see : VegWeb, Veganyumyum, Mouth Watering Vegan.  The largest animal rights organization in the world - Peta.
A blog of a vegetarian - beautiful-vegan. There are a lot of vegetarian blogs.

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