While I fully understand that being a vegetarian is a choice that I’ve made for myself, I still consider myself a “veggie oops” baby.

Ten years ago, I decided to stop eating meat. I made an informal pledge to cut beef, chicken, pork, and seafood out of my diet.

And no, my decision wasn’t influenced by some book, film, speech, or notion of activism. Neither was it based on a moral position that places animals above my basic human need for food or a need to cleanse my body of carcasses.

I’ve been a loyal “veggie head” for a decade, and I still wonder how I’ve been able to continue living with these dietary restrictions while imposing more on myself as life goes on. By the way, chocolate is way more addictive than any turkey leg or piece of steak.

However, I still get to bask in the glory of eggs, the closest food to meat for me. While there’s an entire debate that can be had over whether or not you can eat eggs and be a vegetarian, personally I view them as more of an animal by-product.

I was also smart enough to Google it before my transition, so all of you can look up “lacto-ovo-vegetarians,” if you care.

Back in the “olden” days, prior to Instagram and my veggie transformation, I came to the not so shocking realization that I was wildly different than most people—especially my family. Though my diet was just one of many differences, it was the most noticeable one during that time in my life.

The first 16 years of my life was consumed with being identified as the fourth—and youngest—member of a Black middle-class Southern-bred family living in Metro Atlanta. Meaning: our dinner table was frequently visited by many different forms of meat.

I had to put up with my Daddy’s incessant need to cook ground deer meat; which I was fortunate enough to avoid at all cost. I still equate smelling my daddy prepare deer chili to the smell of chitterlings simmering in a hot pot on Sunday mornings—dreadfully stomach-turning.

Fun fact: if you drown chitterlings in barbeque sauce, they taste just like chicken without the feces flavor. I probably would’ve eaten more in my lifetime if Daddy hadn’t banned Mama from cooking them in our home. The only place in Atlanta she regarded as being suitable enough to purchase chitterlings from was Atlanta soul food joint, This Is It!

However, becoming a vegetarian had nothing to do with Mama and Daddy. Growing up, I only indulged in anything dealing with pork or seafood. Beef and chicken never really seemed too appetizing.

And my family was notorious for frequently ordering buckets of chicken from Bojangles, Church’s Chicken, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Mrs. Winner’s, Popeyes, and Publix.

During that time, I wasn’t the one ordering or buying any chicken, but I assume that a 20-piece bucket was the standard. I could be wrong, but what would you expect from a 10-year vegetarian? Out of how-many-ever pieces, I’d usually be the beneficiary of two drumsticks.

Until 16-years-old, it was my birthright to have two drumsticks out of every single bucket. Every week, we would eat chicken, in one form or another. Knowing my Daddy, I’d say we eat at least one bucket of assorted chicken parts per week.

A bucket of chicken a week brings me two about 104 drumsticks a year. Obviously, I hadn’t been eating whole pieces of chicken since before preschool. But, if we say I ate drumsticks from age five to 16, that would bring me at approximately 1,100 drumsticks in total.

You’d think all that chicken would’ve made me a meat-loving fool, but I was the furthest from it.

One day, I just realized that I rather have fries over burgers, bread over chicken, and cheese over everything. Praise God for cheese and whatever blessed soul or group of people who invented it first.

With that realization in mind, I had no trouble cutting meat out of my life. The hardest part was remembering what was or wasn’t meat, because normally we don’t have to think about that. But, after a month, I was set for life.

Throughout my decade of vegetarianism, my only troubles came from other people. Non-vegetarians who have decided that they’re more knowledgable of my dietary choice than I am.

According to common stereotypes, I’m supposed to be shaking my head and pointing my finger in disgust at every man, woman, and child who consumes meat; but that’s definitely not the case.

Most people never know I’m a “veg head” unless they dine with me. And even then, they’d have to hear me tell a waiter “no meat” or noticing that not a single animal populates my plate.

However, when someone does make the connection, usually a wave of annoyance washes over me from dumb questions. It’s a very mild wave, the way a paper cut is still an injury. Another wave of annoyance comes from people trying to make concessions for me.

What I eat should have no impact on what others consume. I know that any restaurant that I visit will most likely only have a handful of items that I can order, and I’m perfectly okay with that.

I don’t need to go somewhere that serves kale wraps when these seasoned fries are working just fine for me.

And that leads to the biggest wave of annoyance, which involves people thinking that vegetarian and vegan are synonymous. Not that I have anything against vegans, but veganism is a lifestyle while vegetarianism is simply a dietary preference.

I like leather, I don’t think fur is murder, and as we discussed early, I thank God every day for cheese. And not just cheddar, I’ll get down on my knees to thank the good Lord for mozzarella, provolone, ricotta, swiss, and parmesan.

The only time I really care for animals is when I take the time not to hit them while driving. Mostly, because animals don’t know road rules as humans do.

Which is why I don’t mind potentially hitting pedestrians who think that me traveling at 40 mile-per-hour gives them permission to cross the street.

Jaywalkers aside, this whole vegan explosion that’s currently happening has been very annoying. Just because I don’t eat meat doesn’t mean that I only eat vegan food. Again, we’ve covered this already, but I like real cheese, not vegan cheese.

And I don’t want to go to a vegan restaurant. I’d much rather have the three-cheese penne pasta at Applebees. In all honesty, a “cheese-n-eggs” meal with three eggs and a double hashbrown, double covered from Waffle House sounds really good right now.

Essentially what I’m trying to say is that I don’t bother anyone. I pay my taxes, follow the law (based on my own discretion), and try not to intentionally tick anyone off.

A decade of vegetarianism gives me the right to evade any and all commentary on what foods I decide to put into my body. Or am I still viewed as that junior in high school, who made a life-long commitment based a rational whim?

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

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