Last year I decided it was time to make a significant and conscious shift in my eating habits.
Eating habits are very difficult to change for many reasons not least of which is that most of us (if we are lucky) are forced to make choices about what we eat a minimum of three times a day. We are also lucky to have so many choices. We eat not just to sustain ourselves but for pleasure when we are happy and for comfort when we are sad. Food and love are intimately connected. Feeding others, family or friends, can be a demonstrable way of showing your affection for them. In my career as a palliative care physician I have witnessed time and again family members trying to feed loved ones who are unconscious because the need to care for them is so strong.
For the last number of years I have been very concerned about climate change. Concerned enough to take action. I have not only donated money to various organizations but actually gone out and marched for change. I am educating myself and doing what I can to educate others. I have written a fictional novel in the new-ish genre of eco-fiction which will be published on Earth Day 2018. And I have an electric car. Still it never feels like enough and I am always looking for what else I can do. One fact that was unavoidable as I learned more was that eating meat contributes to greenhouse gases in a significant way. According to an Oxford model cited in the book Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, emissions could be reduced between now and 2050 by as much as 63% by adopting a vegetarian diet.
So after fifty years of eating meat I knew it was time to stop. I also knew that being vegetarian was healthier and that there are serious moral issues around how almost all livestock are treated. Still, even knowing these things, it was a difficult decision. The thought of never having another steak or even a simple BLT was daunting.
There have been three things this year that have contributed to my success in sticking to my new habit.
1) Love for others- It is helpful to feel passionate about why you want to make a change. For me it is all about climate change and that works because I think and worry about climate change on a daily basis. I care about the living things on our planet, the plants, and insects and the animals (including people).
2) Love from others – It is helpful to have support from people close to you. My husband has always been easy about meals. My son and daughter were both completely on board with the idea. They were all not only willing to try new foods and make suggestions but also gave me gentle nudges when I needed them.
3) Love for self- For me this is oft times the hardest one. It is easier for me to forgive others their mistakes and to be gentle with them than it is to be kind to myself. A year ago when I decided to change my eating habits I was successful about 70% of the time. The key for me was giving myself credit for that success and forgiving myself the 30% of the time that I failed. I figured even that reduction would help the planet. Slowly over the course of the year it got easier. Now, in any given week, only 10% of my meals contain meat (chicken only which has much lower environmental impact than beef). Can I proudly walk out declaring I am a vegetarian? Not yet, but it doesn’t really matter. I am proud of all the progress I have made this year.
My sister became vegan two years ago because of her love of animals. My mother became a vegetarian at the age of 76 because of love for her daughters.
Love has incredible power. It has the power to help us change, to become better versions of ourselves.