I sat down and began to pour through the menu. Front, back, front again, and the only vegetarian choice was a side of vegetables. While disappointed, I knew there were options, so I asked the waitress for a plain cheese pizza. Boring, yes, but I thought it would be easiest because they had several meat-focused pizzas on the menu.
Now this wasn’t a 5-star restaurant, but it was not an everyday price point. After the words left my mouth, I immediately regretted them. The waitress almost held back a laugh and I could tell she was thinking, ‘How childish?’ Normally, I would have let this go and just dealt with the shameful feeling. But this time it hit differently and I followed up with, “I’m a vegetarian.”
These three simple words changed her demeanor almost instantly. No longer was I the uncultured girl sitting in a nice restaurant. It now made sense and seemed like a perfectly reasonable request.
Whether vegan, vegetarian, or faced with dietary restrictions, I can guess we have all felt this at some point. It makes you feel bothersome and ashamed of a health choice you’ve made, when the reality is quite the opposite. The reality is we made a lifestyle choice that benefits us and that is something we should be proud of.
Another important aspect of this story is that it occurred in Mississippi. The likelihood of this scenario happening in L.A. or New York is far less likely, but I’m sure still happens. It is hard to live in a meat-centered culture and feel like you are the first vegetarian they have ever encountered.
However, as time has passed I’ve become more comfortable with my lifestyle. I now begin the sentence with “I am a vegetarian” and don’t divert my eyes to the avoid the look on the person’s face. I smile and take it head on, usually receiving an understanding and interested response.
Take on your lifestyle with pride. It doesn’t make you weird, it makes you unique and most people will respect your choice. Be patient with people and they will be patient with you. They will help you navigate the menu and may even ask the chef to whip up something special to fit your dietary needs.
Own your choice and help to normalize it in your city. You will be surprised how many people are excited to learn about your lifestyle, or have even tried it themselves. Rid yourself of vegetarian shame and I promise, life will become so much easier.