By Mark Westbrook

Not a pity-inducing documentary, not a love for animals, not for chakras, chi, or chicks (see disclaimer at bottom). I became vegetarian because I was ready, even though I didn’t even know it. I am the typical health freak with buckling bookshelves under the weight of information on the potency of fruits and vegetables, home remedies, and nicknames used to hide petroleum in our food (BHT, BHA, TBHQ, artificial coloring, and more). I have been genuinely interested in nutrition since my high school calculus teacher bullied our soft drinks and junk food with antagonizing names, like “cancer” and “dumb-dumb living.” As with any earth-shattering statement I sought its validity, my wide opened eyes couldn’t ignore the obvious answers and neither could my stomach.

As my fearless feet slowly tore through many pairs of rubber soles like wild fire, my running evolved from single miles, to half-marathons, marathons, and finally an ultra-marathon. I became more in-tune with the affects of my food intake. KFC, Hot Pockets, McDonald’s, and hot dogs filled my stomach with the same sickening richness as a gallon of milk and I could make a bet on what time in the night I would wake up queasy and shaking. To my surprise, my doctor said that I wasn’t dying of the worst stomach disease ever and I simply need to take responsibility and stay away from junk food (although I later learned that there is no such thing as junk food, there’s junk and there’s food). I knew that maybe my hundred-mile-running-calculus teacher was right about the food I once praised. Yet, it was easier to stop running and keep eating junk than the other way around, so that’s what I did. I couldn’t realize that I was moderately addicted to junk because of the chemicals it induced in my brain. Not that I had to worry about the weight, my metabolism was the only thing that ran faster than me. The worse hit when I bought a 20 pack of pepperoni Hot Pockets and killed seven within three days. By this time I had mapped the algorithm, either run or eat junk food, they can’t mix or I’ll be sick. But alas, like Columbus, I ran into something I didn’t account for: I woke up to another nauseous night because of the Hot Pockets, despite the lack of exercise. This time I heard a high pitch ringing and the lights went black. As I regained my vision, I realized that I passed out… yes, from Hot Pockets.

It’s a mystery to me too. So I was desperate when I came across Forks Over Knives, and it preached a promise as inspiring and simple as eating only plants. Looking back, I’m glad I naively accepted the challenge because when I removed meat from my diet I removed about 70% of processed food because they contain meat. The stories on the movie are absolutely amazing, and I have truly seen the results for myself. The biggest results are oddly ones I didn’t foresee: increased happiness and an increased sense of inner peace that is very hard to describe, but it’s like a new found unwillingness to kill even bugs. The journey to vegetarianism started as a nutritional endeavor but soon became about saving animals and practicing peace in all forms of my life while also being sustainable (the meat industry is a VERY wasteful industry but that’s another story).

I can understand, because you eat meat doesn’t mean you don’t love animals, or practice peace, or believe in chi or chakras. In fact, it was a part of life I never considered changing, after all, I had a chicken nugget eating contest only a couple weeks before I went vegetarian. Not eating meat is a huge metamorphosis that is easy to lose and often underestimated, but it does cause changes in your life you may not expect; almost as if it amplifies a love for animals and inner peace. However, it starts with one vegetarian meal in place of meat every once in a while and slowly it should inspire change if it is right for you. Step by step, I became a different person and I don’t regret any part of it. Removing meat was a life changing decision for myself and I can only hope that it inspires others to re-evaluate that part of their life. With further investigation, there is an arsenal of reasons to go vegetarian, for the sake of an endless list and a glassy-eyed reader I will leave that up to you.