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An Inside Look Into the (Mostly) Ups – and Downs – of a Vegetarian Lifestyle

Over the years, vegetarianism has been viewed by some as little more than a passing ‘fad’ diet, a way of life for animal lovers or those looking to try the newest trend in healthy eating. More recently, however, doctors, nutritionists, and everyday people alike are taking a more serious look into the potential health benefits that a vegetarian diet can provide. According to sites such as, vegetarians lower their risk for ailments such as diabetes, certain cancers, hypertension, and many others (as compared to their carnivore counterparts). To get more insight into the vegetarian lifestyle, I sat down with Jennifer DeGeest, a University of Iowa alum and a vegetarian for twelve years.

I started by asking about DeGeest’s inspiration to become a vegetarian and how she feels about the potential benefits of living a meat-free lifestyle. “I think being a vegetarian can be very beneficial to your health if you do it right… I definitely didn’t have health in mind when I decided to become a vegetarian. I was only eleven at the time, so I wasn’t too concerned about that. For me, it just felt morally wrong to kill animals for our own selfish needs when it’s really not necessary.” She adds to her explanation, “Everyone thought it was just going to be a phase, especially my brother. And honestly, that’s why I stuck with it when it started getting kind of hard after I started- just to prove him wrong.”

Indeed, willpower seems to be a main component of maintaining a vegetarian lifestyle. “I’ve never tried, but I would love to be a vegetarian. The nutritional benefits definitely seem worth it, except I just don’t have that kind of self-discipline,” laments 22-year-old Meghan Murphy, a self-proclaimed ‘vegetarian wannabe’. Murphy grew up well versed in the meat-free lifestyle. Her sister had been a vegetarian for 3 years, and her cousin for more than a decade. The only reason her sister stopped, Murphy explains, was because, “She wasn’t getting the protein and other nutrients she needed. Her diet ended up consisting of mainly meat-free junk food, so she went back to a more traditional diet.”

The aspect of adequate nutrition is a main concern of vegetarian skeptics. When asked her opinion, DeGeest believes that there are lots of alternate ways to make up the low levels of protein, etc. typically found in meats and non-vegetarian fare. She lists off vegetarian cookbooks, online resources, and smart shopping as easy ways to keep her health and nutrition on track.  “It’s really not difficult. There are lots of meat substitutions, and you can make a lot of dishes without meat in them, like spaghetti. It just might take some getting used to.”

Going out to eat may be more of a struggle, admits DeGeest; “It is really annoying when I go to a restaurant and have limited choices. There are usually only a couple of non-meat items on most menus and sometimes I have to get an appetizer as a meal or order something special, which I hate doing, but overall it doesn’t really bother me. They’re always willing to leave meat out of something.” If you’re looking for someplace to eat in the Iowa City area, she does mention places such as Red Avocado, Masala, and Oasis as having great meat-free options.

After talking with DeGeest and Murphy, it seems like the potential health benefits are just one of the advantages of becoming vegetarian. Those incentives, coupled with readily available health tips and information on the web make it clear that a meat-free diet is easier to incorporate into your life than you might have thought. Going out to eat has become less of a hassle as well, thanks to an ever growing selection of vegetarian friendly options at grocers and restaurants. If you or someone you know are considering becoming a vegetarian, DeGeest’s advice to you is simple: “Just try it!”

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