Growing up in a Korean family, the word "vegetarian" never came up in conversation. Instead, I was taught to try all sorts of unconventional, yet traditional, Korean foods. I'm no stranger to people eating the unconventional—chicken feet, live octopus, bugs, and even dogs.
However, at age 16, I decided enough was enough. I loved animals, and I felt that what I put on my plate did not reflect that. I stopped eating meat—cold turkey.
One of the biggest challenges I faced was that I still liked meat. I would occasionally have nightmares about me eating chicken wings. I was worried about what would happen come holiday season. Typically, my family skipped out on the turkey and went straight for a steak. While everyone around me is enjoying their medium rare, what would I eat?
The biggest challenge, however, was telling my dad. I sat him down and told him that I will no longer be eating meat. If he served it to me, I will simply not eat it. Initially, he did not believe me. When packing my lunch, he still snuck in cold meats in my sandwiches. For breakfast, he would always include bacon in BLTs.
This hurt me because I felt that he was not respecting me or taking my decision seriously. As thankful as I was for having food on my plate, I wanted my dad to understand that a vegetarian diet was important to me.
My dad did not understand how I could just stop eating meat and emphasized how it may not be good for my health. Still, confronting him for secretly trying to sneak meat back onto my plate was hard. Trying to get someone to see your way is not always easy, but with respect and passion, it is possible.Opening up this topic and ultimately talking to each other respectfully, we came to the conclusion that we should both do research into the vegetarian diet. After a long conversation with my family doctor, my dad and I discovered that—if done well—a vegetarian diet can be healthy and easy. Since then, we have both worked on how I can eat a well-balanced meal.
On the other hand, my sister and I too had a difficult time because we have always bonded over what we eat. Ever since we were little, we loved checking out new restaurants, ordering a little bit of everything on the menu, and sharing dishes. Turning to vegetarianism challenged this bond we had—we could no longer pick off each other's plates.
We both ordered and ate separately. Because we no longer could bond over the love of the same foods, we started going out less and less. This hindered how we talked to each other. Now when we would hang out, we avoided eating meals together, and we lost the bond of sharing a plate of beef nachos and gossiping about our lives.
But I knew it wasn't the end; after all, she could still eat off my plate. After talking it out with my sister, I showed her how vegetarian meals can be good for meat-lovers and vegetarians alike.
Luckily, restaurants are kind enough to separate meat from meals if need be, and now, she and I bond over different meals we can order or make that we both enjoy. We can still pick off each other's plates—just with the meat separated.
It's been a journey, but now my family is a lot more open to my meatless meals. My dad will take us out to vegetarian restaurants, and only complain (at most) three times. Once I showed my family that vegetarians can eat more than lettuce, Taco Tuesdays were back on the table, minus the beef.
Making a drastic change in your diet can be hard. The first few months, without my family's support, I survived off pasta and bread. My carb overload lead to fatigue and weight gain.
After opening up my family to the discussion of my diet and how I can eat a healthy and inclusive meal, I noticed my energy and appetite went up. Do your research and surround yourself with people who support you. It is your body: eat what makes you feel good.