I’ve been a vegetarian since the day I was born. Sure, I may have eaten a piece of chicken or beef on accident, but almost every piece of food that I've put into my body has been meat-free.

I won’t go as far as to say that my diet has necessarily been healthier — I love pasta, chocolate and sweet potato fries just as much as the next person. But maintaining the diet hasn’t been easy, and it’s not just because I’ve been limited in what I can eat. 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve experienced a stigma about not eating meat. Maybe it’s because meat is an American tradition, and something that I don’t seem to be buying into by not eating it.

Maybe it’s because people think that by not eating meat, I’m trying to show that I’m in some way superior to them (trust me, I’m not — I don’t think I’ve gotten my daily protein intake in years).

Or maybe it’s because they're tired of health fads and think I’m trying to hop onto the latest one. Whatever their reason, all I know is that I’ve gotten a fair deal of backlash in recent years about my dietary limitations.

I come from a Hindu family, but the decision to be vegetarian was ultimately my own. When I was born, my mom ate chicken and my dad ate everything (and I mean everything). Cows are sacred to Hindus, so most don’t eat beef, and vegetarianism is important in Indian culture.

While this was a part of my parents' decision to raise my sister and me vegetarian, they ultimately did it because they felt it would lead to a healthier lifestyle. My sister didn’t last long with it, and at the age of seven, had her first chicken nugget and never turned back. But for the past twenty years, I have made the choice to not eat meat and don’t ever plan to.

When people ask me why I chose to be vegetarian, I don't really have a reason. Honestly, I don’t really feel like I need to. It’s the way my parents raised me, rooted in ethnic undertones, and a lifestyle I couldn’t imagine any other way.

I have been told that being a vegetarian is not a dietary restriction, which I seriously cannot comprehend; just like someone with Celiac’s Disease would get sick if they ate gluten, I would get sick if I ate meat now.

I’ve been told to pick meat off or out of my food as if it's my punishment for being vegetarian and making their life more difficult. I get it’s extra work to satisfy dietary restrictions, but when I’m paying you for my food, I expect that you are going to make some sort of effort. And I’ve been given looks and sighs when I ask if there’s anything vegetarian on the menu or if there’s beef broth in the soup.

While it has definitely been hard to have my dietary choices scrutinized and to be judged for the way I eat, I will never give up who I am. I am proud to be a vegetarian, and if that comes along with all this baggage, then so be it. I'm not going to give in to others who make me feel bad for the way I eat.