Written by guest contributor, Harleen Kaur

Most people are shocked to find out I’ve never had a non-vegetarian meal in my life. My parents ate meat throughout their childhood, but once married, they realized neither of them were too keen on it, especially when they had to cook it themselves. I’ve heard funny stories of my mom attempting to cook something non-vegetarian, and getting so disgusted with the smell and the blood that both of my parents decided it simply wasn’t worth it.

And, thus, I was born a vegetarian.

This may not be too challenging a diet to maintain today in many countries, depending on the majority culture or religion, and it is certainly not impossible in most cities today. Vegetarianism has become a widely understood way of life, due to certain religions or value systems, as well as the idea that it promotes a style of healthy living. Unfortunately, this was not the case in the late 90s, particularly in the Midwestern United States. I recall confusion from friends, and even my parents’ friends, that we did not eat meat.

Famous vegetarian Punjabi thail (plate) in Amritsar, Punjab.

Famous vegetarian Punjabi thail (plate) in Amritsar, Punjab.

“So, what do you eat then? How do you get enough food?” we were asked quite often. The norm, particularly in that part of the U.S., was that meat was a staple part of one’s diet and it was impossible to live properly without it. We even had our fair share of doctors who doubted our dietary choices, telling us it would have negative health consequences and we could not get all our nutrients without consuming meat. But, my parents distaste for it was stronger than these words, and so our vegetarian lives continued.

As a child, I never realized it would ever be difficult to be vegetarian. After all, we rarely ate out, but I contributed that more to a lifestyle choice. The fact was, when we did go to a restaurant, we rarely had enough menu choices for all four of us to order a different item, and so my parents simply learned to make other cuisines at home. My dad makes a killer vegetarian lasagna, my mom can make amazing burritos and quesadillas. We mastered the art of vegetarian cooking (and eating) because that was how we wanted to live.

Traditional meal at a ryokan in Ureshino, Japan.

Traditional meal at a ryokan in Ureshino, Japan.

When I went off to college, issues arose. I would peruse the dining hall and, most days, come away with little more than some soggy vegetables from the salad bar and some barely-ripe fruit. Finding it challenging to access good-quality vegetarian food, my diet faltered, and I realized the difficulties of being vegetarian without access to your own kitchen or produce. In reality, vegetarian-ism is something that is not an option for many, but often for those who are privileged enough to access good quality produce. This was an important lesson for me, as well.

Although it was not a conscious decision, being vegetarian is something that I certainly consciously engage with now. Not only does it make me feel healthier and more in charge of what is happening with my body, it also reminds me that humans are not the only beings on this planet and cannot take control of all life, simply because we feel that we are the strongest. As Earth Heir’s name reminds me, we are all heirs of this planet and were meant to share it together. Being vegetarian—albeit difficult at times—is my small way of doing that.