Carly Queen is a Campus Field Coordinator with the National Wildlife Federation’s Campus Ecology program. She was one of the first people I met after assuming my position and has been an invaluable resource. Carly was an integral part of LIFE being recognized as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.
During lunch at the café, Carly and I were talking and I learned that she was a vegetarian. As the conversation progressed I was inspired by her story (I had just began Meatless Mondays) and was thrilled that she would allow me to share it with you.
How long have you been a vegetarian?
My entire life… 25 years.
How/why did you become a vegetarian?
I was raised vegetarian by my mom, who was also a vegetarian through my pregnancy and for about 20 years after that.
Since your vegetarian journey began at a young age as you got older did you contemplate eating meat or changing your eating habits?
I’ve never really given it serious thought. Eating meat, most of which is from animals raised and slaughtered using inhumane practices, seems very cruel, socially irresponsible, environmentally destructive, and unhealthy to me. We are destroying forests and other natural ecosystems at astonishing rates to raise cows and other animals, which in turn pollute the land and water. Millions of people are starving around the world, while we in theUnited Statesuse about 58 million acres of land to grow corn and almost 60 million more acres to grow hay to feed livestock here and abroad. That is roughly 80% of all corn grown in the U.S. going to feed animals for meat production instead of feeding human beings directly and roughly the same amount of land (and water, energy and other resources) used to grow hay where we could be growing grapes, rice or beans. Plus, numerous scientific studies have shown that eating meat increases your odds for developing heart disease, cancers, obesity and many other illnesses, factory farm animals are pumped full of antibiotics and hormones that you ingest when you heat their meat, and I would likely get sick very quickly from eating meat since I never have.
However, I have started eating many healthy foods as an adult that I never wanted to eat as a child, like beans, nuts, lentils, kale, collard greens, tofu, and soy milk. It’s amazing that I was as healthy a child as I was without eating many of these very nutritional vegetarian foods. I used to get most of my protein from cheese, dairy and eggs growing up, but I’ve started eating more beans, nuts and soy products in the last several years and I can notice an improvement in my physical well-being from doing that.
Was it difficult growing up vegetarian?
The two most difficult things for me growing up as a vegetarian were finding healthy, well-balanced vegetarian meals to eat when I wasn’t at home and explaining my diet to my peers, especially at a young age. Finding good vegetarian options when eating out at restaurants, traveling, in my school cafeteria, and even in my college dining halls and food court were all very difficult at times. I have noticed an increase in nutritious vegetarian options being offered in many of these places over the last decade, which is encouraging, but depending on where you go there are still many places with limited or no vegetarian offerings. I typically try to avoid those places.
Any advice for parents who want to raise vegetarian kids or those with young children who want to become vegetarians?
DO YOUR RESEARCH!!! You can’t raise a healthy vegetarian child on macaroni and cheese and ice cream alone. Make sure that you are providing them with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and vegetarian sources of protein. When they are old enough, teach them how to make wise decisions and meet their nutritional requirements when preparing and purchasing food. I would also recommend that parents give children food that is natural, minimally processed and organic as much as possible to avoid exposing them to hormones, chemicals and genetically modified foods that can have especially harmful impacts on a child’s growing body.
What type of vegetarian are you (ex. Do you eat fish?)
I am what is called a lacto-ovo vegetarian, which means that I eat dairy and eggs, but no fish, seafood, meat or meat products. I am trying to reduce the amount of eggs and dairy in my diet, though, mostly for health and environmental reasons.
Do you feel your eating habits influence those around you?
I certainly have some influence on certain people around me, although it is hard to say how much of an effect I’ve had on certain individuals. I do know that my boyfriend, whom I moved in with about a year ago, eats less meat than he did before we lived together. He grew up mostly vegetarian when he lived with his parents, and he says that he could probably be a vegetarian, if it weren’t for bacon. I buy almost all the groceries in our house, since I have higher standards and more restrictions for what I will eat. I never buy meat, so if he wants to bring any meat home he has to buy it and cook it himself. He doesn’t do this terribly often, but he does eat meat pretty regularly when we go out to restaurants and parties or over to friends’ and family members’ houses for meals. I also have noticed that I probably have a larger proportion of friends who are vegetarian than most people do. This may be due to some combination of my example, influence and encouragement and our common knowledge about the environmental, social and health benefits to reducing consumption of meat and other animal products.
Any difficulties with being a vegetarian?
It is sometimes difficult to find a healthy vegetarian meal options when I go to certain places or parts of the world.
Do find that there are sufficient vegetarian options when you eat out?
My best bet when going out to restaurants is to do my research ahead of time and make sure there is something I can eat on their menu. Often there are only 1-2 possibilities for me, which is frustrating but can also make my decision about what to eat very simple. Most of my favorite restaurants offer several choices that fit my dietary needs. I visit these establishments fairly often.
Do you find you cook more often as a result of being vegetarian?
It’s hard to say whether I eat out more than the average American. I go through phases where I do a lot of cooking at home and then I also have periods of time when I’m eating out almost all the time. Overall, I probably eat out about as much as a typical 25 year old American does. I definitely frequent different restaurants and grocery stores than my peers, though.
What is your favorite food?
This is a really tough question to answer. Probably my favorite guilty pleasure food is either cheese (especially macaroni and cheese) or chocolate. I know neither of these are very good for me, though. I tend to eat a lot of pasta dishes and stir-fries, but lately I’ve also been eating Mexican food like chips and salsa, beans, enchiladas, tacos and burritos pretty frequently. I absolutely love food, and so many different types that it would be impossible for me to pick just one as my favorite. You really need a variety of flavors and types of food to fully appreciate them all. With too much monotony I get bored very easily.
What is your favorite meat substitute?
Honestly, I really don’t like any of the fake meats. I’m a huge tofu fan, as long as it is well-seasoned, but lately I’ve been eating a lot of tempeh and that’s also really delicious.
Thanks Carly for sharing your story and for all you’ve done for LIFE and the community.