It started when I lived on a college campus for six weeks. 300 students trying to eat lunch at the same time caused the lines at the "regular" food option to be extremely long. I noticed that the line to the "vegetarian" section was either short or nonexistent (depending on the day) so I started to grab my food from that section. Not only did I get my food faster, it was so much more delicious than I expected! When I came home from my six-week vegetarian experiment, my family noticed I was more healthy and looked more awesome than I had ever been. I dropped my vegetarian diet for a couple of months and noticed a definite change in my appearance and overall health. The week of Thanksgiving, my aunt recommended to my family that we watch a documentary called "Forks Over Knives". This documentary explains why a whole-foods, plant-based diet is the best diet for humans to eat, as well as how eating right can help or reverse major health issues. In addition to this, in one of my classes we watched a couple documentaries about the industrialized food system in the US and the problems with it, including the fact that 80% of the US meat market is owned by six companies. I, for one, did not want to support that kind of business! So, the day after Thanksgiving, my family decided to adopt the whole-foods, plant-based diet. After a couple of weeks with no animal products, my family started to get tired of eating salad for dinner- I was the only one who would research appropriate recipes online and make them, and being only a senior in high school, I couldn't cook dinner every day! So, my family went back to their own eating habits whilst I kept up my vegan, whole-foods diet. After a couple more months, I noticed that I was not getting all of the right nutrients for my body, and my calcium intake was dangerously low, pretty much nonexistent. I was very, very tired all of the time, my nails turned from white to clear, and I just felt terrible. So, I allowed a very little bit of milk to enter into my diet, and I started to take vitamins to make up for anything that I left out of my daily diet. Almost a year later and I am still a strict vegetarian and loving it. I'm in college now and have found a lot of support for my lifestyle. It helps that I live in a "hippie" town now, with an Earth Fare within 5 minutes of walking distance where I live, a robust farmer's market that meets every week, and the support of my school of vegan/vegetarian/local lifestyles (Food Services hosts a Meatless Monday every week, there is a section in the main dining hall that serves only vegan/vegetarian items, and 10-15 % of the school's food is from local farms). I have now broadened my diet to eat organic and local whenever I am able (when I buy groceries, for example, or choose food from my school that is from a local farm) and to eradicate products with high-fructose corn syrup from my diet. I enjoy cooking vegetarian/vegan meals and finding vegan recipes for foods I love (like vegan challah!). I love my diet and wouldn't go back to eating meat for anything!
On a diet-related note, I eat kosher and do not eat seafood. Why not seafood? One: it makes me sick, it has always made me sick, I have a kind of allergy to it; and two: I have lived by the ocean my entire life until I went to college, and grew up learning about the ocean. More and more studies are coming out that show harmful toxins and chemicals ending up in ocean creatures, even animals far from shore, and subsequently those harmful substances end up in humans who eat the affected seafood. Fish farms are not really a better option, as shown in this article (http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/fish/fish-farming/offshore/problems/).
Also, I eat kosher, which is really much easier to do when you are a strict vegetarian or a vegan.
I have also omitted products containing gelatin from my diet, as most gelatin comes from animals (including the bones! Gross!). If you want a good rule of thumb to recognizing gelatin in food products (without scanning the list of ingredients), look to see if the product is a "gummy"- gummy bears, gummy worms, you get the idea. Most gummy candies use gelatin to stabilize the product. Of course, gelatin is found in more than gummy candies, but it is unfortunate that it is in so many yummy snacks!
For all of those considering a meatless/ animal-product-less diet, do it! At least try it, look up some recipes, try meatless dishes at restaurants, and research the pros and cons of that diet. For those who are struggling while doing this diet- no family support, lack of available resources, etc.- just do as much as you are able. Thankfully, my family didn't force me to eat meat, but my choices for dinner were to either make a separate meal for myself or be happy with a plate full of salad. I am so incredibly blessed to now be in an area where it is much easier for me to continue my lifestyle, and I am thankful for that fact every day! Even if you don't go all the way into this new diet, remember, every little bit counts. You can do Meatless Mondays or just simply cut back on your consumption of meat or animal products. When I had been a vegetarian for about 7 months, my grandmother informed me that she had started to cut down on her consumption of meat. I encouraged her and thanked her, as any step is a step in the right direction. Many vegetarians and vegans get this stigma that they come off as harsh, rude, or having this "better-than-thou" attitude. While this stigma isn't without reason, I for one encourage people in their diets and won't harp on someone for eating meat. Heck, I even wholeheartedly agree with my friends that Chik-fil-a chicken sandwiches are the best-tasting chicken sandwiches ever (even though I haven't eaten one in a year)! While I faithfully follow my convictions and am dedicated to my meatless lifestyle, I see no reason to act hatefully towards people who aren't like me. While I do advocate for meatless and animal-product-free lifestyles, I don't force my views down others' throats. Love the Earth, and love people. That's my food philosophy.