By ANCA-WR Intern Ani Isayan
Identifying as a vegetarian Armenian for the past year has been challenging yet a fun experience. Because of my new found identity, I have received much opposition from the Armenian community. Perhaps I am making a claim that is too bold, but I have come to the realization that is almost expected that because I am Armenian, that I must keep a carnivorous diet.
I have often heard that I am leading an unhealthy lifestyle because of my diet. I am not particularly against the Armenian diet because of its high concentration in animal products and I do not attack others who frequently eat meat. What I often experience is relatives who argue with me, and then claim to be offended if I refuse to eat meat. It becomes frustrating having to explain my reasoning, but after awhile, I realize it’s not their fault.
I noticed in the Armenian culture, eating meat is practical and prepared in most dishes. As a child, at every occasion, especially with large groups, the food’s main focus was meat. I would eat everything my parents fed me; although, that included an uncomfortable feeling immediately after. When I strayed away from eating meat, I found a lot of resistance from my parents and friends. Many didn’t understand it because eating meat is so natural to them. It does get frustrating when people forget and offer me meat, because I have to constantly explain and then defend myself. But what used to be a constant argument is usually now just a quick no thank you on my part. I became tired of arguing, since most people are fixed on the thought that eating meat is the way to livel.
Then there is the other subgroup of individuals who are fascinated when they hear I am vegetarian, which is always a nice thing. It sounds tough, but keeping a vegetarian diet is very simple and easy. I occasionally have people tell me that they have no idea how I can keep up with it. Although giving examples of my favorite dishes usually helps people understand, because often people assume my diet isn’t filling or satisfying. Some research and practice helped me a lot, and I always love to recommend new dishes to encourage people to try it.
Maintaining a vegetarian diet not only fights for animal rights, but has beneficial health effects as well. Many people eat too much meat, which can be very harmful in the long run. I noticed that keeping a good weight was much easier for me when I got my protein with less calories from vegetables and lentils. For those interested to try this new diet I would recommend starting small, by still eating your favorite dishes and simply exchanging the meat for vegetables. It can be fun to experiment with new dishes and take on a new diet. It’s good for your conscious and good for your waist as well. So put aside your havov pilaf and try some quinoa and lentil dolma.