Andrea Travers has been asked many questions about her choice to be vegetarian.
People ask the strangest questions when you’re a vegetarian. Concerned looks are accompanied by earnest enquiries about nutritional balance. "Where do you get your protein/calcium/iron?"
The questions are trickier when you're a child. Even as a small child, the idea of eating meat was alien to me. My mum and dad were worried I wouldn't get the right nutrition, too, so for years I would sneak my meat portion to the bin each night. I was very pleased when we got a dog – so was he. Eventually, my parents gave up the battle and I was officially allowed to be vegetarian.
That was more than 35 years ago, and I'm okay: reasonably healthy, although I don't exercise as much as I should; average weight for height, with a little extra around the middle; and no major medical or health issues so far, thank goodness. It seems I'm getting enough protein/calcium/iron.
Over the years, the questions have persisted. Having to explain or even defend my preference led me to do plenty of research. This helped answer the nutrition question, and also added other dimensions to my vegetarianism, including the ethical element – as a privileged Westerner I can choose not to kill an animal for food. To top it off there is a compelling environmental case for reducing meat consumption.
So when I began to make decisions about my children's diets, there was no question for me. Plenty of questions were asked of me though. When I became pregnant, the matter of diet became an even bigger topic for discussion and debate. "Won't it be dangerous for you to be vegetarian when you're pregnant?" "Will it damage the baby?" and of course, "What if your children want to eat meat? Don't you think they'll be missing out?"
I would never risk the health of my children for the sake of my personal beliefs, so I looked into it very carefully. To this day, I continue to educate myself by reading solid, evidence-based research from reputable sources such as the World Health Organization, the British Medical Association and the Oxford Study.
It was clear I would need to eat well during pregnancy, but then so should we all. The key is a varied and balanced diet across the food groups. Someone once told me the vegie diet is about a rainbow of colours, so I often think about the combination of greens, yellows and reds. All the colours can be stacked into a good stir-fry with some brown rice. Instead of the meat protein, it is easy to throw in tofu, nuts, quinoa, eggs and beans. It is not complicated. If it wasn't simple, quick and easy, I wouldn't be doing it.
It worked out fine during both pregnancies for the babies and me. Both kids were healthy birth weights, with the second one weighing in at about 4.5kg. I was able to breastfeed and they both flourished.
Since I am convinced meat is not good for people, animals or the planet, I could not raise my children as unquestioning meat eaters. But they make their own choices too. Over the years we have found the children generally don't choose meat, and when they do, they don't particularly enjoy it.
We don't keep or cook meat at home, but we don't freak out about it either. I don't question other people about their food choices; it's their business after all. But people often question my choices. Attitudes range from admiring or politely curious, through to downright dismissive or even hostile.
One common opening question is: "But do you eat chicken and fish?" The answer is no. White meat is still meat, but we do eat eggs and dairy. That’s often followed by, "So what do you eat? Lettuce?" An abundance of yummy, healthy things such as vegetables, fruit, legumes, pulses, tofu, rice, pasta, eggs, quinoa, noodles, nuts, and some junk food too. Then there's, "Don't you find you have no energy?" As a family we are active, involved people with lots of interests. The kids enjoy and participate in many sports and activities. I confess I lack energy sometimes, but maybe looking after a family, managing my own business and running the kids around to all their activities explains that.
The bottom line for me is: I don't eat meat, but if you want to, go for it. My kids have the right idea. When people ask them why they don't eat meat, they keep it simple. "We just don't".