My Healthy 2020

I Became Vegetarian Accidentally. But the Benefits Are Too Great to Quit.

updated Apr 14, 2020
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“I spent a month with close family friends in Denmark who are all vegetarian. During that month, I accidentally went vegetarian and decided to just keep up with it.” Mona Beydoun, a masters student and writer based in Michigan found her way to a vegetarian way of eating a year ago. Technically, she’s a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, someone who eats no animal flesh of any kind but does eat eggs and dairy products. For her, this style of eating goes beyond health though; she’s passionate about the ethical and environmental impacts. “My family comes from Lebanon where a lot of meat is consumed. We could save all this food by just feeding people versus feeding animals for food.” Mona shares her story, including the “guilt” that’s been lifted from her shoulders since making the switch.

20 people, 20 stories of what healthy means for them in 2020.

My Healthy: Vegetarian

  • Name: Mona Beydoun
  • Location & Occupation: Masters Student and Writer in Michigan
  • How Long Being Vegetarian: 1 year

What does “healthy” mean to you?
Healthy means feeling strong and having the physical ability to live the life I want! 

For you, is health defined in relation to physical ability? 
I am very active. I like to do yoga. I work out four times per week and I go on a lot of walks. But honestly, I feel like prescribing what “healthy” means is not the best thing to do. For me, it means being able to work out often; being mobile; and generally feeling good like being mentally clear, positive, and happy. All of those things feel like healthy to me. 

One of my motivating factors to go vegetarian was I do have an autoimmune disease which is triggered by inflammation. I’ve heard that red meat can be inflammatory so I thought it would be okay to cut down on that. I am generally more plant-based. 

What eating style helps you feel your healthiest?
I’m a vegetarian and not vegan, so I do eat dairy, eggs, and honey. Because I’m a student, most of my dinners consist of rice and some kind of bean or stew. I make tons of stews — like onions and garlic with diced tomatoes, beans, and veggies. I eat a lot of roasted chickpeas with spices on top of rice. My husband and I love making homemade pizza dough from scratch, topped with veggies and cheese. We do a lot of Tex-Mex nights, so our nachos will have beans, radishes, peppers, corn, cilantro, and salsa. 

What were your goals when you made that change?
I didn’t want to support an industry that essentially tortures animals any longer. Before I first stopped eating meat, I was carrying around a lot of guilt. I felt like it would be too much work. But I was feeling so guilty every time I ate meat because I know what happens in the meat industry. I watched the documentaries and saw what animals go through, including their living conditions. Eating meat just didn’t feel right when I can get my nutrition and feel full without doing so. I didn’t have to engage in this industry just to eat dinner every day. 

There are also financial benefits to not eating meat. I get most of my protein from beans. And, a can of beans or bag of dried beans is very cheap; they can be as cheap as .89 to .99 cents per can. In contrast, a pound of ground beef can be $5 to $7 dollars. From a grocery bill perspective, I noticed I was spending a lot less on my groceries. And if you buy enough produce to eat each week and don’t over buy, it’s not that expensive. I do go to the grocery store often. My husband is a penny pincher and he loves to eat a steak, but even he recently said we can put off meat for a week to save money. 

Try a recipe: Bookmark These 10 Feel-Good Vegetarian Recipes to Make in the New Year

How did you move away from eating animals? What motivation pushed you on?
I spent a month with close family friends in Denmark who are all vegetarian. I saw the amount of creativity they put into their meals. They made lots of tarts. They had pizza nights. They were so creative with their food. I figured I’d just buy a vegetarian cookbook and work through recipes. I cooked from the Forks Over Knives cookbook and I used The New York Times Cooking site a lot. 

It felt really good to not have the guilt. It felt great to know I wasn’t harming these animals anymore. I know consuming dairy and eggs does affect animals and I do try to reduce that consumption. But generally, it’s felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. 

Credit: Shelly Westerhausen
Creamy One-Pot Butternut Squash Pasta with White Beans and Kale

What are you most proud of?
I am proud that I have replaced meat with whole foods instead of meat replacements. I have started incorporating more beans and veggies into my diet. And I’ve gotten really creative with my meals so I don’t get bored. I’m really proud of learning how to make tikka masala sauce from scratch. I eat it over tofu or chickpeas. I mash some of the chickpeas to get it slightly thicker. And then I serve it with cucumbers on the side and it’s really good. 

I’m really proud of the positive environmental impact of being a vegetarian. I take the current climate crisis very seriously and that was one motivating factor for giving up all meat. One thing that really resonated with me is when you raise animals to feed them to humans, you have to feed those animals a lot of food. If we could feed some of those plants to humans, we would be saving on the cycle. 

So what does keep you going? Lifestyle and habit changes are famously hard to make and keep. Do you have a secret?
I keep tons of vegetarian meal starters on hand (cans of beans, tofu, etc.). I am married to someone who eats meat so I try to make meals that can translate into something for both of us. If I make tikka masala sauce, I’ll make it in one pot and then pour half over chickpeas (for me) and half over cooked chicken (for him). By the way, cans of chickpeas have changed my life. Black beans and kidney beans need more work but chickpeas need very little. They’re super stars. 

What’s the one food you love the most?
Roasted chickpeas.

If you were to recommend a vegetarian lifestyle to someone else, what is the most important piece of advice you would give them?
I would say to try incorporating vegetarian meals into your life slowly. See what it’s like to shop for these meals, prepare them, and store them. I found that I had suddenly gone a month without meat when I first started experimenting and realized I just didn’t want to go back. 

Thank you, Mona! Follow her at @mona_bey on Instagram.

Some Resources if You’re Going If You’re Thinking About Going Vegetarian

My Healthy 2020: 20 People, 20 Healthy Choices

Every January people make changes to improve their health. But which ones actually make a difference? We’re sharing the stories of 20 people who changed their lives for the better and stuck — thanks to choices that are individual, diverse, and sometimes wildly different from each other. Read their stories here throughout January. We hope they inspire your own journey to finding your own, unique, individual healthiest 2020.