Every time I bit into a nice juicy steak, or had some bacon with my eggs, I used to say I had an image of hippies running around in Birkenstocks spray painting women in fur coats.

Now I am a vegetarian. How could such a hater like me have a change of heart? Well, it all started with a divine massage from a hot guy. One day over two years ago I went into have a massage, and ended up dating the therapist, an extremely in-shape guy. He told me he abstained from beef and pork, and I wondered why. He didn’t seem crazy, and he wasn’t wearing Birkenstocks. He recommended the book Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond.

I realized that I had no idea how food is produced and how our bodies digest it, a scary thought since I make decisions about what to eat multiple times every day. I found out that the Diamonds were vegetarians, and decided to head in that direction based on their nutritional know-how. I started by eliminating beef and pork, the two hardest meats to digest, from my diet. After a few weeks, I stopped eating chicken and fish. Finally, I stopped eating milk, a highly mucous producing food.

This would have been unthinkably difficult for me before I had done all this reading. But because I knew the whole picture, it wasn’t hard for me to say no to a piece of fried chicken. I knew the antibiotics and cruelty that had gone into that piece of chicken, and I knew it would take my body hours to digest, using energy with which I could have played tennis, done homework or made out with the massage therapist.

People always ask me why I’m a vegetarian and I give three reasons. Primarily, I do it for health reasons. Animal products are more difficult to digest than plant based foods, and they offer no nutrients that can’t be easily obtained from vegetarian foods.

We all think that the doctors and the government, with the USDA and FDA, are looking out for the health of American consumers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Doctors simply don’t know anything about nutrition since they receive only about three hours of instruction about it in medical school. They’re trained to help you when you have a heart attack from eating tons of burgers, not before. The government organizations that oversee the meat and dairy industries are in bed with these industries; lawyers and officials are working for industry one minute and the government the next minute.

The only thing that matters here is money; and the way to make the most money is to do whatever it takes (antibiotics, inhumane slaughter practices, etc.) to produce more meat and milk at the “quality” that consumers demand. Even if I were to eat meat, I would only consume organic meat or meats produced in a country like Argentina where cows eat grass, as opposed to a corn and antibiotic mush.

Secondly, I eschew meat for the environment. According to the U.N., the world’s livestock produces more greenhouse gas than all forms of transport put together. So you’d be doing more for the environment by becoming a vegetarian than you would by driving a Prius for the rest of your life.

And thirdly, I do think about the cruelty of the industry. Though we have humane slaughter laws in place, they are routinely broken in favor of speeding up the line, by producing more, faster to make more money. I feel for the animals who go through this, and also for the people who work in these slaughterhouses. There is an unusually high rate of alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence among these workers.

I don’t have a problem with meat eaters though. I was one before I found out about all this stuff. Most of the American public is ignorant with regards to food and it’s not their fault. The government and the doctors are supposed to protect us, but they don’t. Everyone in my family eats meat, though my mother has since gone organic.

My advice above all is not to become a vegetarian, though I think it’s a wonderful choice if you decide it’s right for you. Rather, find out about the food you put in your body. Find out how it’s produced, and how your body deals with it. Then you can decide what you want to eat.

By Sarah Wetenhall