I am a vegetarian.
I haven't had a piece of bacon, a slice of roast beef or any kind of fish or fowl in the last 40 years.
Loving animals made it easy for me to give up eating them.
One day during our college days my brother told me he was going to give up meat. After viewing a movie about a slaughterhouse, I thought this would be the right thing for me to do, too.
But the following day my brother had a hamburger. I continued for ethical reasons.
I remember feeling much healthier after three months of meatless meals.
Now it's just a way of life.
Like any special diet it requires that you read labels.
That's not as easy as you might think.
Some labels might as well be in a foreign language because nothing listed is at all familiar.
Grocery shopping requires bringing a dictionary just to know what you're ingesting.
Titanium dioxide, carrageenan, disodium guanylate.
And how about natural flavorings?
What are these things and what is their source?
Animal, vegetable, mineral or possibly something else.
Foods like marshmallows and Jell-o seem OK, but they contain gelatin, which comes from animal bones, hooves and skin.
Going to a restaurant requires asking "does the soup have an animal base" or "is the pie crust made with lard?".
These questions usually result in the waitress scurrying off to the kitchen to ask the cook.
Sometimes the answer is... we don't know.
That translates to ... I won't order it.
Actually there are some pretty good plant-based substitutes.
There is the ever popular Tofurkey (faux turkey made with tofu, wheat gluten, soybeans and other yummy ingredients) that I bring to our family Thanksgiving dinner every year. Once in a while I can even get a meat eater to try it.
They usually scrunch up their mouth, shake their head no and go for the "real" turkey.
Soy dogs taste just like hot dogs or at least what I remember hot dogs tasted like.
You can't tell the difference (especially with mustard and relish).
A cheese or veggie pizza is just as satisfying as a sausage pizza ... although some might disagree.
And there are many Chinese food selections that don't require an animal to give up its life.
When I tell people that I'm a vegetarian they usually come back with a comment like, "I don't think I could do that" or "I don't eat red meat, I only eat chicken and fish." I guess they don't realize chicken and fish are living creatures, too.
Many even seem apologetic for some reason.
I'm not judging them but they feel compelled to justify their philosophies concerning their animal consumption.
Sometimes it turns into a mini debate. "The Bible says ..." "What would happen to all the animals if we didn't eat them?" "We are meant to eat meat."
According to Gallup, it's estimated that 5 percent of the U.S. population is vegetarian.
I believe if people knew how inhumanely these animals were treated there would be more people eating a vegetarian diet.
And that's one reason why it's important that we know what goes on at facilities where animals are raised and killed.
But maybe it's easier not to think about it.
There are several types of vegetarians. A vegan is someone who doesn't eat any animal products.
I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian, which is someone who eats no animals but does have milk products and eggs.
Writing this diary has given me the opportunity to revisit my convictions.
I tried going vegan at the beginning of this journey but after a month realized it was too difficult for me.
There weren't many food choices back then.
And since this is all about choices, I think I will try again to go vegan.
Besides, there are plenty of grains, fruits and vegetables to eat.
While there are heads of lettuce and potatoes have eyes, it still is easier for me to identify with the face of an animal than these vegetables.
But recently I have been hearing more and more about plants and their ability or inability to experience pain.
As I understand it, they don't have a nervous system or brain like ours, but they do have receptors that respond to stimuli .
They can respond to light, sound and some even respond to touch.
Obviously they were living at some point.
And this will give me something to ponder the next time I order a garden salad.
Joyce Mendelsohn came to the Post-Gazette from Sarasota, Fla., in 1979 as a photographer and currently is a photo editor (412-263-1173, jmendelsohn@Post-Gazette.com).