by Gary Gaston

Eighteen months ago I made a serious commitment that raised the eyebrows of even my closest friends; I became a vegetarian.  It was totally unexpected, the type of thing one does after a drunken dare, or perhaps a deeply religious experience.

I had just spent the weekend with Dan Mathews, a sort of Gandhi to the animal rights world.  Dan is a head honcho at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and is famous for coming up with some of the non-profit’s brilliant ad campaigns, including the ubiquitous 'I’d Rather Go Naked than Wear Fur' series.

I met Dan one evening at Tribe in Nashville and instantly fell for his laid-back and quirky nature.  He’s easy to look at too, and at six foot five inches, the former model is difficult to miss in a bar.  We managed to keep in touch over the years and last summer he emailed me with the news that he would in town promoting his new book, Committed: A Rabble-Rouser’s Memoir.  The often laugh-out-loud tale describes Dan’s coming-of-age as a gay vegetarian.

In hindsight, it is shocking to me that I did not become a vegetarian earlier in life.  Throughout college I had numerous close friends who were either vegetarian or vegan, but no one ever pressured me into joining ranks.  In fact, it was as if they purposely avoided trying to impose upon me their ideals, and thus, I continued in my carnivorous ways.

Dan didn’t pressure me either, but through our conversations, I was inspired to visit PETA’s Web site shortly after his departure.  In less than an hour of watching movies shot by undercover PETA operatives of the sickening conditions at US factory farms, I converted.

Converting might be an overstatement of sorts – I committed.  PETA makes it easy to try out the vegetarian lifestyle by offering the 30-day vegetarian challenge (  If you sign up, they will mail you a free starter kit, complete with recipes and tips for veggie new timers. The first 30 days proved to be easy and fun, a mixture of novelty and desire to complete the task at hand.  After seeing the results from the trial period, I decided to continue the experiment.

For me, the commitment was a combination of the ethics of animal cruelty and the healthy aspects of leading a vegetarian lifestyle.  But truthfully, it was the promise of weight loss that initially hooked me. 

Honestly, I am a little bit vain.  After turning 30 I had noticed, with increasing alarm (and perhaps denial), an unwelcome development around my waistline.  Try as I might, I could not seem to conquer the weight gain witnessed by my increasingly tight pants.  But after every month as a vegetarian, something remarkable happened; each time I stepped up to the scales a few more pounds had disappeared.  Now, 18 months later, the results have been truly astonishing!  I have lost 20lbs, and I feel amazing.

The most important aspect of insuring success lies in thoughtful meal preparation (a diet of potatoes and pasta isn’t going to cut it).  I joined a CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture) to get access to the best locally grown organic vegetables each week, and discovered that the number of convincing meat substitutes available at any specialty market is truly inspiring. For me, the process of preparing meals has become part of my overall enjoyment of food.  I strive to find ways to produce meals delicious enough for my non-vegetarian friends to love as well.  And while it is true that creative planning and a love of cooking are integral to achieving the desired results, it also helps from time-to-time that Burger King offers a pretty amazing veggie burger combo. 

As I move forward into the future, I have decided that I am going to be different than my vegetarian friends were in college.  I am going to spread the secret; vegetarianism is a great thing!  Now go try it – you’ll thank me for it. 

Gary Gaston is the Design Studio Director of the Nashville Civic Design Center and serves on the Mayor’s Green Ribbon Committee.  He lives with his partner and dog East Nashville.

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