Why and How I Became a Vegetarian (How it Also Changed Me)

National Headquarters  |  January 13, 2020

Op-Ed by Mark Ostrander
Edited by Dilber Shatursun

Tzu Chi USA in partnership with Living the Change will be bringing you stories of real-life journeys and struggles in reducing our everyday impact on the climate. You’ll find these accounts inspired by honesty, sincerity, faith, a deep love for the Earth, and the desire to embrace compassion – the way Living the Change seeks to engage every individual.

I became a vegetarian in the year 2012 after becoming a Tzu Chi Volunteer. While in training, I started out with Meatless Monday. After one week I increased to Monday and Wednesday with no meat. Within a month I was up to three days a week with no meat (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and at all Tzu Chi activities). Within three months, I became a full vegetarian. 

The training talked about the reason for being a vegetarian. The one thing that had a significant impact on me was a play at a Year-End Blessing Ceremony in San Dimas, California. The Tzu Ching youth team did a performance acting as animals that were being slaughtered for food. 

Watching the expressions on the performers as they were being slaughtered made me think about the animals as they are going to slaughter and the fear they must feel. This made me to not ever want to eat meat again.

Since I started with Tzu Chi, I learned about the environmental problems caused by stock raised for meat. I became an advocate with people I know and meet to becoming a vegetarian. I learned to talk about vegetarianism without being pushy and sharing why I am one. My friends show me their respect by having vegetarian dishes for my wife and I when we get together. Even at the company where I work, my colleagues make sure there are vegetarian dishes at their functions. 

The owner of the company, who is also my longtime friend, has reduced his and his family’s meat consumption. I had invited him to a Year-End Blessing Ceremony in San Diego where a video was shown about how much farmland is used to produce feed for livestock and how much water is used for livestock. He, being an engineer, had his doubts about the accuracy of the video, so he went into engineer mode and researched the claims. He was stunned by the results. He found out how much livestock production has increased over the last century and validated all the facts in the video. 

This is one reason he has reduced meat consumption and has also implemented recycling as part of the companies procedures. Others in our area have also reduced their meat consumption. 

The local restaurants know we are vegetarians and now have items on their menu that are vegetarian. Before, they did not.

The changes I have personally experienced are to my health. My eyesight has improved, and I look at all living things differently.

But, before becoming a vegetarian, here’s a little history on me.

I grew up in a family of fourteen children- me, being the oldest. Our meals consisted of very little meat as there were so many of us to feed. We grew a garden for some of our food. I preferred vegetables rather than meat as a young adolescent. It wasn’t until I became older that I ate more meat as I was doing more physical work by age thirteen. 

When I became a firefighter at seventeen, I ate more. While working on the fire line, we needed to consume 5,000 to 6,000 calories to maintain the physical demands on our bodies. This was a normal routine for the next 37 years as a firefighter. The challenge for me after retiring from firefighting was to change my eating habits from an irregular to a regular schedule and to reduce the amount of food I ate at meals.

After becoming involved with Tzu Chi I was able to change my habits. When I started to quit eating meat, it was a little difficult.

I thought I needed to eat meat until I realized I craved meat and the real reason was the desire in my mind.

Listening to Master Cheng Yen’s teachings (Wisdom at Dawn) helped me understand the root cause and to alleviate my desire, which is an affliction. 

The desire went away once I reached that realization, and thus I experience no craving. Many of the people I know who became vegetarian have told me that I would still crave meat as they still crave it themselves, and that they sometimes eat meat to quell their cravings (they are not Buddhist nor Tzu Chi Volunteers). To this date, I have not had any cravings and attribute the reason to Master’s teachings. I have also reduced the amount of meals I eat most times, with one a day to max two, as well as the size of my portions.

The teachings have taught me about mindfulness. That gave meaning to “have a mindful day” and the true meaning of gratefulness.

I encourage everyone to adopt vegetarianism to help reduce our footprint on earth and to reduce our consumption of resources for the better.

Learn more about Ethical Eating Day and Living the Change to see how you can make a difference.


Mark Ostrander – Contributor

Mark Ostrander is a Tzu Chi Commissioner. Tzu Chi has been a part of his life since his retirement from the Fire Service. Mark and his wife Lorrie have been active in many Tzu Chi activities. They follow Master’s Teachings and try to practice them in our daily lives.

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