When I started at the York Dispatch five years ago, I ate meat.

I also wasn't married or a dad, but that's another topic.

Five years ago, I ate cheeseburgers and steak and chicken nuggets and anything else a York Countian usually eats.

Today is my last day at the Dispatch -- a bittersweet end as I move on to an exciting opportunity in the area -- and I'm leaving a vegan.

So in my last food column, I'd like to highlight the highs and lows of living a meat- and dairy-free existence here.

Low: Just a few years ago, you could count the number of palatable vegetarian and vegan options on one hand. That hand also likely was coated in butter.

High: York is no Philly. It's not even Harrisburg. But there are now enough options that a person can go sans-meat for lunch and not be stuck going to the same place. Just to reel off a few great newer options, there's Ladybug Bakery, Chipotle, Pita Pit and Qdoba. And Central Market has had more vegan options, too.

Low: It is still unusual to be vegan/vegetarian here. As my pediatrician put it, "In York County, vegetarian usually means you just eat chicken."

High: A Facebook group of York County vegans has formed, and they offer lots of great local options to check out as well as support. Because trust me, when somebody tells you they have a vegetarian entree for you for dinner and it's a side salad, you need support. Search Facebook for "YorkCoVegans."

Low: Watching restaurants try to offer something healthy and vegan, only to get a tepid response and cancel the item. I am quite sure this has never happened with a restaurant offering an entree with bacon on it.

High: Watching Ladybudy Bakery in the city blossom with its vegan options amongst the mainstream fare. I go there all the time specifically because they cater to my market. That, and I'm a sucker for cupcakes. If you stop by, tell them Andy Shaw sent you, only because I've always wanted to say, "Tell them Andy Shaw sent you."

Low: Receiving angry emails from readers convinced I hated farmers and, in all likelihood, America, because I've been advocating for a meat-free existence. In reality, I'm advocating for farming that produces crops rather than animals, which would, coincidentally, consume far less resources but produce far more food.

As Gandhi said, "The measure of a society can be how well its people treat its animals."

High: I've produced hundreds of articles during my time here, but some of the best reaction I've had has been about me writing about being a vegan. I thank you for all of that.

Oh, and for those wondering, yes, my son was born and he's doing wonderfully. I figured the best way to get another vegetarian in York County was just make one myself.

-- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com