The question I got for six years: “Why are you a vegetarian?” The new question I’m getting: “So why do you eat meat…now?”
Until a couple weekends ago, I’d been a vegetarian for nearly seven years. SEVEN. Actually, I was technically a pescatarian for the majority of the time (which means I still ate seafood but no land or air animals). Occasionally I’d feel pangs of guilt toward sea creatures, though, and would stop eating them, too, but that never lasted long. (I really love sushi.)
Most people didn’t care about my lack of meat-eating — except for friends and family in the Midwest who loved to give me a hard time about it. My paternal grandparents made their living off a pig and livestock farm, for crying out loud! So I was basically an alien to everyone up there.
No one else seemed to mind, though, even my Texan, hunting-loving boyfriend. So when I came to the decision to give up vegetarianism about two weeks ago, I made the choice myself, without outside influence. And — this might seem silly — it was really hard.
I stopped eating meat the day after Thanksgiving when I was a junior in high school after a conversation with my brother’s then-girlfriend about her refraining from eating meat products. She told me it was weirdly easy for her to give up, which made me think, Maybe I can do that. I’ve always been a crazy animal lover (can you tell?), and didn’t eat meat too often to begin with, except for occasional burgers or bacon or chicken. I figured it was okay to not be eating most of those foods, anyway, so I quit meat cold turkey.
Except for the first month — when I’d have days I REALLY wanted an In N’ Out burger — it was mostly easy for me to stop eating meat. Sure, certain things would smell good, but never good enough for me to need to try them.
I’ve also always had issues with self control around food, too, so I think this was a way for me to taper certain cravings in a healthy way. Instead of ordering the cheeseburger and fries at a restaurant, I had to get the vegetable dish. It was a dietary restriction that didn’t feel too much like a restriction. After all, I could still have ice cream or cheese or bread — you know, all the important nourishments. (We won’t go there with the one time I tried veganism, which ended tragically quickly after two days of torture.)
For once, I had to choose animal-friendly options and consider what I was putting in my body more than I ever did before. Did I have enough protein today? Is this going to keep me full long enough? After a while, I had a routine down, and it was fine. Great, even. It worked well for my life for nearly a decade, but like many routines, it began to get boring.
My boyfriend will tell you I’ve been boycotting any kind of baked, sautéed, or pan-cooked fish for a couple months now. (I think it’s annoyed him since he only had so much to work with when making dinner with me — and I chopped out most of our options by refusing fish.) I’m honestly just tired of it! I still like seafood, but for easy, nutritious weeknight meals, I was running out of ammo. You can only eat baked salmon so many times.
And so, slowly, a few months ago, the idea of eating meat again crept up on me. At 24 years old, I feel more secure in my health habits than I did at 17. I no longer feel like food controls me like it did when I became vegetarian.
And, like everyone, my palette has changed. Things like a chicken salad, which I used to feel indifferent about not eating, now looks freaking amazing. Don’t even get me started with the smell of bacon. (Things other than meat have become alluring in the past few months or year, as well, like olives… Just so we’re clear I haven’t become this ravenous, meat-craving freak or anything.)
But even though my food attitude has improved, and my palette is different, there was still the whole guilt thing to approach. When I told John I started considering eating meat again, he got so excited and asked if he could make my first meaty meal in celebration. That made my stomach turn. I know he was just being sweet: He loves to cook, and I’m sure he’s dreamt about a day when I might eat meat again. But for me, I didn’t want to celebrate my failure of saving animals! (I understand that one person being a vegetarian does little to save animals or negate cruel slaughterhouses, but still, guilt is guilt, and I had it big time.)
I’m still wrestling with that part of it, but for now, I plan on eating grass-fed, ethically-raised, pasture-raised, organic, hormone-free (you get it) meat. At least as much as I can help it. I don’t see myself eating meat at many restaurants, either, unless I know it’s a place that really cares about the quality of its fare. (Side note: if anyone knows the best grocer to get the most ethical and pure meat, please let me know! I’ve only hit up Whole Foods so far.)
There you have it: my weird, entirely too-long story about going from a longtime veggie to a full-blown carnivore, with standards. I’ve had a lot of questions about both choices — the choice to become a vegetarian way back when, and now, the choice to not be one — but if there’s anything I didn’t address, please reach out! I’m happy to answer and open a discussion in the comments below (or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org).