Thursday, October 04, 2012

On Not Being A Vegetarian Anymore


*I haven't found the right place to publish this piece, so I figured I might as well post it on ye olde blogge.

When I was 17 years old, I stopped eating meat. It wasn’t because I’d seen PETA2 stickers with illustrations of cute pigs platered on the stalls of the girl’s bathroom. It wasn’t because I’d read an offputting book like Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation (Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals hadn’t been published yet). It wasn’t even because I wanted to lose weight and chose to restrict my diet in an excusable way. No, it was because my best friend called me the evening to let me that she had decided to go vegetarian and tthat I should too. But instead of laughing it off and saying “Nahhh, I’m going to stick with meat! Sorry!” I decided I was up for a challenge, and agreed to it. My best friend’s vegetarianism lasted about two months – seven years later I was still saying no to edibles that had once been alive.

My first few weeks of vegetarianism were strange and unfamiliar. Never before had I restricted my diet, and I was forced to negotiate which items were “safe” to eat and which weren’t. Was it okay to eat the leftover Chinese food if I picked the chicken out of it? It was almost like having a food allergy to meat and I decided what risks were worth taking for the sake of getting fed. After one month I craved meat so badly that I asked my mom to go into McDonald’s and buy me a Big Mac so I wouldn’t have to go inside and face my friends who worked there suspect that something fishy (beefy?) was up with my diet. Eating a Big Mac was one of the single worst restaurant experiences of my life. It was soft, like sinking your teeth into carbohydrate-flavoured silly putty tasted so awful that my vegetarianism was cemented for the very, very long time.

A few years prior to my dietary switch, I was the terrible kind of picky eater whose mom was willing to cook a pepper steak for breakfast before school just to get me to eat. Not bacon and eggs, straight up steak. Even with such carnivorous tastes, it was strangely easy for me to forgo meat. After the Big Mac Fiasco of 2006, I didn’t miss it at all. As an only child, my parents didn’t have other siblings to contend with at mealtimes, so vegetarian became the standard. My dad started to purchase smoked pork hocks from the butcher and hoard them in fridge, slicing off hunks at mealtimes to supplement the paltry, meat-free meals he was forced to eat.

Eventually I went away to University, and nothing really changed besides my social life and alcohol consumption levels. By the time I moved into my own apartment with roommates, I already been a vegetarian for three years. I was an adept cook and feeding myself wasn’t hard. I shared food with my roommates and cooked a lot of delicious vegetable curries and homemade pizza. As an Environmental Studies major, I learned about the carbon footprint of meat production and learned new ways of justifying my diet to myself and others. I was healthy and maybe even happy.

But then I graduated University and realized I was no longer close with the people I once shared every single meal with. I could feel a sea change swelling up within me, even though we humans are already more than 60% water. I decided I wanted to be open to every opportunity and embrace all aspects of life, even something as small as opening a menu and being able to order anything I damn well please. I went to brunch at Lady Marmalade with a good friend and decided to order the eggs benedict with brie, avocado and bacon. The rest is history, I guess.

Now I linger at the deli section of the grocery store without feeling guilt. I can peruse through the sections of my Betty Crocker cookbook that remained previously unexplored. In the past month I have discovered $3 banh mi, eaten pork dumplings, prosciutto and ordered sandwiches at Tim Hortons that weren’t egg salad (I always hated egg salad). I am overwhelmed by the variety of options of food there are available in this world. But with all this freedom it is harder than ever to make a choice about what to eat for dinner.

For dinner tonight, I bought a rotisserie chicken and ate it with my bare hands. I felt like Fred Flinstone, a cartoon barbarian in a ragged leopard-print toga gnawing away at the fleshy carcass. But despite this obvious display, I felt a deeper more primeval urge come to life as I gnawed on bones and gouged dark meat out of the juicy crevices of the roasted bird. For the first time in years, I felt what it was like to survive. Obviously buying a rotisserie chicken is vastly different than raising, slaughtering, plucking and preparing a chicken on my own but I respected that chicken deeply, even though I chose to devour it.

They (scientists?) say that every seven years all of your skin cells completely regenerate and technically you become a completely new person. That is me today, in regards to both my skin and my newfound diet.

25 comments:

sioux said...

me too. i was vegetarian for roughly 12 years and started bringing the meat back 2 years ago.

sioux said...

me too. i was vegetarian for roughly 12 years and 2 years ago decided to bring the meat back. not to say i eat meat daily buuuuuut, well, i devoured a lamb burger tonight and fucking loved it (although, in all fairness, it may have had more to do with the goat cheese than the lamb).

Miss Sofie said...

I've been a vegetarian for three years now but I don't plan to stay meatless forever. I'll start eating meat when it feels right to do it again. So what you did makes sense.

Unknown said...

You "repect" a chicken that you ate? ...You can't respect something that you pay to be killed and cooked for your consumption. It's oxymoronic.
That is typical carnist language. I'm sure you've seen clips of animals being abused in factory farms. Who hasn't? But people just turn away in disgust. So if it's not good enough for your eyes, how is it good enough for your stomach? I just don't understand why people hear about animal cruelty in the meat/dairy/egg industries, and then just push it aside like it doesn't matter. And they just say "outta sight, outta mind" and move on with their lives. I don't think that's what life is about. I don't wanna support hate and violence, and I sure as hell am not going to consume it either. Especially when not doing so is unbelievably easy, healthy, and gratifying. But hey at least you feel like Fred Flinstone.

sonia said...

I was veg for 9 years and went back to eating meat in my 20's. I try to eat only meat that has been humanely raised and I do still sometimes feel as if what I'm doing isn't ethical. It's something I'm still struggling with and am mostly resigned to since my family is not veg and doesn't want to be...

Katrina Valentine Tracuma said...

What a shame is all I can say. And I totally agree with the comment from an unknown author above.

Luka said...

7 years eh? I think your math's off by a year if you started at 17. :P I only made it to 5 years myself. It always made things so difficult at restaurants, and not being an only child, it made meals in general lacking in balance. My first taste of meat in over 5 years was a Big Mac on a haggered New Years Day, and after that I haven't really looked at them with the same lusting eyes as I used to. Disappointment, thy name is Big Mac.

Charles said...

I enjoyed reading this, it was interesting, open & honest which is more than I can expect from most bloggers. Thank you! xx

Megacutegirl said...

@"Unknown" - You don't pay for the chicken to be killed and cooked for your consumption. You pay for the item. The chicken is killed and cooked long before the thought of eating a chicken even flourishes. It is an exchange of money for goods. There is nothing difficult to grasp there. Would you prefer that the product is created and then thrown out due to lack of demand? Psst, here's a secret: no matter how many people swear off meat to 'send a message' to food companies saying that meat ain't ok, they're still going to make it. You were never part of their target market anyway.

Remember, not all animal-based products are farmed in high-pressure, large-scale farming environments. How dare you even assume the animal products being consumed by anyone are of a particular calibre - all it does is show what a silly and close-minded person you are. I eat a small amount of organic, free-range meat from local farmers purchased at markets; same goes for milk and eggs. Same could possibly be said for a lot of people you otherwise brand "carnist". You don't have to consume "hate and violence" alongside products derived from animals.

Go educate yourself, speak to some local farmers, learn about rural economies and agriculture, and come back with a response that won't make me laugh at how stupid you are. Hurry!! I'm rolling my eyes so much I'm about to pass out

Carla said...

haha, don't you love the 'unknown' (too cowardly to put a face to their elitist vegan rant).

Also, unknown, you realise that most food you eat (meat or otherwise) comes from the labour of a living being. And indeed many of the clothes you wear, the plastics you buy, the shit you use every day. And many of those people are being exploited.

So perhaps when you start caring about people too and being as passionately arse-holish about that people will begin to take you seriously.

Isobel, I respect and understand where you are coming from. You're pretty cool and a pretty good person. Fuck anyone who thinks they have the right to tell you otherwise by berating you anonymously.

Jessica W said...

It takes a lot of courage to be open about leaving vegetarianism in a place with so many aggressive anti-meat activists (for the record, whom I respect, but get annoyed at regularly tbh). Ignore the comment above, what you put in your body is none of their business.
I've gone through spells of being a vegan/vegetarian, but the fact is, it's bloody restricting. I also have a hard time believing that humans aren't supposed to eat meat. There is no real evidence (I mean REAL evidence). Apes brains started developing when they started eating meat. It seems logical that, like thousands of other animals, it is s part of our diet.

The Lovelorn

Anonymous said...

i can't get fed wit out meat. you nerds are crazy.

deyna said...

I've never been a vegetarian and don't think I could ever give up meat completely.

I appreciate you sharing your story. I wish you well in your new found skin and life. :D

Jess said...

I've been vegetarian since reading 'Eating Animals' and I'm content with that choice. I know it's not my business but can I ask why you chose to eat meat again (despite your mentioning that you're aware of the environmental concerns of meat consumption)?

Xu Box said...

Wow, Isabel. Thank you for sharing that with us. I'm happy to hear that you're ok with eating meat again. It's a huge step to take.

I've recently started eating seafood and I was so drunk and hungry on Saturday night I ate a piece of chicken! Sometimes we attach so much of our identity to our diet it's traumatizing to not be able to identify yourself as "vegan", "vegetarian" or "omnivore". It's like you said once, food and diet are very personal things and can dictate a large part of who we are. The fact that you wrote about your experience says a lot about how you see yourself in relationship to food. This is a great post and it really opens up the dialogue for a great discussion on food politics.

To answer your question. I'm thinking of moving to Montreal before any other city because I want to learn French and do my Ph.D at McGill. Plus I know many people who have moved there for the music scene, and I'd like to explore that part of the culture in Montreal too.

Angie Bitchface said...

Every lapsed vegetarian I've ever known starts out with bacon!!

Madeline said...

I was once a vegetarian for a year when I was 14 or so...since having recently discovered a food intolerance I couldn't stand restricting what I can eat even more! It's too limiting, I have to eat something *sigh* so I totally understand where you're coming from with not being able to order anything

Anonymous said...

I'm a vegetarian and I can't imagine going back to eating meat, but it's true, you can never account for your future self.

For that reason it would've been really interesting if you went further into the reasons for your return to eating meat. I think it's an interesting question that I wish you'd explored more, especially since you noticed that switching to vegetarianism in the first place is so thoroughly accounted for. Unless you just changed your mind one day and that's all there is, which is fair enough I guess.

ktmo said...

@ Carla, that anonymous post was assholish to be sure, but to state that the ideas that revolve around caring for animal life and caring for human life are mutually exclusive is pretty fucking bizarre. Especially since humans are exploited grossly in the production of most meat and dairy products, not to mention the by product of suffering in the form of asthma, autism and other woes. I certainly don't fault Isobel, I think she's super bad ass, but nobody who disagrees with Miss Unknown is coming off any better or any wiser.

edgeindustrialphotography said...

interesting - but I think it really depends on the reason
someone becomes vegetarian.

mine was because I just couldn't bear the texture of meat
when I was eating it ... coupled with the realisation of what
it actually was I was eating. that was 12 years ago and that
feeling is just as strong now as it was then.

Anonymous said...

you remind me of winona ryder, i want to be your friend because youre so cool and smart. why is life unfair?

juliet said...

Isobel, it's totally your choice what you eat and what you don't.
I stopped eating meat 7 years ago and that's not because of animal cruelty, no, it is because it tastes like sponge. That kind of sponge you use for cleaning the dishes.
But that's just my opinion. I have friends who don't even eat cheese because it has no meat in it, but there are some who say I'm a bad person because I have eaten a fish finger last week (It's more of a love-hate relationship). Everyones diet is different and that's good.

juliet said...

*Isabel
I hate typing on my phone.

Anonymous said...

I'm a vegetarian, but not by choice. I dont care about animals or my diet, I'm just meataphobic. I can't be in a kitchen when its cooking or have it near me on the table. I have tried to eat meat and get over this, but I think ill be a veggie for life.

Mimi Benrazek said...

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