Over the past years there has been an interesting trend towards increased meat eating. This might not seem like news to some of you, especially if you’ve always been meat-eater! But there has been a shift: many people choose to live their ethics by abstaining from meat and becomming vegetarians. But in the past few years many companies have responded to the demand for more humanely raised meat and/or natural meat offerings, which has allowed some vegetarians to justify the transition back to meat because their concern for animal welfare is not now as pressing at it was previously.
Most people understand (whether they acknowledge it or not) the current system of animal agriculture is unethical by any moral code: confinement, force-feeding, antibiotics, unsafe slaughter, and general health dangers to society because of this system. There are now many options out there for those that want to eat meat while remaining concerned about the welfare of the animals and the ecological impacts of industrial agriculture.
But there are other reasons people to return to eating meat, too. According to this article from Psychology Today, many vegetarians return to meat eating because of declining health. Many cite anemia, low energy, and general weakness. I’ve had many friends surrender vegetarianism in light of newly diagnosed soy or wheat allergies, which limit options as a vegetarian. Others simply say they miss the flavor of meat (bacon is usually the gateway meat). Still others say that it was a hassle to dine out or share family meals. This is not usually a problem with friends, and it has become much easier in the past ten years because of a general shift to healthier eating options; but I will reluctantly admit that my vegetarianism does sometimes strain the decision making process when trying to decide what to eat with the family.
Another trend is the adoption of a mostly-vegetarian-but-meat-eater-sometimes. This comes in many forms: some follow Meatless Mondays, cutting out meat just one day a week, while others eat like Mark Bittman: vegetarian before 6pm, and a meat-eater afterwards. The Paleolithic eating argument is also continuing to gain traction in the foodie community. Those eating a paleo, primal, or traditional diet (all are generally similar) include vegetables, fruits, nuts, and lots of meats and animal products while avoiding grains, sugars, and processed foods. Proponents of this way of eating claim that our primal ancestors lived this way and that our bodies are optimally designed for this type of eating. However, recent studies are contradicting this theory. According to this article, while our forebears didn’t eat the amount or type of grains that we consume today, they didn’t eat as much meat as we’d like to think, either. In fact, many arguments now state that our ancestors received most of their calories from plant foods and only a small to medium percentage from animal foods.
So what’s the ‘right’ diet for you? The truth is, there might be many styles of eating that will work for your body. If you think you might have a food allergy- often feeling bloated, gassy, or foggy-headed, check with a doctor and get testing for gluten, dairy, soy, or other allergies. Some people are happy, healthy vegetarians for 20 years (that’s me!), and others simply can’t be well without meat. Tune into your body, focus on your foods, and find what feels best for your body AND your ethics.
What about you- what’s your eating style?
Are you a long-time vegetarian or a newbie?
Are you a veg who has given up vegetarianism in favor of meat?
How have your politics changed as you’ve gotten older- or as the food system has changed?
Humans are a diverse bunch; and of course I can only speak from my own experience. But here’s how it looks to me: it depends on whether or not your internal schema shifts. When you have ‘the shift’ it’s like an awakening — eating veg just feels natural and right, and those old foods (like ground-up cow or salted pig) just look gross gross gross!
Once you’re at that point, internally… I don’t think you tend to go back. For me, it would be like saying, well, I went through a phase of not beating my child (or not eating neighborhood dogs, or not torturing cats, or whatever other things I find find disgusting and abhorrent)… but now I do it in moderation.
NOPE! Why on earth would I ever do that?!
BUT: if someone changes habits WITHOUT that world view shift, about the nature of our connectedness to other creatures, and about the intrinsic problems of optional violence in a culture of abundance… then the old food culture is still appealing, b/c it’s the easy thing — the socially accepted thing, the convenient thing, the (formerly) habitual thing, that may still feel familiar and comforting.
For myself, I crossed the plant-eater/ animal-eater divide 3 years ago, and have found it to be such a joyful and empowering experience that the chance of abandoning this, for me, is zero! Among my vegan and vegetarian friends, I can hear their voices change when they experience The Shift– not literally, of course, but the transition in how they talk and think about food and food culture is remarkable… there’s a fundamental difference between veggieness being part of what you do, and becoming part of who you are.
When your actions match you values, life is sweet; and once you taste that satisfaction, it’s addictive!
So, in sum, I think the answer to your question is… “Sometimes.” It just depends on how deeply your internal schema shifts — if only your habits change, you might not stay on the veg path. If your habit change leads (as it surely has for me) to a shift in schema, related to our relationship with the rest of the living world… not so much! I’d no mor eat bacon than I’d eat my cat; both are disgusting ideas, to me, and there’s absolutely no motivation or payoff in rejecting something I find joyful and satisfying in order to engage in something I find repulsive…
For anyone who’d like further reading on the psychology of meat eating (or the other side of the coin, veg eating), I strongly recommend Melanie Joy’s excellent book, ‘Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows.’
Thanks for the article — I always like to see other people thinking this stuff through. Because it matters, good people: it matters!
Thank you so much Tanya for your thoughtful and inspiring comment. I definitely agree with you- I am a devoted vegetarian not only because the idea of meat is gross, but because I realize that I am able to live my values of non-harm, sustainability, and peace everyday. I am actually always a bit surprised when people go back to eating meat or decide themselves to be ‘flexitarian-‘ I wonder what made them switch in the first place and what could possibility make them want to go back. This article was hard to write because even though many people return to meat and I think it’s important to encourage people to make their own decisions and I want to support them (because of illness, allergies, etc.) it hurts my heart just a little bit. aloha, A
I am not usually a commenter, but I would like to leave my input. I am a new “flexitarian”. I eat vegan during the week days and mostly vegetarian on the weekends. I do eat fish occasionally. I also don’t put strict limits on special occasions such as Christmas etc. It is what works forme.I cant ever see myself being a strict vegan. I do the best I can and that has to be enough.
Hi Kristin- Thanks so much for commenting! I think you are right in doing what is ‘enough’ for you- only you can make choices that work the best for your body and your lifestyle- and that differs for everyone. We have a few people lined up to write about their switch from vegan/vegetarianism to their version of flexitarian/omnivores/etc, and I am excited to see their perspectives. I definitely want to get some other opinions here on VWJ, as I am only one (vegetarian) person with my own perspective on this very personal, yet very contentious topic.
As a 36-year vegan activist, I’ve found that people that go vegan and start eating animals again do so due to focusing on themselves instead of the animals. The vegan diet is much more healthful than the vegetarian diet or the omnivore diet. The science behind this claim is shown in this lecture by Dr. Michael Greger (the first video in the list).