Vegetarian FAIL

A year ago, I wrote a post called Why I try to be a vegetarian. I had just read J. S. Foer’s Eating Animals and I was convinced that eating meat was cruel, bad for the environment and unhealthy. I was determined to give up meat and no cow would block  my way to righteousness. A year later, I still agree with J. S. Foer’s philosophy, but I am as vegetarian as a hyena. What happened?

My body demands meat

It was easy to be a vegetarian the first months. I always looked for food full of iron, vitamins and proteins to make sure my body would get all it needed. I felt great: my weight was stable, I was healthier and had better digestion.

However, after 8 months or so, the vegetarian honeymoon was over. I started paying less attention to the variety of food I was eating. At the same time, it was winter in Switzerland, when you need more minerals, proteins and energy to survive the freezing cold and the snow. I was getting sick every 2 weeks. The 3rd time I went to the doctor, he told me I had an iron deficiency causing me to be weaker and more often sick. The only solution he suggested was to start eating meat again.

It is not the only solution though. The real problem for me is that being vegetarian requires extra effort and I am a bit lazy when it comes to food. To make sure your iron levels stay high, you have to eat more dark green vegetables and beans and take supplements. The supplements are annoying because you have to take them in the morning when you wake up and then wait half an hour to eat anything and an hour to drink tea or coffee- if you don’t just forget to take them, like I did half of the time.

So when I started paying less attention to what I ate and couldn’t be bothered taking iron supplements correctly, the meat cravings started. It wasn’t mere gluttony; my body really demanded the meat. After a long day skiing in the cold, for example, all I could think of was a big hamburger, with bacon in it. Nothing else would satisfy me.

Eating animals? Yes, please!

I love a good meal shared with friends and family. And when friends and family are not vegetarian, you can’t share food the same way anymore. Once, at a wedding, the hosts  had organised a special meal for Nick and me. From the start, we felt like pariahs at the table with our little green sign indicating we were the annoying guests requesting a vegetarian dish. Everyone asked us why we were vegetarian, where we were getting our proteins and so on. We patiently answered their questions.

When Nick saw the food served to the others, delicious smelling roasted lamb, his senses overwhelmed him and he quickly hid his green sign under his towel. Everyone laughed at his weakness. I laughed as well until a plate of dry pasta with 3 pieces of tofu on the side arrived for me. I ended up begging Nick for a share of his meal, disgusted by the tasteless food in front of me. Nick quietly accepted to give me a piece while everyone at the table gleefully called us called us fake vegetarians.

Obviously, this restaurant didn’t know how to cook a decent meal without meat. Vegetarian cuisine can be extremely creative and flavourful; meat isn’t needed to make a feast. But that day, eating my dry tofu while everyone else was exclaiming over how good their food was, I resented being a vegetarian.

I admire vegans who give up all pleasures on this earth to spare animal life. How can they resist milk-chocolate, crêpes and cheese? As a French woman, it is hard to be vegetarian because all our best specialties have meat in them- think boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, gigot d’agneau, etc.

To make things harder, Nick is from New Zealand where they eat lamb as if it grew on trees and the barbeque is an extension to the kitchen. So when I travelled there, I couldn’t resist all the temptations. Especially after seeing what a happy life sheep have in New Zealand, wandering freely around amazing landscapes.  The belief that they had a happy life takes half of the weight off my conscience when I eat them. Also, calories from happy sheep don’t count. That’s science.

Time to try harder

I wonder what I should call myself- A failed vegetarian? A recreational meat eater?

I never buy or cook meat so my kitchen is vegetarian- apart from rare bacon invasions allowed by Nick (“it’s more a spice than meat,” he would plead). Outside my house, I am not strict. If I am at a restaurant, especially in foreign countries, I allow myself a treat with meat every once in a while.

When I am exhausted or lacking iron, eating meat is the easy, lazy option. I need to start cooking lentils and broccoli more often and to take those supplements again. Then I’ll have  no excuse to eat meat.

I feel weak-minded and lame having eaten so much meat the past months, going against my decision to become vegetarian. I will probably never be a strict one but I owe it to myself to try harder.

15 thoughts on “Vegetarian FAIL

  1. I finally became a vegetarian for moral reasons but I was getting mad weak and my girlfriend was makin ribs at the time…fail…but hey the seed is planted. Great post…I am not alone.

  2. When I was a teenager, I was a vegetarian as well, but gave it up when I moved to the US for a year (… go figure…). Today, most of my diet consists of non-meat products, though I could NEVER go vegan as I love all things dairy. What I try to do though is buying “good” meat, coming from organic farms etc. I do the same with eggs. Looking at the way we humans are built, meat has been part of our nutrition forever and we’re equipped to consume meat (think incisors).
    Bottom line: I think you need to feel good about what you eat. If your food makes you feel like a bad person, you need to change something. For me, the organic approach is the right one. I’m sure you’ll find yours.

    • I like the organic approach as well and when I eat meat, it definitely makes me feel better if I know the animals were raised in a humane way… However, as J.S. Foer explains in “Eating Animals”, it’s never clear how even organic farms really treat and slaughter their animals.

  3. Perhaps instead of “being a vegetarian” you are “living a vegetarian lifestyle”? The distinction is between what you ARE and what you DO. You could also be a “sustainable eater” – assuming you agree with the principle that intensive livestock farming is bad for rainforests/land resources/the environment etc.
    …Or, you could just get back on the veggie wagon again. ;)

  4. I’m just in the middle of that book right now. It’s pretty horrifying. I actually got pretty worked up reading about the antibiotic immunity thing. I’ve been a vegetarian for 17 years, but it was never hard for me. I always hated meat and only ate it because my parents made me. For what it’s worth, I don’t do supplements, just eat a lot of fruit and veggies and legumes. If it’s something you really care about, you’ll get there in the end, but I think just cutting down on your meat is a fine step and one you can be proud of.

    • Yes, the book is horrifying, hence compelling. Good to know you’re healthy without supplements, you probably have much more experience than me after 17 years ;-).
      I do really care about eating as little meat as possible. The only thing is that I love the taste of meat and fish, which makes my decision harder to maintain every single day. Maybe I should read “Eating Animals” again to remember why I decided to become a vegetarian.

  5. I heard that if you eat every week twice fish and 2-3 times meat, you are fine! that way you have eaten max 5 times animal proteines in a week and divided your consumption by two. which I feel is not that bad :)
    J’en profite pour te dire que je vais à Londres ce week end (parce que Amir part de làbas pour aller à un séminaire, je t’expliquerai). Bisous à vous deux et à bientôt sur skype j’espère :)

    • Huh? Eating meat and fish 5 times a week is reducing your consumption by 2? Do you mean that the normal thing would be to eat animals at ALL meals?!

      I think that we don’t *need* to eat meat. Proteins and iron can be found elsewhere. I didn’t eat meat for about 6 months in a row and I was absolutely fine. Even healthier than before… as long as I made sure to eat enough food variety to get all the nutrients I needed ;-)

  6. Ha! Flakeyvore is funny! But it is not very flattering. Green-eater sounds better but it only addresses part of the problem… We need to come up with a better word!

  7. I think the word depends on how you present yourself. If you say “I’m a vegetarian, but…” then lamertarian or flakeyvore or something better which I’ll come up with later seems appropriate.

    The word I stumbled across a while back which seemed to fit with the deliberate but still realistic approach of ‘eat much less meat’ was ‘green-eater’. Which is also kinda lame but at least that one’s not mine :-)

    Oooooh, I came up with a better one! Pledgeatarian: Someone who keeps promising themselves and everyone else that they’re going to be a vegetarian but always fails to follow through.

  8. I want to invent a new word for this low-meat diet as well. I don’t avoid meat at restaurants, I don’t even avoid meat at home, but compared to my US-life intake, I’d be a relative vegetarian. :)

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