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.