Today I’m talking about why I gave up eating meat and how I became a vegetarian, which was a huge (and somewhat recent – I stopped eating meat at the end of 2019) life change for me. I promise: this is NOT a super gross, scary, and persuasive post written to convince you to put down the bacon!! This is just my story.
Childhood and Dead Animals for Dinner
I think I always wanted to be a vegetarian. When I was a kid, I would look down at my dinner plate and ask my poor Mom, “what kind of dead animal is this?”
My Mom was always hesitant to answer, for fear I’d be grossed out, but she was truthful and would say, “pig” or “cow”. Apparently I’d nod and go back to quietly eating. I was trying to make sense of “pork” and “bacon” and “ground beef” because those didn’t sound like animals to me and I was confused as to which meat was which animal. I wanted to understand my food source better but, if I had my preference, I always liked my meat to look as little like an animal as possible. I was okay with eating bacon and meatballs, but a t-bone steak grossed me out. Anything with bones and tendons was so off-putting to me. My maternal grandparents loved that kind of thing though, and were horrified when I’d barely pick some meat from a chicken wing and put my bones in the communal bones bowl (barf) at the center of the table – they’d pick my scraps back out and suck all of the tendons and stuff off.
Ugh, some dinners were rough as a kid.
But I was raised to eat what was on my plate – bone in or bone out. My family didn’t negotiate. There were no “please just eat one more piece of broccoli” kind of indulgences I watched my much younger cousins afforded. I had to eat it all or I couldn’t leave the table. Unfortunately for the adults, I have always had a strong personality and incredible will. I distinctly remember one night when I wore my poor mother out. I can’t remember how long she stayed at the table with me, begging me to finish my dinner, but she eventually gave up and I was allowed to leave because it was bedtime already. I had sat there for hours and hours. I’m not sure what it was that I refused to eat, but I bet it was probably something with bones.
It Wasn’t Wolf Meat After All
If given the choice, I would have preferred to skip most meat dishes but I didn’t have a choice, and meat became an accepted part of my diet. I stopped asking about dead animals. My line of questioning had made me the butt of many jokes anyway. There was a kind of deli meat I enjoyed, because it was dry and salty, and my maternal grandfather told me it was wolf meat. I believed it. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I learned the truth. Hubby and I were visiting my grandparents and I told hubby, “that’s weird, it’s wolf meat, but it’s really good” and my grandfather dissolved into peels of laughter and confessed that it wasn’t actually wolf meat. I think it was just some kind of dried pork. Everyone thought it was hilarious I had been convinced so easily – and for so long. But it did not seem weird to me that we were eating “wolf” (we weren’t), because why is that less weird than pig, cow or turkey? All meat was weird to me, so I wasn’t shaken by an “unusual” meat source – I’d learned to eat it all. When I actually thought about it (so I tried not to think about it), all meat seemed gross to me. So I didn’t understand the joke.
“No Meat, No Me” – Cooking Meat as an Adult
Despite my reservations, by the time I moved out of my childhood home eating meat was really ingrained in me. My family had framed “meat and veggies” as the healthiest meal possible. Lots of weight loss diets did too. I went on numerous low carb/high protein diets and, motivated by weight loss and “health,” forced myself to touch raw meat and cook it for dinner. Those first few years of preparing meals were rough – I tried so hard to flip meat into a pot from the wrapping, without actually let it touch my skin. But I became a good cook – I had a steady rotation of meaty meals. There was a cat treat commercial airing at the time that said, “No Meat, No Hubert”. Hubby would joke, “No Meat, No Me” when I made dinner. For over a decade, I cooked meat for us and modelled my meals after those that had been served to me all my life. I even started asking my maternal grandma (the bone picker) for her recipes and worked those into our rotation, with one exception: I always bought de-boned meat. I preferred chicken breast, ground turkey, and anything else that didn’t look like it came from a carcass. I even shared some meaty recipes here on the blog!
Meatless Mondays & The Build Up to My Breakdown
Throughout all of this, I struggled with my meat consumption and concerns over animal cruelty. I’d see a truck ahead of me on the road, with pig snouts poking out, and I’d have to pull my car over and cry. Counter-intuitively, I suggested that hubby and I get into hunting with his buddies. I thought if we were going to eat meat, maybe we should get “closer to the land” and save the animals a life in captivity and that sad, traumatic trip to the abattoir. I just figured that with hunting, at least the animals wouldn’t live in captivity and die a slow painful death. We could ensure it was swift and painless! But for someone who looooooved meat so much, he wasn’t game to get in there and kill and gut an animal himself. When that plan failed, I started to read about the environmental impact of a meat-loving diet on the planet and I proposed “meatless Mondays”. It saved us money and was good for the planet, so hubby didn’t complain – and I was relieved because it was one fewer raw meat handling day, which was a relief. Meatless Mondays really planted the seed for my big life change.
The last time we visited hubby’s mom, I noticed that hubby’s grandpa’s wife, formerly a vegetarian, had started eating meat again. She was the only vegetarian I knew and years ago I’d asked her why she didn’t eat meat (ethical reasons). I was so curious back then, so I was equally curious when I saw she was eating meat again. Hubby’s mom had been raising cows and chickens and making her own cheese and everything – a lovely little homestead. She told me that the animals are thanked for their life and killed swiftly and so it was a better method, and that’s why a former vegetarian had converted back to being an omnivore.
It was the same logic I had used when I wanted to get into hunting, but I blurted out without thinking, “given the choice, I don’t think animals want to be eaten”.
I hadn’t said it to antagonise anyone, it had just tumbled out of my brain. Everyone glared at me. I ate the meat we were served that night, but something clicked for me.
I really, really didn’t want to eat meat anymore.
For a short time after that epiphany, I started buying more locally raised meat, and hoped small scale farms treated their animals with more kindness. But it didn’t soothe that nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was going more and more meatless when we got the chickens. At first I was dead set on eating them if I had to, but in the end, as you know, I could not. I couldn’t even bear to give my roosters to anyone else who wanted to eat them. I eventually stopped eating chicken completely. I could no longer reconcile the death of some chickens with the love I had for my chickens. Shortly after giving up chicken, I couldn’t bring myself to eat any meat at all.
Out grocery shipping with my Mom in the fall of 2019, I broke down in the meat aisle and started crying over the rows and rows of flesh. It was awful. Actually having farmyard animals in my backyard really put things into perspective for me and clarified my feelings. After that breakdown, I just stopped buying meat. Even though I’d been cooking more and more meatless meals, a permanently meatless existence felt daunting (what would hubby eat? would we get enough protein? will I gain weight?) – but also very, very comforting.
Officially a Vegetarian!
After my grocery store breakdown, I officially (and finally) decided that I wanted to give up meat. I didn’t want to eat less, or be half in/half out. I didn’t want to cook it or eat it or look at it anymore. I thought maybe I’d make allowances if someone invited us for dinner and served meat, because I didn’t want to be “that person” who needs a special menu. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. But once I made the decision, I quickly realized that I didn’t want to eat meat again, for any reason at all. Once I fully committed, it was an easy choice for me and it felt really natural.
I think it’s what I had wanted all my life, ever since I asked about the dead animal for dinner, but I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do it for various reasons (and people).
2020 was entirely meatless for me and I have no regrets. I feel good about reducing my personal environmental impact a little, and I feel really, really good about no longer eating animals. In my limited experience, even chickens have complicated little personalities. They are not alike. Some like sunflower seeds, some don’t. Some like to be pet, others hate it. Their personalities change when they suffer trauma. They were all raised the same, and yet they’re all different and I just can’t eat something with a personality. I’ve seen them behave when under attack and now I know for sure that they want to live. Worse, they mourn the loss of their chicken companions. Remember my pair of silkie chicks? When one died, the healthy chick kept nudging her and snuggled up to her while the sick one was alive, but once she passed the healthy chick laid beside her and cried. There’s no other word for it. It broke my heart.
Everyone who knows about my becoming a vegetarian has asked me why, and that answer is quite obviously evaluated. If I say it’s for environmental reasons (which is part of the reason), people nod approvingly and share their own “meatless Monday” stories. I guess that’s a socially acceptable reason.
If I say it’s because I started to keep backyard chickens and learned that they have complex little personalities and want to live, and I can no longer eat an animal knowing this, people scoff and treat me like an idiot. I’m not an idiot, I actually have a PhD so don’t be surprised that I’ve also done a lot of research to back up my anecdotal evidence. New research supports the idea that animals are more complex, socially and emotionally, than we previously realised – or were willing to realise. Some studies suggest that cows have the capacity to react emotionally (this is an interesting article about cows too). It’s just in the best interests of the meat industries to keep that information from people. It’s also in the best interest of meat eaters not to think about it – it’s more comforting to reject the idea of the animals we eat being a lot like the dogs we cherish, and write people like me off as overly emotional. I totally understand this, I did it for three decades.
I don’t care if people think I’ve become overly emotional. I don’t care about people’s opinions about me in general, lol. I just want to make decisions I feel good about and be at peace with my life choices.
I’m still learning about vegetarian cooking and making sure we get enough protein from other sources, which turned out to be easier than I realised – and way less expensive. Some days I think about going vegan, but I really love cheese so I try to shop more “ethically” and buy more of my dairy products locally. I pull my car up to the rural dairy and look at the cows grazing. They seem to be well cared for, but then I read about the terrible things that happens to dairy cows and I waiver. I have at least given up cheese that has rennet (although sometimes I forget to check), along with marshmallows and jello – things with gelatin. I might just go vegan one day – I already haven’t drank milk in many, many years (I prefer almond or oat “milk”) and I also don’t buy commercial eggs anymore, because I have my backyard chickens, but also because chickens are notoriously abused and mistreated, often confined to tiny spaces.
Worse, when a hen is “spent” and doesn’t lay profitably anymore, she’s killed. Because they are my pets and I can afford to keep them, my hens will be allowed to grow old and be useless. I have failed many times, but I try my best to keep them safe and happy. So I’m sort of leaning toward some vegan choices, but cheese and yoghurt are my weaknesses. Oh – and honey! I really rely on honey in my tea when I don’t feel well and it cures a sore throat like nothing else.
Outside the kitchen, I’m re-focusing on the products I buy and trying to support cruelty-free and vegan brands and companies. It’s a learning process and I’m slowly educating myself. Growing up, I was not allowed to shop at The Body Shop because the brand was against animal testing and my household was pro animal-testing but now I shop for cruelty-free and vegan makeup and skincare products. I am making mistakes and I’m sure many of my actions are contradictory. I’m trying not to be too hard on myself because this is my own journey, not a set of hard and fast rules I need to follow. But it’s a struggle to unpack my long held beliefs.
For example, for so long I viewed leather goods (shoes and purses) as better quality and therefore more sustainable. When we emptied her closet, my late maternal grandmother still had leather bags and shoes from the 1960s that looked pristine, meanwhile I blew $1000 on a faux leather sofa, back in 2007, that peeled after a few years. I could barely give it away for free, and I’m sure it’s buried deep in a trash heap by now. I eventually replaced it with a secondhand leather sofa that we enjoyed for years and were eventually able to sell for almost what we paid – the leather was pristine and I’m sure that sofa is still being lounged on somewhere. When it came time to invest in a sofa for the lakehouse, I bought leather again and it’s been easy to clean and still looks brand new. I used to joke that “vegan” items were just a way to charge more for cheap, synthetic materials – and cheap synthetic crap is something I’m trying to cut back on more too.
So what do I buy now, that leather isn’t an option?
My solution has been to not buy anything, lol. Shopping vintage and secondhand is an easy answer, and something I already do, but I’ve never thrifted shoes and I am not sure I want to go there. Luckily I haven’t needed to buy much this year – I bought boots in 2019 and my only option was pleather anyway, so I haven’t had to make this decision since becoming a vegetarian. I have continued to use my previously purchased leather goods – no sense wasting them! And I turned down lucrative brand collaborations with multiple companies selling leather goods. So I feel okay about my choices so far, but I figure that with anything like this, eating healthier or trying to save the planet, small steps are better than no steps, and missteps are bound to happen. Even meatless Mondays had a positive impact, so giving up meat entirely, even if I eat my vegetarian meal on a leather sofa, is better than not doing it all. (As a fun fact: I actually used to work at a leather goods store when I was in University and all of the leather was a by-product of the restaurant industry, which always made me feel better.)
Do I Miss Meat?
I think the number one question will be: do I miss meat? Very rarely. But I only miss terrible-for-me meat, like Hungarian salami. But there was one time I thought I might die of hunger because I’m a vegetarian. As volunteer fire fighters and first responders, Hubby and I (and the rest of our team) were asked by another municipality to help with a large factory fire earlier this summer and we were on scene until the wee hours of the night (we got home 4:00 am). We’d been sailing all day and on our way home when we got the page, so we headed straight there (we always have our gear in the truck) and helped with what we could. Everyone was starving and at one point pizza came and it was all thin crust pepperoni – my former FAVE. I was absolutely faint with hunger and drooling from the smell, but I didn’t waiver. Now I put protein bars in with my bunker gear because everyone on the fire team is a certified meat eater, lol, and I don’t want to faint on the job! That was the only time I really felt myself close to giving in and eating meat.
More recently, I was visiting someone who was cooking meat – it was the early stages, when it’s still raw – and the smell made me feel like throwing up. I was surprised by the visceral reaction I had, but I had to immediately leave until the meat was cooked and the smell was gone. It was absolutely disgusting! So I think it’s safe to safe I will likely be a vegetarian for life – I don’t think I can go back.
Does Hubby Still Eat Meat?
I know people will also ask: Hubby still eats meat because he eats 50% of his meals at work – his work provides them, buffet-style – and he said it would be impossible to be a vegetarian there. But he has cut back a little at work, but at home he eats no meat. He recently told me he doesn’t even miss it at home. I do admit that I have made him feel guilty though (making little mooing sounds when we pull up to a drive through), so he’s been ordering veggie burgers with me if we eat fast food. At first I kinda thought I’d still cook him meat, but I can’t – it’s too gross now. Being near meat makes me feel physically ill now and I didn’t know I’d start to feel that way. So this is a meatless house, but I am still an awesome wife: I’m fun, I’m kind, it was my idea to get our bright green Chevy Camaro, so Hubby still loves me 😉 lol. Okay but seriously, I am so grateful that he’s been so chill about me unilaterally making this huge life change that impacts him too. It means a lot to me. He gets a little panicky when I talk about giving up cheese though…
That’s my story and it’s still taking shape, but for the first time ever I feel like I’m making decisions about my food because of what I want to eat and what I think it right, not what other people want me to eat or do. It’s also the first time I’ve ever changed my diet for a reason that wasn’t weight-loss motivated. It’s so embarrassing that when I started telling family, they all just assumed I was doing it for weight-loss – I’ve been a life long dieter and after losing 50lbs. I gained lots back, so when I stopped eating meat the assumption was that it was a new fad diet. I have not lost weight, but I did something that feels “right” for me, so it feels like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders (not the same, haha, but still feels good).
I was really… cautious writing this because it’s a polarising issue and I didn’t want to come across, or to be interpreted, as preachy or annoying, but I did want to honestly share my reasoning behind my choice and how I became a vegetarian. This journey has been full of twists and turns for me and it took more than three decades for me to get here!
Hopefully I can inspire someone, in some small way, to make a change – any change – that results in feeling at peace and happy, because that’s where this journey led me. I feel really good about myself and my choices and that’s a beautiful feeling. I’m happy to answer any questions (although I’m far from being an expert), but please feel free to ask away!
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