Being a vegetarian has been a core part of my identity for the last seventeen years. I stopped eating meat when I was nine, after seeing a TV programme on factory farming. I had occasional slips until I was 13 and only learned about gelatine and rennet when I first got online at 16 (yes, I am old enough that my family didn’t have a computer until I hit my mid-teens), but vegetarianism has been important to me for more or less two thirds of my life – I’ll be 27 next month. I’ve never been a hardcore veggie zealot – many claims about the “right” way to eat are founded on some seriously dodgy science, regardless of whether the argument is for paleo, Atkins, vegetarianism, veganism, macrobiotics, raw diets – the list is a long one, and not all of those people who are so convinced that they have the answers can be right. I also don’t think that trying to guilt people into changing their eating habits works, and I’m not a fan of the campaigns which really lay it on thick. I don’t claim to know some universal truth about nutrition, I don’t presume that others must be stupid if they don’t think the same way as I do, and I don’t tell people that they are going to give themselves cancer. I wasn’t attracted to vegetarianism for the health claims anyway, it was an ethical decision. I was a sensitive little thing and couldn’t bear the thought of eating animals.
However, over the last few months I’ve slowly and reluctantly come to the decision that it would be a good idea to have a six month trial of eating meat again.
(pause to duck all those rotten tomatoes being thrown at me)
Yeah, I know. Believe me, I wouldn’t have chosen to do this if I didn’t have good reasons. Basically, despite having been at a healthy weight for almost two years now, my health is still fairly bad. Some of it I can blame on bad genetic luck and after-effects from the eating disorder, but only up to a point. As I said, I became vegetarian at nine. At nine I also developed problems with anxiety, depression and palpitations. I had always been a jittery and obsessive child and some of the escalation of this could be put down to what was going on in my life at the time – bullying, parental financial problems, my dog dying – but I also know that my physical health hasn’t been right since then either. My immune function is chronically low, as is my blood pressure. My blood sugar is wonky no matter how balanced my meals are, and my hormones are all over the place. My hair falls out too much. I have pin-prick spots all over my arms where blood vessels have started breaking for no apparent reason. My digestive system didn’t stop beating me up even when I cut out a list of allergens as long as my arm. I eat balanced meals, I don’t overdo desserts or sugary snacks, I barely touch caffeine or alcohol, I take a multivitamin and mineral tablet, extra B vitamins and evening primrose oil, I walk everywhere and my weight is healthy and stable. I have run out of other things to tweak.
My job has influenced my decision too. Spending time with people suffering from various age-related problems makes the damage my eating disorder did to me seem more real. Having weak bones and a dodgy heart at my age is terrifying when I think about the fact that 90% of the residents are between sixty and seventy years older than me. I have no real evidence that being vegetarian caused or exacerbated any of my other problems, but it’s certainly not cured them either.
Despite being on a tight budget I’m only going to eat free range, organic meat. My ethics can only stretch so far in the name of health. I do feel a bit guilty for putting my own interests before those of the animals, but it’s just six months. I’m not going to turn into a rampant carnivore either, I’ll stick to eating meat three times a week or so. If my health gets better my family will worry about me less and I’ll be more likely to be able to continue supporting myself financially (instead of going back to the sickness benefits…) and become a good counsellor. If nothing changes I can go back to being veggie and accept that my body is crocked up.
Whilst I accept that I will feel guilty, I won’t take abuse from anyone else. I’ve seen some of the comments lapsed veggie and vegan bloggers have received, and anything like that in response to this post won’t make it past moderation. If you’re friends with me and you’re that judgemental you’re probably not much of a friend, and if you don’t know me and you just want to abuse/patronise me I’m not interested. I don’t particularly want to do this, but it’s scary living in my body sometimes, and if there’s anything I can do to change that, I’ll give it a try. I hope people are empathic enough to accept that, but I’m hoping no one will have an issue since I’m not and never have been a specifically vegetarian or vegan food blogger – I’m just a random person who writes about different things.
Although I’ll never tell my dad, because he’d just gloat.