My Severest Judge When I Abandoned Vegetarianism

This time last year I was struggling to decide if I was willing to make a dramatic change to my diet for health reasons. After 23 years as a vegetarian, I was considering eating meat. I’d been getting signals from my body and from health professionals that this was a change I should make, but it took desperation and a gentle suggestion from a friend before I was willing to even think about changing my ways.

As soon as I started thinking about eating meat, I was filled with fear. What would other people say? I know many vegetarians. My sister has been vegetarian even longer than I have, and I know she stopped eating animals for ethical reasons. I was terrified of telling her, or anyone for that matter.

I imagined everyone I talked to would look like this. (Judge Doom by Me2)
I imagined everyone I talked to would look like this. (Judge Doom by Me2)

I lost sleep worrying about the reactions other people would have when they heard my news. I expected the vegetarians to brand me a traitor, and the meat-lovers to laugh and say, “I told you so.” (Everyone who has ever tried a vegetarian diet has gotten the “you need more protein” lecture at least once.)

But I greatly underestimated my family and my friends.

My sister was completely supportive. Without so much as a hint of judgment in her tone, she said, “You have to take care of yourself.” When I complained that I didn’t want to eat animals, she asked me if I hated my dog for eating meat. I don’t of course. Dogs are carnivores. They need to eat meat to be healthy. “So don’t hate yourself,” she said, much clearer than I was on who was really judging me for making this change.

When I told my friend who has been vegetarian her entire adult life that I was eating meat and feeling great, I burst into tears. She consoled me by sharing her own goal: to be thoughtful about consumption and to do everything she can to reduce waste. Her understanding helped me reframe my own thoughts about my actions and to start looking at the things I could do while eating meat that were still in line with my principles.

Even those I felt sure would be dancing on the grave of my vegetarian past were kind and loving in hearing my news. If they gloated, they never did it where I could hear them.

It turned out there was only one person whose judgment of my behavior was going to be truly severe. That person was me.

As I wrote in my journal just days after I started eating meat again:

As much as I fear the opinions of others, I should be worried more about my judgment of myself. I am the one with the iron fist that cracks bones and draws blood. I hurt myself more than anyone else does.

And I was right. Even now, when I tell the story of my conversion from vegetarian to meat-eater to a friend I haven’t seen in ages, he or she listens with compassion and interest. I’m the one seething with emotion about how I have betrayed my own beliefs.

I’m no longer afraid to tell others about the change I’ve made because there is plenty of evidence that this diet is much better for me than any version of vegetarian diet I ever tried. But I still feel guilty and even defensive when I see a photo of a lamb or calf with a caption that says we shouldn’t eat our friends.

I now know that it’s not the photo or the slogan but the voice inside me that is making me uncomfortable. I’ll have to keep working on accepting that this change isn’t just a necessity for me. It’s a valid way to live.

4 thoughts on “My Severest Judge When I Abandoned Vegetarianism”

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with this. Responsible and sustainable is definitely my goal. It means educating myself and extra work when I plan meals and shop, but it’s worth it. Thanks for your comment!

  1. I am a dialysis patient. Dialysis robs the body of protein, so we are required to eat a lot of the stuff, and animal sources provide the best protein for dialysis needs. While I have never been a vegetarian, I respect the lifestyle, whether it be chosen for health or for ethical reasons. For myself, like you, my health requires that I eat meat. I empathize with your dilemma, but, as your sister said, you have to take care of your own health. I wish you the strength you need to carry on with your new diet and to accept your needs as valid, and not as a betrayal of your beliefs. You can still work for the betterment of our animal friends while needing to eat meat; that doesn’t make you a hypocrite.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Tammy. I know there are lots of people who need to eat meat to be healthy, but I didn’t realize dialysis patients fell in that category.

      One of the things that always gets me is the vegetarian propaganda that assumes that eating meat is a choice. I suppose literally it is: I could still choose not to eat meat. But I know how unhealthy I am when I do that. So I can either eat animals or be unhealthy and I think I’m more likely to fulfill my purpose in life (whatever that is!) as a healthy person. I’ll keep working on integrating my beliefs and my practices and try not to be so hard on myself.

      Wishing you the best of everything!

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