There’s really no point in me beating around the bush here, so I will just say it: I am no longer a vegetarian.
I haven’t taken this decision lightly, in fact it’s one that I’ve been mulling over for weeks, maybe months. I didn’t want it to be a big deal, but of course, in typical Kezia fashion, I’ve decided to write about it because I write about everything that happens in my life. Also, I was quite open about being a vegetarian and so proud of it that it seems disingenuous to not write about this and admit to this change.
I have felt unhappy with my diet for a long time. I decided to stop eating meat at the end of October 2015, inspired by the discussions I had had with my vegan flatmate at the time. It was one of those things where it just logically occurred to me that eating meat is strange and weird and wrong and I didn’t want to partake in it anymore. My two biggest reasons were 1. the environment (our planet cannot sustain mass factory farming) and 2. it didn’t seem right that we grow food to feed animals to feed ourselves, when there are about 795 million hungry people in the world. My main focus wasn’t an act of defiance against animal cruelty, although that came later.
I watched Cowspiracy a week later and decided that I really, truly could not call myself an environmentalist if I continued to eat meat. Over the month of November, I started to phase all meat out of my diet (yes, including fish) and moved to a mostly plant-based diet. I decided not to tackle dairy and other animal products just yet, as cutting out meat seemed daunting enough, but I tried my best to cut out unnecessary eggs, cheese and milk.
If I needed to eat meat, if it was going to be inconvenient for my friends and family, then I would eat it if I had to. But a situation like that never arose and it allowed me to throw myself right into a meat-free diet. I learnt how to cook tofu (and enjoy it, though that didn’t last long), I started adding chickpeas and spinach to everything I could to keep my protein and iron levels in check, I ate feta and spinach quiche with my roast vegetables at my family Christmas lunch. I didn’t struggle at first; it just seemed like fun.
Around the time of my birthday, at the end of January, my anxiety flared up badly. I had handed in my resignation for mid-February at work and was planning my return to university, which meant needing to find a part-time job – a seriously daunting task on its own, made worse by the fact that I was transitioning from a comfortable salary office job into (hopefully) a minimum wage customer service job. Add in the drama from my love life and my car that was due for a WOF (it was an old shitbox and I was more than certain it wouldn’t pass without needing some expensive work done – not ideal when I was planning to leave full-time work within three weeks and was still trying to do some last minute saving before dropping back down to $14.95 an hour) and I was one stressed gal. So I caved. I went out for dinner with my best friend and ordered a cheeseburger from Burger Liquor. I went home and cried.
On my actual birthday, a Monday, I was still severely hungover from the Saturday night. A whole goon box and one too many cigarettes will do that to you. I decided maybe some meat would make me feel better. So again, I had a cheeseburger with my best friend, this time at Five Boroughs. Thick, chunky meat patties that are pink inside made me want to vom pre-veg life but after a couple of months with no meat, it was definitely too much. I had a margherita pizza for dinner, which helped. But later that night I shared a sneaky ten-pack of chicken nuggets with my other best friend – and anyone who knows Maccas nuggets will know that they are either REALLY good (crispy, hot, wonderful) or REALLY shit (soggy, lukewarm, squishy???). These ones were really shit. Like, really shit. I went home feeling seriously awful. The next day, I stayed at work for two hours and then had to go home sick. Mystery stomach issues.
And so I knew I wouldn’t be eating meat again. At the end of February, I met my now-boyfriend and we instantly bonded over both being vegetarians. It hadn’t really occurred to me until we started dating, that I probably couldn’t ever date someone who ate meat. It just wouldn’t work. And so we enjoyed many margherita pizzas and vege burgers from Burger Fuel together in our first few months of dating. He cooked vege stir fry for me (sometimes, when I felt like it) and I cooked mac & cheese for him. It was honestly perfect.
And yet there came a point – I’m not sure when, but I started to feel really depressed about my diet. Maybe it was when uni got really stressful (I mean, more stressful than usual. It’s always stressful) or maybe in the middle of winter when my mood always seemed to match the weather: grey and dreary. Soon, I started to feel really trapped. I didn’t want to eat meat, but I felt miserable about how restrictive my diet was. I have always been a fussy eater, my parents can absolutely attest to that. I used to joke about having the appetite of a five-year-old American child because I absolutely love junk food, sweet things, foods like burgers and pizza, and pretty much everything that’s bad for you. My favourite thing to order when I went out with my family was a stonegrill. As I got older, I stated to enjoy “sophisticated” foods a bit more and dining out is one of my favourite things to do. My friends and I have been grabbing dinner from Sweet Mother’s or Nicolini’s since we were sixteen years old – we’re Wellington kids, it’s innate.
And yet I was finding that Jamie and I were restricted to the same old places to go and eat at: Burger Fuel, Hell, Little India (yes, there’s a common theme here) and pretty much the only “nice” restaurant we could go to for special dinners was Portofino. Most places offer one or two (if you’re lucky, a couple more than that) vegetarian dishes and when you have two vegetarians that don’t like a lot of vegetarian food, shit gets kinda hard. We both don’t like mushroom, Jamie doesn’t like avocado or halloumi, I hate onion (especially caramelised), I only like falafel sometimes, we both hate vegetarian salads, I am not a fan of rice or noodles or curry which rules out most vegetarian Asian/Indian dishes. I was on a mission to find the best vege burger in Wellington, but promptly gave up after realising that they’re usually just shit. I used to like a simple cheeseburger and it didn’t seem like there was a simple vege burger anywhere other than Burger Fuel. Too many places complicate it by making it too gourmet aka douchey (looking at you, Fidel’s, your pineapple salsa is fucked) or overloading it (Bristol’s burger has a huge chunk of falafel and a huge slice of halloumi – why???) or just being plain gross (sorry, Five Boroughs, but your brioche buns aren’t good).
Something had to give. A couple of weeks ago, in a fit of resignation, I complained to J about how much I hated eating most days. Food is primarily our source of fuel, so as long as it’s giving you nutrients it’s doing its job. But what kind of life is it if you can’t enjoy the food you eat too? I couldn’t find enjoyment in any food anymore. The lack of options made it so hard, because eating the same thing all the time was so boring. We’d joke a lot about one day going on a meat-binge to KFC in a fit of desperation, yet Jamie would always end with a “naaaahhh, we wouldn’t do that”. I was disheartened. I missed meat a lot, but the trap was so hard for me. The thought of eating meat made me feel sick and made me want to cry, but I was so unhappy not eating it. It seemed impossible. I started to wish I had never cut it out in the first place.
Until Jamie ate meat one day. I was shocked. It was out of the blue and I seriously couldn’t believe that he’d done it. I cried, realising that I wanted to, too. But that meant changing. That meant disregarding my beliefs, ones that I’d built so thoughtfully. I was a compassionate person, what kind of evil human ate meat?! I noticed in my journey of vegetarianism that I had become quite judgemental and harsh towards those who continued to eat meat. I wrongly felt superior over people who ate meat, deeming myself good and them bad. I am an idealistic person and it’s hard for me to not see the world in black and white, to not categorise people into “good” and “bad”. I thought people who claimed to love animals but still ate meat were hypocrites. I thought my environmentalist friends who still ate meat were hypocrites, too. But that’s such a dangerous mindset to be in. People surely cannot be labelled as one thing or the other. We don’t work that way, humans are far too complex to be boxed in. I realised that day that there is no black and white answer to a lot of things. There are plenty of good people who eat meat and plenty of bad people who don’t. It’s not a cut-and-dry rule.
I didn’t want to change. Being a vegetarian had become such an important part of me and I truly saw it as a permanent life decision. Jamie once asked me if I would eat meat if we ever went travelling (he said he would) and I was horrified. “No!” I asserted. “I would never!” And yet the appeal was falling away. All of these things that I thought were so horrific suddenly could be justified in my head. All of the values I held suddenly felt like one side of an argument or debate rather than pure fact. My perspective changed.
So I ate fish, and I cried. I ate chicken and felt sick with guilt. Then I ate chicken again, and then beef. Beef was too much, so I think I’ll eat it sparingly. But I feel like the whole world has opened back up. I feel excited about food again. We’ve already gone to a couple of restaurants that I had to blacklist because there were no vege options on the menu that I liked and enjoyed their meat options. Jamie has cooked for us again and enjoyed it; he loves to cook, but lost the passion for it somewhere along the last two years of his meat-free diet. Cooking without meat requires a lot more effort to make up for the flavours lost. I’ve somehow managed to reconcile in my head with the fact that it’s “wrong” (which is just a perspective, I’ve learned, not just a fact). We’re only here on earth for a short amount of time and while I want to make a positive change in my environment while I’m here, I also want to be happy and enjoy my time. There are enough things in my life that drain the goodness from it, like uni stress and being a young person in our current shithole of an economy that can’t promise me or my peers a job or a house and trying to dismantle the patriarchy to seemingly no avail, that if I can find happiness in one thing out of the pile of utter shit that is life, then I’m going to make the most of it. And if eating meat is going to make me happy, then I’m going to eat meat.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat meat like I used to and I am still going to cut it out where I can: I prefer vegetarian pizza and curry, I don’t like pork, lamb or processed meats, and I do not need to eat it every single day or in large quantities. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll cut it out again. I wish that I could have stuck with vegetarianism, but it wasn’t for me. At least not now. Right now, I’m happy eating meat again. And my mental health and my wellbeing come before everything else.