I was a vegetarian for twelve years. From the age of 14 until this year, when I started including meat back into my diet. It wasn’t one of those decisions where one day I just couldn’t resist a burger. I sat with this decision for months before starting this journey. And I am here to tell you my side of the story.
My Journey (Thought Process)
In 2012, when I was still a vegetarian, we traveled to Budapest. I remember feeling like I missed out on a whole side of the culture by not eating meat, I remember the resentment I felt watching my family eating authentic Hungarian dishes; the chicken paprikas, the Hungarian sausage, the stew. Staples in the Hungarian culture. I, on the other hand, had a lot of cheese, pastries, some veggies (mostly cabbage), and lots of alcohol.
Food is a staple in any culture really. Sure, there are a lot of countries where it’s easy to stick to a vegetarian diet. But then comes in another factor…there is no universal definition for vegetarianism. In some countries, it might mean being vegan. In other countries, they may fry vegetables in animal fat and still call it vegetarian. Some places it means you can still have fish, or maybe chicken. It’s exhausting to explain your diet every restaurant you go to, especially if there’s a language barrier. Even after all of that, you’re always questioning if what you’re eating is actually vegetarian, and how can you ever be 100% sure?
When I Gave it Up for Good
After a lot of consideration, I decided that next time I go out of the country, I am going to start including meat in my diet again. But I didn’t want to start IN another country, because I’ve heard horror stories about people getting sick when they start eating meat again. So the deal was, I would start eating meat again when we bought our tickets. It felt definitive, it had a timeline, the planner in me was happy.
Well last fall, my aunt surprised us all with a family trip to Ireland. We bought the tickets in the spring, and that’s where my journey started. After all, we were heading to the land of meat and potatoes – and I’d rather not eat potatoes for ten days straight.
The Transition Back
I eased myself back into it. I knew if I ate a burger right off the bat, I would get sick. So I started with some chicken broth, then after a few days, I had some pasta with chicken in it, then some pepperoni pizza. After a few weeks, I was eating full servings of meat. It was a slow, slow process.
I still don’t eat that much meat – I don’t even eat it every day. Sometimes the veggie burger still looks like the best thing on the menu. But I eat enough to keep up my tolerance, so I can experience the food culture everywhere I visit.
I just got back from the Ireland trip, where I jumped into the culture with both feet. I tried everything I was offered! I tried shepherd’s pie, steak, Irish stew, duck, blood pudding, fish, lamb boxty, even chicken liver! They sure do love their meat over there. I quickly realized my original speculation was correct: it would have been miserable to be a vegetarian over there. I would have been eating a LOT of potatoes and cabbage, and I knew I would feel that same resentment all over again. It was freeing to be able to try anything and everything.
I’m happy with my decision. I feel like a more well-rounded traveler. The world is my oyster, and now I can try those oysters! The world has so many exotic, cultural foods to offer, and nothing is holding me back from experiencing that now.
I’m also now realizing it is not just different countries that have a rich food culture, althought that’s how this journey started. There’s also lots of regional dishes here in the United States I’m excited to try. Philadelphia cheesesteaks, the Louisville hot brown, Louisianna gumbo, lobster from Maine, clam chowder from New England, freaking barbeque for crying out loud! And honestly, I was getting sick of eating salad or cheese sandwiches while traveling.
I was afraid what people would think when I started eating meat again. Or the moral debate this post might cause. But this decision was a personal one. It’s okay to change your diet! Overall, I knew this was the right decision for me.