I don't know how to quit you, Tofu.
April 21, 2011 2:45 PM   Subscribe

Being a vegetarian for 18 years comes with a whole lot of identity issues and emotional baggage. How do you let that go and start eating meat again?

Previously: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

All the questions I linked to above are about the health and ethical questions associated with going back to eating meat. They ask "what will happen if I do it," "what's the best way to do it," and "why should/shouldn't I do it."

I've got a different question. As an 18-year ovo-lacto vegetarian (I'm 30), I've become "the" vegetarian in my family and friend group. It's become very much a part of my identity. Over the last 5 years or so, I have periodically considered eating meat. While living in Japan temporarily in 2010, I allowed broths but not pieces of meat, simply because I was in a culture that made it very hard to be 100% vegetarian (I don't speak Japanese, either, so it was hard to ask).

But every time I consider eating meat, I always run into the identity issue. I feel like those guys in Brokeback Mountain...I don't know how to quit you, vegetarianism. I still need to resolve the ethical hurdles for myself as well, but the identity ones are the worst for me. I can read all kinds of things about ethics on both sides - Lierre Keith, Michael Pollan, PETA, etc. But nobody seems to have the answer about identity. And yeah, I don't have to quit, but I kind of want to...and yet every time I think about it, I run in fear from what it will mean for my identity.

Can anyone give advice on such identity shifts, whether as a vegetarian going omni, or on some other transition in your life?
posted by etoile to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
There is a big difference between "I eat vegetarian" and "I am vegetarian". If being "vegetarian" is tangled up with your self-worth and your sense of 'goodness', then of course this is going to be a difficult transition! You might be a good person (or not), and you might eat meat (rarely, often, all the time) or not, and those things might be related. They also might not be.

For me, I eat mostly vegetarian, but am often more concerned with not offending hosts (a la your Japan example!), but whether I eat meat isn't what makes me a good person. My sense of 'goodness' as a person is *why* I choose not to particular activities, not the result of not partaking in them.
posted by gregglind at 2:55 PM on April 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

This question directly speaks to one of my pet peeves about the perception of vegetarianism versus what it actually means to be a vegetarian.

You can be exactly the same person if you're not a vegetarian. You might change your food ethics a little, or have some restrictions on what meat or products you will or will not use and eat, but really, nothing changes. Most people do not eat anything and everything, but vegetarians are more notable because of our meat-heavy culture so they feel or seem singled-out.

A friend recently linked to a blog post where a guy had listed a hundred things that happened in his life because he was a vegetarian. Some made sense, like the fact he started a compost heap due to the increase in vegetable waste. Some made some sense, in that he had more energy -- really, any healthier diet might give you more energy, but I'll still buy it. Others, like paying more attention to his pets? Completely unrelated, but he saw the whole thing as a lifestyle and not just a diet choice.

Think of it like this: people think of "vegetarianism" as a lifestyle and not just a choice of what to eat. Think of yourself as an ethnic vegetarian (whatever the heck that means) who just happens to eat some meat.
posted by mikeh at 2:58 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I just did this, sort of.

I was a vegetarian for 15 years, the first 4 of which I was vegan. A year and a half ago I started eating seafood, and now I've basically given it up entirely.

I 100% agree that the identity stuff is a big issue. As you say, I eventually came to my own sort of answers on the ethics (of course, I may change again, thats normal). I'm comfortable with my eating habits myself.

However, I was always "the vegetarian". Because of me, my mom and sister became vegans. The biggest hurdle for me in "going public" as a non-vegetarian was worry about the reaction of my friends and family.

I mean, most of my non-vegetarian friends are generally happy with it, as it makes food stuff easier. But I always worried they would look down on me --- not because they think eating meat is wrong (obviously) but because it would be a "failure", like an alcoholic starting to drink again or something. With my family it's even harder, because now most of my family is vegan and expects me to be too (since I essentially started that situation). Actually I haven't even told them yet (they live far away, I just eat veggie when I'm around them), but thats due to much larger family communication issues that I'm just starting to deal with.

Really it took two things -- caring less about people's judgements, and realizing that people (especially friends) are generally less worried about this sort of thing than you are. And not being so judgemental about myself, really. I tend to have much higher standards/expectations for myself, which is why I could be OK with non-vegetarian friends yet have issues with being a non-vegetarian myself.

Er, I don't know if that's much of a "how to" but that's been my experience with it. I'm generally happy that I've done it, although some experiences are still weird (you mean I get to look at the whole menu? Not just 4 items? But how will I decide what to eat!!).
posted by wildcrdj at 3:00 PM on April 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

Give up on the concept of identity---which involves giving up the idea that you're morally superior because you identify with "xyz". It also means feeling a bit embarrassed that you did that in the first place.

Take joy in surprising people and in being surprised by people because they challenge your assumptions about them. I'm a radical lefty who likes NASCAR. I'm a hasbian. Identity labels are short cuts to knowing how to judge people. Give it up! Be free!

Now you can feel morally superior because you've stopped categorizing people.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:01 PM on April 21, 2011 [10 favorites]

I've been a vegetarian my entire life -- 23 years and counting. My parents have been vegetarians since they were 18 (they are now in their 60s).

What prompted you to become a vegetarian in the first place, and why have you stayed a vegetarian? Is it because you disagree with the practice of eating meat on moral, scientific, religious, or ecological grounds? Was it initially a dietary thing and you just sort of stuck with it? Ultimately the decision to become - and stay - a vegetarian is a personal thing. It's not for any one of us out there to shame you or tell you that you're a failure if you decide that the diet and its inherent restrictions isn't for you. That's no one's business but your own. If you need to switch back to being an omnivore for a while, go for it. See how you feel, physically, emotionally, etc. You may find, as many of my friends did when they switched for a spell, that you feel sluggish and depressed, and that alone could make you say, "oof! never mind". Or, you could discover that hey, a little chicken and fish here and there from sources I respect? Not so bad.

What is it about your identity that you're afraid of losing?
posted by patronuscharms at 3:01 PM on April 21, 2011

It's become very much a part of my identity.

Why? Do you feel others have expectations you need to live up to...or what? I don't understand.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:01 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was raised by bears hippybear hippies, and was a vegetarian for the first 30 years of my life (with a few very small exceptions like accidentally taking a bite of pepperoni pizza, girlfriend passing a cube of beef into my mouth with a kiss as a prank).

Vegetarianism was definitely an identity issue for me. For example, as young as 5 years old I would have to explain to a well-meaning babysitter or cafeteria lady that I did not eat meat.

It may have been helpful in making the transition that I never actually made the choice to be vegetarian in the first place - I was raised that way and until recently I just didn't have any reason to change.

If it is so hard to rationalize not being a vegetarian, maybe your reasons are not good enough? I definitely ended up needing to tell the story of why I no longer abstain from meat over and over and over. If you cannot give a decent explanation, that could be a sign that it is an ill-advised choice for you. I disagree very strongly with gregglind - who we are is what we do, and everything else is excuses and rationalizations. The important thing is knowing who you need to be, because being honest with yourself about that, and following through with that, is actually *easier* than living with being a hypocrite and letting your own standards down.
posted by idiopath at 3:03 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

i've been slowly reintroducing meat back into my diet after a few years without it. i just told people i'm sick of having to be picky/ annoying/ paranoid at restaurants and weddings (true) and other various stuff like that. it's actually been interesting to see how people react- they are more excited than anything. i mean, how often in your life will the reaction to "i ate a hot dog over the weekend" be "wow! really????"

in my experience, people don't really care too much other than being excited that you can now eat the stuff that they like. also, i don't really feel like i've "quit" vegetarianism fully- my diet now is still wildly different than it was before going veg in the first place. eating veg 95% of the time with meat very occasionally (say once a week) in my experience, has been perfect. it's enough to deal with meat cravings and the occasional social situation where there are no veg options, but it's not really a huge change or anything. and i still feel good about the fact that i am eating way, way less meat than most people. being veg was really useful for me in learning that you absolutely do NOT need it. i know i don't need it to survive or anything. i just view it as an occasional indulgence now, not a staple of my diet. i don't know how drastic of a change you want to make, but this might be a good way to start- easing into it really slowly and see how you feel about it. besides, if you're like a lot of us, it will take a while for your body to get used to it anyway. (i know, there are many comments on askme from people who quit cold turkey and didn't experience any negative effects.) but i think it varies a lot. if i eat too much meat in one week, i feel it.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 3:03 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't think it will mean anything for your identity, other than an anecdotal "I used to be a vegetarian" as you tell people about yourself.

I was a vegetarian from elementary school after a tour through a neighbor's hobby farm abattoir, and over the years it only added to my identity a little, in the sense that I was the girl who didn't want any steak/chicken/ribs at big dinners.

But when I was eight months pregnant with my first child, my SO was barbecuing a steak and it smelled so good. SO good. I ate it. I ate it and I started eating meat with dinner again and really the only surprise was when we visited my in-laws, they were happy they didn't have to make an extra vegetable to round out my dinner. No one has ever asked WHY I was/used to be a vegetarian and now hardly anyone knows. I would call it a non-issue. Everyone has freaky quirks about their diets and about their own deeply held, personal beliefs. You are still you.
posted by pink candy floss at 3:13 PM on April 21, 2011

I have never ever eaten meat and I don't understand the question. I think as far as I've become "the" vegetarian in my family and friend group goes, you are probably over-emphasizing the importance other people are ascribing to your diet. Unless you have been very verbal, and holier-than-thou, about it, I think it's reasonable to anticipate that few people will notice or care.
posted by kmennie at 3:15 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nobody else cares what you eat, they're too busy wondering what to have for dinner themselves. How about you identify yourself as a 'good person who's nice to others' instead. Every time you want to talk and talk and talk about this subject with someone, remember they'd almost certainly prefer it if you went off and had a bacon butty instead.
posted by joannemullen at 3:18 PM on April 21, 2011

I think I understand the question - lots of the time our choices unintentionally form part of our identity.

I stopped wearing skirts/dresses when I was 14, for a very specific reason. But after that reason disappeared, I kept wearing avoiding skirts until I was around 23. And yes, it was incredibly awkward even trying on dresses at the store. I would wear them around the house but change back into pants to go out. The first time I wore a casual dress out, every single one of my friends commented. What am I supposed to do, keep pretending that my friends don't notice my sartorial choices? And label me based on them?

In the long run nothing about *Me* changed when I started wearing dresses. I still mostly wear pants. My friends now internally label me a mostly-pants wearer instead of a all-the-time-pants wearer.

There will be some awkwardness at first (awkwardness is temporary at worst). Identity, too, is temporal - eating meat now doesn't mean you will be an omnivore forever, just as wearing a dress from time to time doesn't make me femme for life.
posted by muddgirl at 3:29 PM on April 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

I went through a mini-crisis when I realized that I was having bites of meat pretty regularly and couldn't accurately describe myself as vegetarian. Part of my panic was about laziness - it's so much easier to say "I'm vegetarian" than to explain the complex thought process behind what you will or won't eat, and nobody wants to hear that anyway.

One of my biggest fears was that my friends would think I was a hypocrite if they saw me eat a hot dog after refusing steak for all those years. And maybe they did, but whatever they thought, in the end it wasn't a big deal.

Now I just say "I don't eat much meat." It's pretty accurate. I'm still me, and I still don't eat all that much meat.
posted by ladypants at 3:35 PM on April 21, 2011

I'm number 7 in your list of previous questions. I went from vegetarian to pescetarian. At first, obviously, it was all questions and hemming and hawing. Should I do it, why, what will it be like, what will people think, what if I hate it... I couldn't believe most of the answers to "Just do it already!" and "Seriously, no one cares but you!"

It's really true. No one cares. Only I care. Even my parents, who fussed so, so much about it when I stopped eating meat at 16 that I swore they were going to be all "HAHA TOLD YA SO" really didn't even blink at my choice to start eating fish. I think it's a little unfair to say "Yeah, no one really cares about what you eat at all" because people do care a little. They'll ask you why you stopped eating meat in the first place (happens a lot to you now, I'm sure!), and next they'll ask you what made you change your mind. But they won't judge you. People aren't uncaring asses, they just don't think it matters that much. It's your life.

And yes, just do it! Seriously. You've been veggie for 18 years. So, you were 12 when you stopped eating meat, approximately. You must remember some dish that was really delicious for you when you were young. For me it was New England Clam Chowder. I grew up going to LBI, NJ every summer, and it was a tradition to stop at one of the clam shacks on the drive down and have some chowder. So, that was the first thing I ate. Really, really good clam chowder. And I have never doubted or felt bad about my decision. I only eat what I'm comfortable eating. (Once, at the very beginning, my (now) hubby bought salmon, which to me was extremely "meaty", and I barely ate it at all and made a big fuss. Lesson learned). I try new things all the time. I've had all kinds of great things. Monkfish? Totally had it. That fish is fucking ugly, but boy is it good if you know how to cook it. Fresh oysters from a vendor at the farmers' market at the legendary Ferry Building in San Fran? Totally amazing and delicious. The simple pleasure of going to a restaurant and having so many more options... I can't even begin to explain how great that it.

I haven't made the next step, but I probably will one day. It's OK to sit down and ask yourself (any others) where this change might take you and how it will change your life. But the honest truth is that it will not change that much. If your change is a successful one, your life will simply be a little bit more delicious.
posted by two lights above the sea at 3:35 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Vegetarianism is two things: It's taking far more care with your diet than is the norm, and it is basing those dietary decisions on ideological principles first (as opposed to being primarily about say, convenience, or healthfulness, or bodybuilding, or weight loss, or cost, or taste, or any of many things that various people may end up following, or try to follow).

Even though you are thinking of changing the second half of the equation (which is the EASY part of being vegetarian), you are remaining true to the first half of the equation (which is the difficult part - the part where most people fail). So perhaps rather than giving up your identity as vegetarian, you can retain an identity as someone highly aware of the big-picture implications of the foods you eat, and of being someone who actually takes action on those considerations (you wouldn't be considering meat and the accompanying identity issues if you didn't have your reasons), and maintains consistency with that.

You're only changing the easy bit. You're still doing the difficult stuff. Judge yourself by the higher standard.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:35 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

There ain't no How To -- only Do.

The mind can't bear cognitive dissonance. Start eating meat and the guilt will fade away.
posted by KRS at 3:41 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

You are not what you eat.
People wear multiple hats in different time frames in their life.

I am not saying this to sound rude, nor brash but either eat meat or don't. You are a far more complex individual who's identity is not solely based on dietary rules/customs.
posted by handbanana at 3:53 PM on April 21, 2011

Off the wall suggestion - perhaps you can look at literature about changing religious faith. How does someone who defines themselves as a Jew, Muslim, Catholic, whatever change to a different faith or decide that they are no longer religious? Do they go through a similar sort of identity crisis? Perhaps seeing how people resolve those concerns can give you some idea of how to approach your own transformation.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:55 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, it wasn't diet that my identity was hooked with, but I think it's similar enough for me to say: "Vegetarian" (or any other quality) is a shitty hollow one-dimensional hook to hang your identity on. You're more complex than what you do or don't eat. You're short-changing yourself at the level of your very understanding of who you are!
You're not alone - it's very common for people to nominate one tiny (or major) facet of themselves as the official I Am This, but it's pretty much always a mistake, and you'll be better off to adopt a healthier and more encompassing identity.

Tying your self-identity with being "the XYZ in the family" is way more damaging IMO than what you're seeing here, which is merely the obvious hurdle now that you want to try something that isn't XYZ. IMO, tying your identity so closely with one thing stunts you as a person, regardless of what that thing is.

So I would suggest going cold turkey and seeking an entirely new identity altogether - one that is based on you, not on something that you do.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:56 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been a vegetarian since I was about 4. I'm 32 now and I definitely don't think of it as my identity.

I mean, yeah, it's a choice I've made so it makes up a bit of who I am, but I really don't think it has any more weight in 'my identity' than most other choices I've made. Your identity is just all the bits of you added up. If this bit isn't working for you anymore then just change it!
posted by grapesaresour at 4:06 PM on April 21, 2011

Well here's the thing, most of us feel that our moral behaviors are part of our identities. How we treat people (or animals) is a part of who we are.

Part of why we want to have good identities is so that we can show others we are good to interact with. (See, I am compassionate, beneficial to be around, respect your boundaries... or maybe the opposite depending on the social criteria of your peers.)

Social interaction is critical for survival--- unless you know how to live in a cave, you have to have social interaction, and instinctually we know we need it.

But more importantly is that we construct our identities for ourselves. Do I like who I am? Is this what I think a good person would do?

How you treat animals should matter to you. Animals can feel and caring about the feelings of beings that don't have any worth to you and that you have no legal responsability to protect is a good thing. It's a sign of compassion for the sake of compassion. Except that it's become a SYMBOL of compassion for the sake of compassion among vegetarian groups, meaning that it can be done simply to garner appreciation from others for the greatness of your compassion.

So one way to look at is this--- decide how you want to treat animals. Do you think it's ok to eat meat if the animals have been raised ethically in humane conditions? If so, then do it. And consider letting go of the part of you that was deriving ego pleasure from being identified as more compassionate than others and excercise of humility--- and sign of being good person, in the way YOU believe is good, for the sake if rather than for the sake of social recognition.

And consider that a part of your new identity. You are strong enough to act on what you believe in despite the fact that it means giving up an social recognition as more selfless than other human beings.
posted by xarnop at 4:12 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

The last time I hung up the vegetarian hat was 6 years ago, and when I did, I had the same sort of issues-- though not as strongly, it seems.

What I did to connect back into meat-eating was to actually, literally thank the animal every time. I actually took a moment to meditatively think about the life that was now becoming part of me and to celebrate that. When I took the first bite of meat for a meal, I pictured the animal living-- perhaps living again at that moment in some form, and I silently said to it the words "as you live." ..sort of a communion, as it was giving me the chance to live too.

I don't do this anymore, but I still emphasize the gratitude and the connection whenever it comes to mind, and I absolutely love eating meat.

...I also go free-range and local from trusted sources whenever I can, but.. the inner aspect mentioned above was the first and most important thing for me to deal with as a re-emerging omnivore.
posted by herbplarfegan at 4:17 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

But nobody seems to have the answer about identity.

That's because your identity is both personal and unique to you.

I went through this myself several years ago (10 years veg -- half those years lacto-ovo, the other half vegan -- worked for vegan organizations, was in vegan groups, had all vegan friends, etc). The identity aspect was way by far the hardest. However, once I actually tried eating animal products again (for health reasons), I felt sooooo much better. I mean, so much better. So it was much easier for me to persevere in my new meat-eating lifestyle. If that hadn't happened, I don't know how it would have gone.

As for my public identity, a couple of different things happened. Some of my vegan friends dropped me, and that hurt a lot. But, to put it bluntly, eventually I got over it. I mean, obviously those friendships weren't as strong in the first place as I'd hoped they were. As to being "the vegetarian" in my group/family, I would say there was a little bit of ribbing or teasing about it, but in general, everyone got over it and accepted the new non-veg me. I tried not to make a big deal about it to others, and they got with the program pretty quickly.

This identity crisis is a real thing, and it's hard. But the amount of fear and trepidation you currently have will fade eventually if you do decide to make this change. Be nice to yourself, expect that it's going to be awkward/weird for you, and take all the time you need. Gentle, gentle.

Please memail me if you'd like more support or have more questions. I'm happy to help or share more.
posted by hansbrough at 4:20 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can't speak for the vegetarian/omnivore shift, but like vitabellosi, I am a hasbian. (Wasbian? Whatever.) I identified as a lesbian from the time I was in my mid teens, but in my late twenties, I met a man. He told me he was attracted to me and I was all, whatever dude. But then he grew on me and I thought what the hell and I started to date him. I am ashamed to admit that I hid his gender from my friends, and I was terrified to hold his hand in public because I WAS A LESBIAN GODDAMN IT. It took months for me to admit that I was romantically involved with him, not because I was ashamed of *him* but because I was ashamed of what being with him said about me. It took me a long time to come to terms with the idea that "lesbian" was just a label I stuck on myself. It didn't really represent everything I was. I eventually broke up with that guy and proceeded to date both men and women from that point, and I ended up marrying a man.

Being a vegetarian isn't the sum total of you.
posted by crankylex at 4:45 PM on April 21, 2011

I wonder if the so-called identity issue isn't really the inter-relational issue. Is it something you experience when alone? Or is it a problem mainly in the presence of others?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:11 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you were a vegetarian for reason x, and you changed your mind about x, that is intellectually honest, perfectly respectable, and an opening for interesting dinnertable conversation. E.g., if you decided that you were weighing the reasons incorrectly, etc. (I am basically in this boat. I was a vegetarian, then a pescatarian, now a humanely-raised-atarian who eats little fish because so much of it is an environmental disaster. I realized that what I cared about was the LIFE and DEATH of the animal, not the fact that it was killed at all. I still think factory farming is abominable, and I won't eat meat raised that way. But a humanely raised animal who had a good life and painless death is a different story, says the current me.)

If, on the other hand, you never had any genuine reasons to be a vegetarian, and just did because of peer pressure, then yeah, a change of heart is kind of embarrassing.
posted by kestrel251 at 6:13 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know how you feel. I recently started eating meat again after almost 10 years of veg, mostly because of travel and because I was just wanting to eat some meat for the first time in my adult life. For the first few weeks, it felt like cheating or something. However, I do have to say that I actually have more energy now and that my system had very little issue, ahem, adjusting to the change. Just take it slow. I nibbled on sliced turkey for a bit before I moved on to chicken breast, sausage, and eventually, a whole duck leg on my birthday. I'm still very conscience of where my food comes from and I try to buy as locally and ethically as possible, so I don't feel like I've had to adjust my morals too much. My vegetarianism was based more on resourcefulness than out of a disagreement with the food chain, anyways.
posted by shrimpsmalls at 6:20 PM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

It may help you to know that one of the most revered Buddhists in the world, the Dalai Lama, occasionally eats meat.
posted by thatdawnperson at 7:16 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is an interesting position to be in. I became a vegetarian when I was 14 for ethical reasons. My family had a hard time accepting it and I lived in Boise, Idaho which is a fairly meat 'n' potatoes kind of place. Not eating meat became a part of my identity, mostly because I often had to defend myself from attacks of ignorance and intolerance. I continued my vegetarianism through college as well. I thought it was part of what made me delicate_dahlias.

About a year ago, at 23, I started eating meat again. I don't really know why. It was a stressful time in my life, so maybe that was part of it for some reason, but I found myself holding a turkey sandwich that someone had offered to me and taking a huge bite of it. It tasted good. Also, the world didn't shift, and others were only slightly interested for a moment before not caring. It was momentous for me in how not momentous it was.

You are an adult. You became a vegetarian when you were young. As much as it feels like it right now, vegetarianism is not a part of your personality. It is just something you do, or in this case don't do. Eating meat will not take away a part of you. Others who have known you for a while will be surprised at first and ask you about it, but that will pass fairly quickly. I am now very happy with my decision because it is right for me at this time in my life.

My suggestion would be for you to go alone to a restaurant and order something with fish or chicken (I'd save beef for later because it was a little hard on my insides after 9 years without it, but ymmv) that sounds good to you. Eat it. A bite, the whole thing, whatever. Think about how you feel separate from what other people will think. Is it repulsive to you? Do you feel like gagging? Are you totally uncomfortable? Then you should probably continue with vegetarianism. Do you like it? Is it not as big a deal as you thought? Then maybe you would enjoy reintroducing meat into your diet. Regardless of your reaction, the act of putting the meat into your mouth and swallowing it will not have changed you as a person.

Other people don't matter. Forget the social pressure from other vegetarians or from people who view you as 'the vegetarian'. Do what is right for you. It's not as bad as I thought it would be. I wish you best of luck in making the choice that's right for you.
posted by delicate_dahlias at 8:26 PM on April 21, 2011

I skimmed over the thread after a certain point, because I think the solution is simple: fuck the haters.

Your food choices are exactly that, yours. They don't define you. Labels like 'vegetarian' are a quick, easy way to convey your food choices in certain settings. I'm still quite happily a vegetarian, and my biggest irritation is what I call 'butthurt meat eaters', people who choose to take my dietary choices as a comment about them.

Similarly, your choice to eat meat again isn't a comment on anyone else. You can tell your family if you want, or you can not tell your family if you want. If someone wants to make a big deal out of it, let them. Similarly, if someone wants to lecture me about 'protein' and health and whatnot, let them, I'ma keep eating my tofu.

Best of luck to you!
posted by nerdfish at 11:23 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was vegetarian and vegan, and the identity issue lasted only very briefly. My family's reaction could best be described as "oh, you're not weird anymore? yeah, we'd always thought you were a normal person so it's funny it lasted that long." My friends' reactions could best be described as "yeah I've been starting to eat meat again myself."

The advice I have is, don't trip out on this. Don't go into existential (or ontological) angst when you call yourself a vegetarian even after technically you're kinda not. Don't get offended or defensive when someone at a party makes a "funny" scene about YOU?? Eating meat??? What you eat doesn't define who you are. Just eat what you feel like eating.

Hmm, finally reading the other comments, it makes sense to do this when you're alone; I made the transition at a time when I was meeting a lot of new people and also alone a lot. It also helped that I knew I was being true to both my philosophy and my body's needs, so none of the minor stuff really penetrated or bothered me.
posted by salvia at 12:33 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pick another identity. You don't have to be "the vegetarian". You could switch it up and still be unconventional. Start crossfit and transition to a paleolithic diet. You could be known as "the caveman". The bonus is you would be increasing your opportunities to grunt.
posted by rdurbin at 6:42 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of the secrets about being an adult is you get to be whoever you want to be and other people can take or leave it.

I was vegetarian for 9 years. One of those obnoxiously earnest vegetarians who would tell people all about my amazing diet and moral choices whenever the opportunity presented itself. Then I stopped being vegetarian, then I discovered I really enjoyed eating meat. Then it became no big deal. I still get the occasional raised eyebrow comment from folks who've known me a long time.

Usually I brush off any confusion with a joke: "I was vegetarian, but I got better". If I actually want to have the conversation I explain why I was vegetarian and why I stopped. It's OK.
posted by Nelson at 8:03 AM on April 22, 2011

I had a busy day today, and what a treat it was to come back to so many thoughtful responses! Thanks to each and every one of you.

hal_c_on asked:
Why? Do you feel others have expectations you need to live up to...or what? I don't understand.
For the same reason that sleeping with women makes me identify with lesbians, and wearing hearing aids makes me identify with hard of hearing people. Identity and culture are based on shared experiences. I am the one who always chooses first from the menu because there are so few options. I am the one who jokes about dragging omnivore friends to the local vegan place for my birthday. I am the one who says "honey, does that look like meat to you?" Vegetarians share these experiences; they are part of who we are. And yes, people expect me to show all of those behaviors, because I am "the vegetarian" in our group. I realize that you might have been asking this to make me think about it, but I thought I'd answer the question in case you really were wondering why it's an issue for me.

Several people throughout the thread have said that I'm a complex person, I'm more than what I do/don't eat, I shouldn't focus my identity so much on this. Of course I am far more than this - but please realize that this is an aspect of my identity upon which I place value. I place a lot of value on being a lesbian too, but not so much value on being a full-time student. We all have parts of us that are meaningful, and parts that are not.

kmennie said:
Unless you have been very verbal, and holier-than-thou, about it, I think it's reasonable to anticipate that few people will notice or care.
I am the polar opposite of the holier-than-thou veg*an - I have never once tried to sway anyone to my style of eating. But people will notice, because 99% of the people I eat with have never known me as anything but a vegetarian. Whether they will care is a different matter. They won't care that I'm eating meat, but t -- wait just a damn minute. I don't have a "but" for that. I just stared at the text box for a full minute trying to think of "but" and I don't have one. Huh. Good to realize. You're right...people won't care. But I apparently will. Which brings me back to what idiopath said: "If you cannot give a decent explanation, that could be a sign that it is an ill-advised choice for you." Interesting.

-harlequin- said:
Vegetarianism is two things: It's taking far more care with your diet than is the norm, and it is basing those dietary decisions on ideological principles first
This is a very interesting way to look at it, and it shows me a layering that I hadn't thought of before. There are certainly ways to eat meat that involved reduced cruelty to animals (which is, BTW, why I am vegetarian: ethical reasons) and I hadn't considered them previously. I could certainly see that if I started to eat meat, I could restrict the type of meats I ate based on how they were handled. And perhaps that would be a stepping-stone to the local burger shack, or perhaps not. But thank you for pointing out that it doesn't have to be completely black and white. (PETA disagrees, of course, but I've never had much respect for that group - their tactics are terrible.)

herbplarfegan said
What I did to connect back into meat-eating was to actually, literally thank the animal every time.
This is interesting, and it speaks to my desire to recognize that I am eating an animal. It also acknowledges that it's not always an easy switch - that you have to ease back into it. Thank you.

delicate_dahlias said:
Think about how you feel separate from what other people will think. Is it repulsive to you? Do you feel like gagging? Are you totally uncomfortable? Then you should probably continue with vegetarianism. Do you like it? Is it not as big a deal as you thought? Then maybe you would enjoy reintroducing meat into your diet. Regardless of your reaction, the act of putting the meat into your mouth and swallowing it will not have changed you as a person.
This, I think, is the ultimate answer. I think it is where I need to start. I will probably order something I can pass off on another family member if I don't like it! I actually did try this a couple of years ago, but I tried a bite of canned chicken noodle soup. I felt horrible about it, and my family said "well of course, that barely counts as meat" but I still felt bad about it. The idea of going back to eating meat has stayed in my mind, though, so I think I will do it again, as you suggest - but with something more respectably cooked!

Again, thanks to everyone for all the thoughtful comments, I had many favorites and several best answers. This is quite possibly my favorite AskMe thread ever.

posted by etoile at 5:47 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

That was supposed to be all nicely formatted, but I forgot some closing tags. Sorry, folks.
posted by etoile at 5:49 PM on April 22, 2011

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