All we are saying is give meat a chance.
July 29, 2008 12:48 PM   Subscribe

After 13 years of vegetarianism - my entire adult life - I've decided to start eating meat. Looking for advice in the form of books, websites, and personal anecdotes.

I stopped eating meat for a number of reasons. Rebellion was certainly one of them, as were health and the fact that I was never crazy about meat to begin with. Though I told myself that politics came into play in my decision, I'm not sure that they ever really did. I flirted with veganism for a few periods as well, but could never really buy into it.

As time wore on, my vegetarianism became mostly an issue of discipline and self control, and I was damn good at it. I never cheated. I actually let myself go hungry a few times rather than eat what was available to me at the time when it contained meat, which, looking back, was not only rude but also a bit dangerous (I'm hypoglycemic).

I've done a lot of thinking about it lately and have had some interesting conversations regarding veganism/vegetarianism being a privileged choice, something that is keeping me from experiencing the whole of cultures I'm interested in. I've also been ridiculously low on energy and my hypoglycemia's not getting any better. For these reasons and a few other personal ones I've decided that I want to try giving meat a place in my diet. I broke the barrier last night in a way that I don't plan on making a habit of - with a cheeseburger from a local chain. Damn. I still feel full today, though not sick or nauseated. I don't plan on eating meat again for one full week, at which time I already know what I'm going to have - BBQ. After that, a few times a week at most. I have no desire to eat it every day and seriously doubt I'll develop one. I really dislike fish, for what it's worth, though some other forms of seafood might end up appealing to me.

What I'm looking for is personal stories of going back to meat to gain some insight. I'm also interested in books or other resources that'll help me maintain a healthy diet integrating flesh and non-flesh.

One last thing: currently, I am a manager of a very strict vegan restaurant, a successful place that is employed by carnivores and herbivores alike. They know I'm not vegan - should I mention my new, carnivorous ways if it won't hurt my job security? I know, you can't answer that unless you knew every last detail about the place and the people involved, but throw me an opinion if you'd like. Though it hasn't really played into my decision, I've always been for personal choice and have never approved of militant vegans, something I come into contact with now on a daily basis. Any suggestions as to what to say should I 'come out' other than 'it's a personal matter' are also welcome here.
posted by item to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
First of all it’s good to hear that you didn’t get sick. I agree with the easing back into it, my good friend after many years of meat abstinence indulged in ribs and found herself sick for days. Needless to say she is back on the vegetarian path.

Secondly as far as announcing your new status to coworkers, only mention it if it comes up, and if need be remind them that your decision is not a comment on vegan food/ lifestyle; you can still enjoy vegan food and eat meat. I know I do!
posted by hibery at 1:05 PM on July 29, 2008

I indulged pretty hardcore after many years as a veggie, then vegan. I didn't suffer any ill effects at all, neither did several people I know who did the same thing.

Adding dairy back in was a much bigger problem, that caused many ill effects and extended bathroom visits. As soon as I figured out I wasn't handling dairy well I eased back on it and the symptoms vanished, within a few months I could drink milk with the best of them, problem free.
posted by Science! at 1:12 PM on July 29, 2008

posted by Science! at 1:13 PM on July 29, 2008

I'd recommend some chicken breast, and possibly some fish items. That's how my one friend has planned to tackle the issue (not sure if she's actually done it yet...)

As far as nutrition, it's much easier when you have meat at your disposal. It covers a lot of nutritional gaps that end up in most vegetarian diets. The old british/irish plate guide of 1/3 meat, 1/3 starchy (potato/rice/pasta) veg, and 1/3 other (green?) veg should serve you well here.

Also, consider that you (probably*) don't need more than 4** ounces of meat to form a full serving for a meal. Most Americans have trouble getting down to that level. You're actually working up to it.

* - depends on your weight and situation, ask a doctor for more accurate and personalized advice

** - From the American Heart Association diet, which is quite limiting.
posted by Citrus at 1:15 PM on July 29, 2008

Interesting timing—I'm in a similar situation. I had been ovo-lacto vegetarian for about fourteen years, until a couple of months ago. For some reason, I just got it in my head that I'd like to start eating fish again. I don't know why—I never really liked seafood in the first place—but it had been on my mind for a while, so one night, I drank a few beers for courage, baked up some tilapia with dill and butter and lemon juice (I'd never had tilapia before), and ate it.

And it was delicious.

I had fish (and crab cakes) a few times after that. I got hideously, ragingly, oh-my-God-I-think-I'm-going-to-die sick after eating salmon at Uno's for lunch. I have no idea whether the illness actually had anything to do with the salmon (I kinda doubt it), but the two became connected in my brain nonetheless, and I haven't touched seafood since.

Except! for sushi. I've eaten plenty of vegetarian sushi, but I'd never had sashimi (i.e., the raw fish) until a couple of months ago. Love it. Can't get enough of it.

A couple of weeks ago, I moved a little further up the food chain, and had a chicken salad sandwich from Panera. It was pretty tasty, but tasted more like mayo than anything else, and I haven't been in any huge rush to eat chicken again. It felt kind of heavy in my stomach, too—as you say, not in a bad way, but more than I'm used to.

Tried to eat some turkey soup from a favorite lunch spot, and couldn't do it. Too gamey or something.

Here's what I've ultimately settled on: I'm going to eat sashimi whenever I feel like it, which will probably be two or three times a month, and chicken on occasion, which will probably be once every month or two. That's enough to get me some omega-3s and an extra shot of protein, and to assert my rightful place on top of the food chain. That's right, fishes. Boo-yah.

So, uh, I don't know if that helps, but if you've never tried sashimi, try it! Make sure you go to a good sushi place, and start with tuna, yellowtail, and crab; the spicy and/or crispy versions of the maki rolls might cover up some of the freakiness if the idea of eating raw fish freaks you out. But well-prepared sashimi is suprisingly easy to eat; tuna in particular just melts in your mouth. And fish is one of the healthiest meats (well, there's the mercury...)
posted by greenie2600 at 1:15 PM on July 29, 2008

On the last question: I'm active in the local-foods and sustainability movements, and I know a whole lot of people who used to be vegetarian but who have begun to incorporate only locally raised meats from small-scale farms. If the political side still concerns you at all, there are very good arguments for supporting localized meat production, and you won't run afoul of many of the ethical concerns of vegetarians (cruelty, crowding, dangerous processing). I now think that a diet that incorporates meat, but efficiently, less often, and with smaller portions, is a very responsible one, whereas one that depends on unsustainably raised produce from long distances away is arguably more hurtful to the planet. You might be interested in reading two recent favorites on sustainable eating: The Omnivore's Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Both discuss some of the benefits of eating and raising meat as well as putting it into the context of a larger, more environmentally and personally healthy diet.
posted by Miko at 1:16 PM on July 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm glad you didn't buy into the whole "easing into eating meat" bunk that vegetarians love to spout off as evidence that man shouldn't eat meat. We are omnivores, and you won't get sick from going back to meat (unless the meat is spoiled or there is some other psychosomatic reason for it). Anyway, for you vegan co-workers/friends, I second hibery's advice, I wouldn't go around proclaiming you are a meat-eater again, but if they ask tell them that you do indeed eat meat, but that you still love vegan food and vegan people (as long as they don't try to convert you every time you talk to them!).
posted by Grither at 1:16 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Avoid fattier meats while you're easing into it. Try turkey burgers instead of regular burgers, for example. Don't feel the need to eat huge hunks of meat at every meal. Frankly, that's an unhealthy attitude and your cholesterol will not thank you.
posted by sondrialiac at 1:18 PM on July 29, 2008

Oh, yeah: I accidentally ate a chicken chimichanga (I'd ordered tofu) a year or two ago, when I was still vegetarian. I got suspicious about halfway through; it tasted unusually good. I decided that I didn't care, and that it was too late anyway, and finished it. No ill effects.
posted by greenie2600 at 1:20 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, if you're going to do it, do try high quality meat as well as junk food. You might not have had much opportunity if you last ate meat before you were an adult. It really makes a big difference: think about the difference between a cheap tasteless supermarket tomato, and a vine-ripened tomato bred for flavour.

Try getting some free-range chicken (you can buy a couple of breasts in a packet and grill them, you don't need to roast a whole one) or a fillet steak.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:21 PM on July 29, 2008

go slow is my suggestion. i practiced vegetarianism/flirted with veganism for eight years before i decided to reintroduce meat. try one or two items at a time instead of going "whole hog" personally, i recommend getting your hands on some properly prepared red beans and rice. that dish alone made me re-think my vegetarian ways.
posted by ms.jones at 1:22 PM on July 29, 2008

We are omnivores, and you won't get sick from going back to meat (unless the meat is spoiled or there is some other psychosomatic reason for it).

The article you link says "Longtime vegetarians report nausea and other gastrointestinal symptoms after consuming meat, intentionally or not, but several experts said they knew of no studies on the matter."

Seriously, don't listen to people who tell you to go from veggie straight to a high fat meat heavy diet unless they've actually done it, or can at least cite a study or two.
posted by sondrialiac at 1:23 PM on July 29, 2008

oh, and what miko said.
posted by ms.jones at 1:24 PM on July 29, 2008

I was forced into vegetarianism as a kid for several years, after my mother converted. I still wanted meat, but it's just that it wasn't made for meals, and I didn't have any money. I've gone back to vegetarianism from time to time for various reasons, and the only thing I've noticed is that I don't like fake "meat" foods, and I can't keep it up for more than 1 year.

I'm not quite sure what advice you're looking for, as you should pretty much eat whatever you want, vegetables and/or meats... as long as you're taking into consideration a healthy diet as it pertains to you. If you 're going to eat meat a few times per week in healthy portions, you'd probably be better off than most people diet-wise.

The one reason I couldn't maintain being a vegetarian: Jamaican Beef Patties w/ Cheese. Sweet Jesus.
/Homer Simpson drool....
posted by Debaser626 at 1:24 PM on July 29, 2008

I work with millitant vegans too. For me it's really a don't ask don't tell sort of thing. I like vegan staples enough that I blend right in during gatherings. At a vegan restaurant? Pass the tempah.

I consider myself a flexitarian now. I think the problem with my former lifestyle is that I simply ate low-quality food. I cut down on the grains and processed junk, added a little meat and upped my produce consumption. I eat under 100 g of carbs a day, which has kept my blood sugar in check. I make sure the meat I buy is high quality because I still believe that there are substantial problems with factory farming, but if I'm at someone's house and they offer me a meat dish of unknown origin...I usually take it.

I'd suggest cooking with meat instead of cooking meat. Make pasta or soups with chicken stock, sautee veggies with a little bit of bacon, etc. That way you can adjust to eating it and also stretch your supply if you are buying high quality stuff.

A cookbook I've been using a lot recently is The Healthy Hedonist, which is a flexitarian cookbook from an author who has written several vegan cookbooks. Also there is this, but I haven't tried it.

Interview with famous vegetarian cookbook author Mollie Katzen about eating meat again. Mark Bittman has some good writings on flexitarianism too.
posted by melissam at 1:25 PM on July 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

The American Heart Association recommends that you limit meat consumption to something roughly the size deck of cards. As a former vegetarian who only eats meat occasionally, this visual has been a good guide for me. It gives me that standard that (like you) I sought to adhere to as a vegetarian.
posted by blueplasticfish at 1:28 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I actually let myself go hungry a few times rather than eat what was available, which..was not only rude..

At the risk of this not ending well, turning down food offered to you because it contains ingredients you don't eat isn't rude. I'm not sure why you would want to convince yourself otherwise.
posted by Adam_S at 1:36 PM on July 29, 2008

My household is lucky in that we can get locally raised meat from our farmer's market. It's not technically organic, but we're on a first-name basis with the farmers and they don't use any chemicals nor do they inject their cattle with hormones. The taste is wonderful, and the meat doesn't turn brown after four days in the fridge.

The last time I ate a burger made from beef bought at a regional chain, I got sick to my stomach. More, even though the beef had been seasoned the same way we make it at home, it ended up with absolutely no flavor whatsoever.

The short version: eat locally raised meat if you can.
posted by eratus at 2:11 PM on July 29, 2008

Wow - you guys've pointed me towards some really interesting stuff. I'd never heard the term 'flexitarian' before now and it fits me like a well-tailored suit, though the word itself kind of makes me wince.
posted by item at 2:21 PM on July 29, 2008

I ate vegetarian for years when I was young, much to the dismay of my husband, who is a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore. I went back, gradually, to meat when I was pregnant because there just aren't enough vegetables in the world to feed a pregnant woman (unless you eat constantly). Despite my best efforts, my kids got their dad's carnivorous genes; it doesn't say much for my character, but basically in a family of meat-eaters it was the path of least resistance to go with a meat diet (we're talking 20 years now). I have kept vegetarian meals (not just meatless, but specifically vegetarian) in our diet all along. Last year my husband turned up with high cholesterol (and I didn't even say "told ya so") so we have now cut out red meat almost entirely and gone back to mostly vegetarian-- I cook veggie 4 nights a week at a minimum.

It feels really good to have gotten back to the diet that my body seems to want. I have more energy, lower grocery bills, and just feel better about myself and my impact on the planet (especially since I grow most of our summer food).

When I first started eating meat again I found that I simply could not tolerate beef at all. It made me ill. I started incorporating fish (especially oily fish because of the pregnancy) back into my diet, organic poultry and very occasional pork, especially stir-fried. I've since added meatloaf and shepherd's pie, staples of my childhood, but again, only seldom.

One of the hardest parts was learning how to cook all over again. I knew how to roast a chicken or fry a fish, but I had no idea what one did for stew, or a roast, or a ham (I still have never made a pot roast). mr. nax is perfectly happy with what I call a "slab of meat" (which is what he makes on his meal nights); I like more subtle and nuanced recipes-- stews or stirfrys, casseroles, etc.

Be prepared for GI issues. Buy your meat organic and local if possible. Eat small servings. Don't believe recipe recommendations for serving sizes. Last Christmas I did a pork roulade and told the butcher I was feeding 8 people, expecting maybe 5 lbs of meat. He order me a 15 pound roast. We ate that damned thing for more than a month. Meat eaters seem to think you need a pound or more of meat Per Person, which is insane-- I routinely fed a family of four on under a pound of meat for a single meal.
posted by nax at 2:30 PM on July 29, 2008

For those people who don't eat meat for political/ethical reasons, specifically the fact that one serving of farm raised meat takes eight servings of grain, I would suggest wild game. Obviously not everyone one has access to public forests but if you do then you have a source of meat that uses zero farmland not to mention it's organic and quite tasty.
posted by Bonzai at 2:34 PM on July 29, 2008

After 25 years of vegetarianism, my main problem wasn't digestion. It was that I had no idea how to cook or handle meat. And because I want to eat locally, humanely raised meat, I had to learn how to cook it. My dog was enthusiastic.
posted by PatoPata at 2:53 PM on July 29, 2008

I'm a vegetarian with a healthy love for BBQ, and a vegetarian friend who lost the enzymes for digesting certain meats*. So when I switched I made sure I ate meat occasionally, just in case. It took a bit but at some point my body started rejecting what I used to consider acceptable amounts of fat or oil. I'd wake up in the middle of the night feeling nauseous and then progress on to numb limbs and passed out once.

My doc had the same thing happen to him and his wife, and had put it together, saving me the trouble thankfully. Just be careful with fried food, or anything that looks really oily basically. Seeing liquid drop out of the taco should have been a sign something was wrong. *cringe*

Also, pineapple and papaya have enzymes that aid meat digestion. Body builders use them to help with digesting all that protein. If you try to eat something else (corn on the cob for me) along with the non-oily meat, and can work either of these in (fruity drink?) you'll probably be ok.
posted by jwells at 3:59 PM on July 29, 2008

Data point:
I was a vegetarian for five or six years, I eat fish now and then now but very rarely eat meat (it doesn't really do anything for me, barring a little broken-up bacon in mashed potatoes or something). It's consistent with my experience that reintroducing dairy is probably more likely to upset your stomach (though it sounds like you weren't vegan for long).

Safely-prepared meat is probably not going to mess with you, unless you go straight to Hot PocketsTM or something.
posted by trouserbat at 4:08 PM on July 29, 2008

jwells: Do you have any details about the enzymes (your friend's, not the fruit's)? Curious.
posted by trouserbat at 4:10 PM on July 29, 2008

Since you asked for anecdotes, here's mine.

I was a veg for 13 years as well. Started eating meat because of hypoglycemia as well. I only eat it a couple times a month, but it's made a huge difference with my blood sugar problems. I don't crash at the end of the day anymore.

I didn't ever get sick from eating meat, once I started again.

As for the ethical stuff, I firmly believe that I balance out my footprint, or karma, or whatever, in other ways. I do feel bad that an animal died for my meals that contain meat. So I try to put some good stuff back out there in a variety of ways. (I also remind myself that that animal would have died even if I wasn't the eventual consumer. That's just a market reality.)

As for telling your coworkers: I wouldn't bother. It's really none of their concern what you do outside of work, anyway. Some of them will be totally cool, some of them will act like you just brought a bag of leprosy into their restaurant. It's not worth the hassle, and they're not entitled to know what you eat any more than they'd be entitled to know what prescription drugs you take.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:48 PM on July 29, 2008

I love the description of "flexitarian" and I once was a vegetarian for a couple years. I became pregnant with my son and started craving the little cheeseburgers from Backyard Burger every single day for lunch. Since then, I mostly seem to be kind of intolerant for darker meats and prefer chicken, fish, and seafood. I also love a variety of grains, beans, and veggies. My honey loves dark, farm-raised beef and venison, etc., and the kids love it, too, but it seems to be hard on my belly. I'm the pickiest eater in my house now.

I try to eat local foods as much as possible. Also, I think everyone has their own dietary needs. Eat what you need.
posted by lilywing13 at 10:24 PM on July 29, 2008

nax, it seems like we have similar food preferences. I let the fella cook the "hard meat" as I've taken to call it, and he and the kids love it. I'm sure it's good for them, mostly, but I know it isn't for me. But yeah, I have to go with lighter meats when I have them. No one complains when I make a meal with the proportions you're describing. We all love the veggies and the grains.

I'm still waiting for when my guy gets his first cholesterol report. :)
posted by lilywing13 at 10:42 PM on July 29, 2008

Seriously, don't listen to people who tell you to go from veggie straight to a high fat meat heavy diet unless they've actually done it, or can at least cite a study or two.

Well, the first big meat thing I ate after being vegetarian for 7 years was a BLT from the Chicken 'n Waffle House. Unlike your typical 2-strips-of-bacon BLT, it arrived with a half pound of bacon on it. I was fine. I personally think turkey burgers and chicken breast patties are an abomination and would prefer to eat meat that is actually succulent and delicious, rather than anything that can be replicated with wheat gluten and tofu. Otherwise, why bother eating meat at all? Start with good, fresh, line caught fish if you're worried about strange reactions of some type. Obviously plenty of people will not agree with me, but I just find that nearly fat free white meat is the hardest meat to make well, and the easiest to just avoid in favor of veggies. Steak and ribs and carpaccio and venison and sausages and pork belly and and and! are other things entirely. .02.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:20 PM on July 30, 2008

I did the same thing about six months ago after being a vegetarian for most of my life, although I DID have to ease into eating meat. I had a few bites of chicken at first, and felt somewhat sick (with accompanying digestive issues), but over time it got much better, and now I'm completely fine (including a fate-tempting experience with raw oysters).

My main thing now is that there are so many foods that I've never tried, it's exciting to experience flavors and textures that are new to me. I still eat meat only a few times a week (veggie stuff is a lot cheaper and easier to cook if you know what you're doing), but I've discovered that some of my favorite foods are meats. Cuban sandwiches especially are amazing.
posted by odayoday at 3:43 PM on July 30, 2008

« Older Tips For MacBook Buyers?   |   I want to hang a shingle Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.