Why I started eating meat after more than a decade
I decided to become a vegetarian one day at nerd camp.
My class was instructed to write and present our own protest chants/picket signs to the rest of the camp. I thought this would be a great time to strongarm some people into joining a cause I had cared about for a few years but never fully acted on: animal cruelty in slaughterhouses. Oh, I was deep into PETA propaganda within hours.
A worthy cause, no doubt. It’s something I still care about today, and something that humans need to take a serious look at in regards to climate change. But I digress.
I made that decision with very little research, or thought, into alternative ways of protesting that industry. To me, the only way to really stick it to the man was to quit eating meat outright. So I did. And I continued to do so for the next almost 15 years.
I tried every weird vegetarian lunch meat available to me in a small town in Florida — gotta tell you, it’s not great. My dad even very kindly cooked a Sami-version of all our family dinners; he’d use Morningstar products or add in more veggies to pasta sauces, etc.
While this was certainly a noble charge for a young teenager to take on, I had no idea how it would come to limit me and my food choices for the next few years.
I went on to college, where there were a fine amount of vegetarian options on my campus. Eventually, I would live in apartments (or at least apartment-style dorms) that made it easier to cook for myself. When I graduated, I moved to New York, a place where every kind of food is available at pretty much any hour of the day. I had no problem finding options, or even entire restaurants, where I could eat happily.
However, when you go for that long without eating meat, you start to develop a fear of what if.
What if that restaurant uses the same oil to fry its chicken as it does anything else? What if they don’t clean their pans very well between orders, and my food is cooked in residual animal grease?
Around the time that I was going through the worst of my eating disorder was when I started to question any restaurants level of quality for fear that they would make me sick by pure accident. It would be potentially, uh, disruptive to my stomach/bowels/toilet if they made a simple mistake like putting chicken in my rice instead of tofu, for example.
Cut to early 2019. I’ve decided to go back to school to become a registered dietitian and I’m starting to dive into the Intuitive Eating process.
Suddenly, it clicked for me: not eating meat was another food restriction I had placed on myself.
Now, I used to place a buttload of food restrictions on me when I thought almost everything was causing me inflammation and digestive issues. Those I was familiar with, and I’d done away with almost all of them. But meat?
I had chosen not to eat meat years before I even knew what an eating disorder was; plus, I had made that decision from a moral standpoint instead of a fearful dietary one.
But I still gave meat such a place of power over my food decisions, and I was tired of it.
If I did eat meat again, I would have more options of proteins available to me, both in my own kitchen and out at restaurants. I could choose to support local, sustainable and human farms. I wouldn’t have to worry if a restaurant made small mistakes or not, because meat wouldn’t be able to hurt me anymore.
So, I made the switch.
It wasn’t easy at first. I had a huge mental block and was almost too uncomfortable to push through my fears; but that’s exactly the reason I wanted to reverse my decision. It doesn’t mean that I lost my moral compass, or that I’m denying myself the conviction that Young Sami had at the time. It just means that I have fewer food restrictions on me and more options on GrubHub.
If you’re thinking of introducing meat into your diet, here are some tips that I found useful:
Start with fish, if you don’t already eat it.
Fish is a lean protein that won’t disrupt your system very much at all.
Start with broths or stocks when cooking/eating.
Fish stock, or chicken stock, is a great way to get the flavor of meat into your food without worrying about the meat itself. Use it as a substitute for water when making rice, quinoa or even boiling vegetables.
When you feel ready, stick to poultry.
Beef and pork are going to be tougher on your system to digest than chicken or turkey. Start with poultry and let your body adjust to this new form of protein before making the jump to beef or pork.
Even if you are a more recent vegetarian, it’s worth easing back into proteins this way.