It’s February 14th, 2018, and I am staring down at a plate of glistening chicken skewers in a Thai restaurant. I remember the date because it was Valentine’s day and I was dining with another single friend.
‘Chickengate’, as we have come to call the event, had been cooking for a while.
I have never been the kind of vegetarian that pretends that the smell of meat is disgusting. I walked past the same restaurant on my way home probably a hundred times. To me, it always smelt enticing.
One pleasant day as I cruised past the steak house and enjoyed my usual stealthy microbiological nose meal, a voice that sounded like Alan Rickman came into in my head:
‘You know, you can eat meat if you want.’
I experienced a moment of appreciating my own deep-seated culinary privilege. I began by loitering outside the steak house, sniffing the air like a crazed wolf who smells blood in the wind. I stared like a psychopath at the juicy lamb, turning provocatively on the spit at the kebab house while I chewed on my dry falafel with hummus.
One day I was out with my friend — a lifelong vegetarian, and she spontaneously announced -
‘I want to try chicken.’
At this stage, she had literally never eaten meat in her entire life. I determined that there must be a shift in the wind. Who was I to argue with such a wind?
We walked for ages, analysing the menus of restaurants without deciding. Eventually, I insisted that we just walk into this Thai restaurant. We ordered a green tofu curry, vegetarian spring rolls and a plate of salty chicken skewers.
We dined on tofu curry and finished the spring rolls. I explained that I didn’t want to be a fear-based vegetarian and that I needed it to be my choice, not the choice of my emotions — as if justifying it to myself. I hatched a plan to soften the blow — I would eat meat for a bit and then give up again, releasing me of my fear and vegetarian pride, thus re-instating my sturdy ethical foundations.
In the blink of an eye, I had finished one of the skewers.
Eating meat, I realised was like riding a bicycle — you never forget how to do it. My friend had eaten half a bite and put it down. She didn’t like it. I wondered, my face filled with chicken grease, how someone couldn’t like it. I felt betrayed but I had gone too far to stop — I devoured the other two skewers They were the most delicious thing I had eaten in almost two decades.
My friend and I agreed not to speak any more about ‘Chickengate’. It was if it had never happened. I couldn’t admit to her at that point that I felt an unstoppable force rising from deep within. I had become a wide-eyed carnivore.
For weeks, I went crazy for meat. I tried all the different kinds of meat — charred juicy steaks, buffalo wings, pork chops, lamb chops, sausages and bacon. I forgot what vegetables tasted like. I suddenly understood people who didn’t eat vegetables — all I wanted was meat. What began as a subtle rush of energy got stronger and stronger. I felt capable and virile. I started to undertake ‘activities’ and decided to be an entrepreneur and ‘do something with my life’. I wondered what I had been playing around at for the last sixteen years.
Soon though the energy started to overflow — it turned into anger, irritability and aggression.
The mind was beginning to get angry at just about anything. I realised that I had gone too far in my carnivorism and started to understand why people eat vegetables — because (I think) they are alkaline, and they help balance the acidic fire created by meat.
Anyway, it was time to get off the meat train again. I had been eating it for a full two weeks now. Enough was enough. The pride had well and truly dissolved amidst shocking and embarrassing (for me) announcements to friends that they would no longer have to find alternative food options for me at their barbecues (To my surprise, they hardly gave a shit). But now I was ready to quit meat again and I realised it would be harder than I thought.
I had flashbacks to my judgement of so many friends who had been vegetarian, eaten a bit of meat and then become meat-eaters again.
Ethical and nutritional considerations aside, I realised the primary reason why people eat meat — because it is incredibly addictive.
There could be chemical reasons for this addiction, but the main reason for me is because it tastes absurdly delicious. After living on such fatty delights, how could a person go back to eating just vegetables?
As I surveyed my life from the filthy ditch of my fall from vegetarian grace, I had visions of myself lecturing people on the ethical considerations of meat-eating, and I realised the frivolity of my sermons. It is not that people eat meat because they don’t know the ethics behind it. It is not that they eat it because they enjoy hurting animals and that they need you to convince them that it is wrong.
People eat meat because it tastes bloody good, and it is incredibly addictive. End of story.
Lecturing people on the ethical considerations of meat is like trying to convince an alcoholic not to drink because of the carbon emissions that are produced — or, hitting up a heroin addict and giving them a sermon on why they shouldn’t be supporting the highly unethical opium industry.
I started to see the meat situation clearly. Over twelve months of (more balanced) meat-eating later I was watching on the news as a gang of vegan protesters forced their way into the same steakhouse I used to walk past. They held up signs and lectured the customers on the ethical considerations of meat-eating.
I understood that they meant well, but is it just me that thinks that if you are going to pick an audience for conversion to veganism, steakhouse diners might not be the best choice? I mean, if someone is ready for vegan transformation, you generally won’t find them in a steakhouse. The protest brought great publicity to the steakhouse by getting it onto the national news and, in my eyes, brought ridicule to the vegan community. At best, it brought a few moments of entertainment to the otherwise dull dinners of a few diners.
Vegan communities are often perceived as extreme, which isn’t helped by such activities.
The constant need to talk about veganism and, the all or nothing approach (where a family’s decision to give up meat one day a week is ridiculed instead of celebrated) is causing a great divide between the vegan community and everyone else. One must wonder if there are a good deal of vegans out there who would be unhappy if the world turned vegan since it would spell the end of their elite club.
Rather than straight-up protests, companies like Beyond Meat and others are working to make ‘meat’ products that taste as good as the real thing. Having understood the situation through my own experience, I know that this is the intelligent way to go about things. Addicts seek bliss — You can’t sell them on the value of empty space, you must give them something else that is just as good. Addiction always trumps reasoning.
I can’t say for sure that I won’t eat meat again. But, in these times of environmental and ethical crisis, I think one can do worse than stop eating meat or at least eat less of it — particularly the meat that is produced in factory farms.
Having said that, the main reason I gave it up this time is not due to intangible ethical theory but for the more objective reason that I live in the country these days and have to look at the beautiful faces of the animals each day and live with myself. For now, that is enough to keep me in ‘recovery’.