- Sarah Miller writes about her first try — and resulting failure — at vegetarianism, and how it screwed up every subsequent attempt.
- First Off is Insider’s essay series about life’s firsts — the big ones, the small ones, and everything in between.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Welcome to First Off, Insider’s new essay series. We’re asking writers to reflect on the firsts, both big and small, in their lives. From their first child to their first grown-up purchase to their first act of rebellion, we want to know how these experiences shaped them.
For our second essay, Sarah Miller writes about how a bad date and a juicy steak ruined all her efforts to give up meat for good.
I was in my late 20s the first time I became a vegetarian. This was the 90s, and I was a Park Slope-living, Chardonnay-drinking, early Brazilian wax-adopting freelance writer who still hung out with all my best friends from college.
I was about two steps to the left of basic, and one of those steps was Jivamukti Yoga, my cramped and unfussy studio that smelled like an old pair of tights. I went almost every day.
I was both intimidated by and girlishly obsessed with the studio’s lithe, graceful, and terrifying cofounder, Sharon Life. She used to give talks before practice about how yoga applied to life. These talks, like yoga itself, were a stunning mix of profound and ridiculous, and I always listened intently. A week or so before Thanksgiving, Sharon told us how terrible it was to eat animals.
When you eat animals, she explained, you eat the fear that animal felt when it died. That fear goes into your own body and sets up shop in your very cells. Oh boy, I thought. I do not like the sound of that. I’m never eating meat again.
The decision to actually forgo meat was not immediate
On the way home I probably ate a gyro or a piece of pepperoni pizza. Or maybe I ate it the next day. Still, Sharon’s talk freaked me out. “Do you think you can eat fear?” I asked anyone who I thought might actually give this question serious thought. Most people thought you could not.
At Thanksgiving dinner, where I ate turkey like everyone else, my friend Melissa’s cousin Serena confirmed that, yes, it was true: you ate an animal’s fear when you ate its flesh. Was Serena a vegan? She was. (She still is.) She could also pull off complicated yoga poses unassisted, so I thought she might be right.
That might have been the end of it, but a few nights later, I passed by an overflowing garbage can. It was home to many disgusting things — bags of dog shit, napkins smeared with blood and mustard, an answering machine with its own exposed, multi-colored guts.
But its most prominent resident was an enormous turkey carcass. The ribcage hung with leftover bits — lacy, intricate, disgusting. I couldn’t stop looking at it. I couldn’t even move. The full horror of what meat was — everything Sharon Life had said about it, what other vegetarians I knew had said, reservations I had about eating it — hit me all at once. I thought of the turkey alive, walking, looking around, doing whatever it was turkeys do. Then I thought of it dying, being dead, its flesh being eaten and washed down with beer, wine, Coca-Cola, Crystal Light.
I boarded the F train in a daze of horror, repulsion, and shame. I could not believe that I ate meat, that I had been eating it my whole life, that my body was made out of fowl and fish and fauna, and, of course, fear. I was horrified. Meat, I said to myself, I renounce you forever.
I went to brunch with my friends and I told all my friends I was a vegetarian now. Melissa, who was brassy and contrarian, told me I wouldn’t stick with it. “No, I swear,” I said. “The turkey carcass I saw — it was life-changingly disgusting.”
“All meat is disgusting,” Melissa said. “It doesn’t prevent people from eating it.” She told me a story about how her husband was a vegetarian for 20 years. One night he went to a party and smelled sausages and ate seven of them and never looked back.
I thought to myself that perhaps Ben did not have a lot of a lot of fortitude, and how I was not going to be like Ben.
Months passed, and I did not eat meat or fish
It did not occur to me to give up dairy — this was the 90s, and being a vegan was considered radical. I tried to engage with people in what I told myself was a tone of innocent curiosity. In reality, my questions were obnoxious.
I was just wondering — does it bother you that animals live terrible lives before they’re killed? Do you ever think about the fact that it was painful to be slaughtered, and — no judgment here — while you’re chewing, do you ever think, “This used to be someone’s leg”?
The following fall, I went out to dinner with a guy I met at a coffee shop. We were sitting in a nice restaurant and I thought to myself, I am so bored, we have no chemistry. And then a waiter passed by bearing a platter of sliced grilled steak. It looked so good. It looked so much more interesting than the conversation I was trying to have. So I ordered a steak, and just like that, I was no longer a vegetarian.
I don’t remember being terribly upset about failing, which must have meant I wasn’t that serious about succeeding
One problem was the fading importance of the feelings that made me decide to stop eating meat. I thought the repulsion I’d felt upon seeing the turkey carcass would always feel as visceral as it did in the moment. I imagined that the magic I saw in the chain of events that came beforehand — Sharon’s talk, the way I only half took it in at the time, the way the rotting garbage heap drove home the point for me, my vegetarianism as yogic destiny — would always feel that magical.
I never cut ahead to the part of the story where the initial motivations were no longer strong and there was meat everywhere and I wanted to eat it. I was so sure my smelling-the-sausage-moment would never come that I hadn’t planned for it.
Years passed. I moved to California. I continued to eat meat while thinking about not eating it. In the back of my mind, I knew some charismatic megafauna would come along and spur me to renounce meat again. I did not imagine that it would be a male writer from Brooklyn, who, years later, was mocked for writing ridiculous emails to Natalie Portman.
Once again, I freaked out: How could I have been eating animals all this time? What was wrong with me, and everyone?
Earlier, my concerns lay with the poor animals and how they lived and died. This time, I worried that livestock and poultry were pumped full of unhealthy chemicals and antibiotics. Worse yet, the environment — the entire plant and animal kingdom — was under grave threat from the massive resource drain and pollution from factory farming.
This was far more upsetting than the post-Thanksgiving carcass, but as I knew, shock and outrage diminish over time. I needed a sound strategy for getting me through the tough — and not-so-tough — moments when meat enticed me, and that initial buzz of pure resolve was nowhere to be found.
I took a photo of a page from Jonathan Safran Foer’s book “Eating Animals” that contained a graphic description of factory farming and made it the display on my phone. I doubled down on asking people obnoxious questions in the same manner as before, except now they were more like: “This is neither here nor there, but do you know how many gallons of water went into making that sandwich?” or “What images pop into your mind when you hear the words “deforested for ranching”?
Can anyone guess what happened next? If you think I stayed a vegetarian for the rest of my life, raise your hand. If you think I started telling myself it was fine to eat meat that came from local farms and then gradually started eating meat from any old place, raise your hand, and then give yourself a gold star for being correct.
It is now 2020. There are few defensible reasons to eat meat or fish. Factory farming is abundantly harmful for the animals it slaughters. Eating vegetables is easier for me than many people. The meat industry is on par with the oil and gas sectors when it comes to environmental damage.
I know all this stuff. Why don’t I quit meat?
Looming over any fresh attempt at vegetarianism is the specter of the first time I quit, when I unquit for almost no reason
What kind of person doesn’t eat meat for the better part of a year and then eats a steak because they’re bored? I will never forget what my mind did when that beautiful steak went flying past me. I thought, “Wow,” and then I thought, “I could just eat that. There is nothing stopping me but me.”
My relationship to meat is a reminder of my general hypocrisy: how there are so many things that I believe in — theoretically — and do nothing about. It’s also a reminder that I have a tendency to put my pleasure above my beliefs.
I would love to see the commercial farming industry dismantled. I would even be happy to participate in that dismantling. But as long as meat appears in front of me and I can afford it, I will eat it.
I’m willing to fail at being a vegetarian again. I’m also willing to succeed, but, I’m sorry to say, not in a position to expect it.
Sarah Miller has written for The Cut, the Outline, and Popula.
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Source: Thanks https://www.insider.com/why-i-eat-meat-even-though-inhumane-bad-for-health-2020-3