Eating Meat Again and the shame that came with it
Call me flexitarian
I ate meat for all my years until I was twenty eight. I had fasted for the religious Hindu festival, Divali for the first time, and just decided to keep it going even after the deeyas were packed away. I didn't miss the meat. I was deep into my yoga practice, and the value of non-violence was important to me. That meant no killed animals. There were plenty of nutritious plants that could feed me, and I still believe this.
I never wholly claimed the title of "Vegan", though I do tell stories about how I was vegan when I lived in Trinidad, where I made cashew cheese and almond milk from scratch. Where I made tofu cheesecake and never bought eggs. Concocted "Nice cream" with frozen banana in a Nutribullet. Callaloo with no Crab. Buljol with no saltfish. However when I was out of the house, it was a different story. At restaurants, I would casually order cow's milk cheese as though I had not been squeezing almonds all day to extract their juice. I'd say: "There aren't healthy options for vegans eating out, so I have to eat this stuff," as though I was appalled to put dairy in my mouth. As though cheese was yucky to me. As though I had not been craving that dairy laden pizza, with clumps of mozzarella browning and flattening on it in a wood fire oven.
When I moved to New York, for a while my excuse for my vegan delinquency was that they don't know what to do with vegetables here. Vegan restaurants in New York make up for meatless-ness with tempeh and soya, while treating veggies like a side, the way omnivores do. Indian restaurants would honor vegetables as entrees, but in they did so floating in ghee. So for the sake of health, my already iffy vegan diet become more and more accommodating to eggs and milk. It took a while for me to actually buy eggs. This was silly because I enjoyed them outside of the apartment. At home I couldn't bear the smell of them cooking, but I got over that real quickly, and in my grocery basket next to my meatless sausages would eventually be a half crate of organic brown eggs. (Free range for the guilt). I still cannot bring myself to buy eggs that don't say "Free range" even though I am sure it is absolute bullshit. These yolks aren't deep yellow enough to convince me these chickens are frolicking.
When health was no longer enough of an excuse, I brought up value. One time at Pearl's, a traditional Trinidadian restaurant in Williamsburg, the people I was dining with had "bake and shark", while I had "bake and channa" (also known as chick peas). When the bill came, they of course wanted to split it evenly, since that was "easier". I ended up paying multiple times what my meal cost, since shark meat costs much more than channa does. And this kept happening! I felt robbed constantly. These fish meals were healthier than my fried, cheese laden ones though, and since I was paying the price for them anyway, I made a decision to allow myself to order fish if I was eating out. I became a pescatarian, or as I used to put it: "I'm vegetarian, but I do eat seafood sometimes." I was putting my health and my pocket before my moral compass. Cognitive dissonance in full effect. Overcome with shame to skip to the seafood pages of the menu, I'd ponder the oily, carb loaded vegetarian pages first and eventually peek at the shrimp. Once for a PR gig, I had octopus. We tend to group all seafood together as though these animals are all brainless, and less important than land mammals. But eating the octopus really bothered me. I definitely enjoyed it-- The flavor, the texture. But I know they are very intelligent. And I know that this octopus knew what was happening to him.
Within the last five or so years, I've had a couple bites of meat here and there. For my 31st birthday I was tipsy off of rum (and Ding Dong's live Flairy performance at a Caesar's army party in Brooklyn), and yammed down a chicken wing with no hesitation. At a work related event in a well-loved steakhouse, I stole a bite of a filet mignon. One time, I accidentally ate a real hot dog, when the waitress confused my veggie hot dog order. There were all these small slip-ups happening over time. But when the covid lockdown first hit in March 2020, I decided to just have meat again consistently. No big ah-ha moment. No real reason behind it. I just wanted to. And I haven't stopped since.
I could rattle off a million excuses or reasons (depends how you look at it) as to why I found it okay to start eating meat again. That it's not everyday. That I don't tolerate legumes well. That there's no red meat (so far) so it's not as bad for the environment. That with the lockdown I can't frequent the grocery too much for fresh veggies and this is a means of survival. I could call myself a flexitarian, but what is that really? A term that ashamed people like me use, to avoid confronting that they've turned their back on their commitment?
I guess a lot of the shame comes when I have to face other vegetarians. People who stood with me in solidarity against the environmental destruction that the meat industry has wreaked. The shame that comes a long with reading about covid concerns in the meat packing plants. Shame about justifying murder, because I do still think meat to be cruel. There's also the arrogance that I meet with meat-eaters, with an "I told you so" attitude about meat being irresistible. There were actually more non-vegans who would send me questioning DMs if they saw me having ice cream or macaroni and cheese. People want to box you into dietary titles. You can't just eat what you feel like without having a very specific name for it. Keto. Lacto-ovo vegetarian. Gluten free dairy free paleo. It's very conflicting, but I just want to eat meat when I feel to. Is there a name for that?
The bottom line is, and I need to keep repeating this to myself, it is my body. I have a choice to eat what I want. Are there consequences? Of course. But it is up to me to understand them and make decisions that suit me. We are always policing one another. What to wear, what to eat, how to live. I believe in balance. I also believe in letting people just be themselves. So this is my coming out party, I guess. I eat meat now sometimes. And I'm sorry, but also not that sorry.
About the Creator
A Trinidadian writer based in Brooklyn, writing about what it's like to exist between the Caribbean and USA, in the form of essays, articles and fictional short stories.
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