It’s been 6 months since I’ve eaten meat. I am but a fledgling on my journey towards what some may call veganism and others may call a plant-based diet. But, why am I taking this plant-eating path?
As a young teen I’d wanted to become a vegetarian, feeling guilty for eating animals. As a “cradle Catholic”, I decided to give up meat for Lent one year. Knowing nothing about nutrition, it’s no surprise I wound up feeling perpetually rundown, weak, and hungry during those 40 days. (As a hormonal young teen, I’m sure that lethargy made me extra-pleasant company!) I left that herbivore stint thinking I couldn’t live without meat… that my body didn’t thrive on a meat-free diet.
Fast-forward to 3 years ago. I had my gallbladder removed in an entirely unremarkable, common surgery. Once the wounds were healed, I felt markedly better than I had for the four months preceding my operation. However, as many post-op gallbladder patients note, my digestion was off. I’d bloat, have frequent and urgent trips to the bathroom, and suffer stomach pain. It was frustrating. Some foods — like raw vegetables, legumes, greens, seeds, and nuts — I was able to help my body digest by way of regular exposure. Other foods — fatty meats like sausage, greasy hamburgers, and hot dogs — were mightily rejected. Fortunately, I was already dairy-free due to an allergy, so I didn’t struggle with that frequently aggravating food group too.
As time went on, my inability to digest meats increased. Fatty fish, processed meats, red meats, beef broth… all of it would wreak havoc on my system. Eventually, even with the help of probiotics, I was only able to eat grilled boneless, skinless chicken breast. With my diet so limited, the texture of the chicken meat eventually became unappealing. Then came a trip to our local farm park.
It’s a beautiful place, this farm, where 4-H members care for the animals. Chickens, pigs, ducks, sheep, goats, horses, rabbits, turkeys, even a couple of peacocks reside on the well-tended farm. The cows though… it’s the cows that got me.
One sunny late-summer afternoon, we took a family trip to the farm. My littlest was nursing in the baby carrier as my older two children scampered about looking at the animals. We came to the cow pasture where I saw an engorged mama cow. We had seen her bull calf a few fields over. Mama Cow’s udder was full and distended. She clearly needed to feed her calf.
As a breastfeeding, breast milk donating mother, I empathized with her. I felt her discomfort. I looked about searching for a farmhand to ask after the calf.
Just then, a farmhand entered the field, halter in hand, ready to take Mama Cow to be milked. “We’re in the process of weaning,” she explained, gently buckling the harness around mama cow’s furry head, “she’s being milked in a few minutes if you’d like to come watch. Kids love it.” She lead Mama Cow through the grass and onto the gravel path, Mama Cow’s swollen, milk-filled udder slightly impeding her gait.
That image haunts me. The painfully engorged Mama Cow, her baby boy separated from her and forcibly weaned to a bottle so that her milk could feed humans, instead of the calf for which it was intended. Later, that bull calf would likely have one of two fates: breed or burger. Mama Cow would continue to be impregnated, continue to be forcibly separated and weaned from her offspring, continue to be milked to feed humans instead of calves, continue to be used until she could give no more. Then her fate would be the slaughterhouse.
I tossed and turned that night. The mere thought of meat made me shudder. The idea of biting into a burger or steak made my stomach turn. It was dead flesh… a carcass! Was I so important that my hunger came above Mama Cow’s life or the life of her babies? Could I not eat other things to fill my belly, nourish my body in another way, and not contribute to their deaths? And with that question, my path began.
At first, I just gave up meat but still ate fish, honey, and eggs regularly. Then I gave up fish unless out of the house and faced with few other food options. Next I stopped eating eggs, not only because I realized that by eating eggs I was contributing to the eventual slaughter and consumption of the hens, as well as the deaths of roosters, but because the vegan replacements satiated my egg cravings. Then I reduced my use of honey. Eventually, I plan to stop eating fish when out and about.
I don’t judge or chastise those who eat meat. This is my path, and mine alone. I ate meat for years. I loved meat! My children and husband still eat meat (though I cook vegetarian fare 99% of the time, unless they request a specific meaty dish.) Simply put, I don’t personally want to consume carcasses. Others may do as they please.
And how do I feel six months in? I. Feel. Great! I never have that heavy “thud” in my gut after even the heaviest of vegan meals. My digestion is regular. My belly doesn’t get distended. I have more energy. I feel lighter. I no longer feel guilty. It’s perfect for me.
I am happy. I am healthy. My conscience is at ease. Our grocery bill is $50-$100 below our previous amount since dropping meat. Heck, this week we spent a measly $150 to feed our family of five for the whole week, and that includes my vegan wine. I cannot complain.
This is my abrupt yet gentle trek towards an entirely plant-based diet. “Take it slow or you’ll regret it,” advised one vegan. So I am.