Really. I did. For 12 years in fact.
I remember the moment I turned away from meat: I was 14, helping my fellow 4-H club members clean up our leaders’ yard in preparation for their son’s wedding. At the edge of their property, through a snarled old barbed wire fence, a small group of cows meandered by. A few stopped to watch us, including one particularly interested little calf. He stood there, inquisitive, chewing cud and dipping his tongue in and out of each nostril. He stared, I stared back, and that was it. I had a melted heart, mushy brained 14-year-old moment that went something like: “they’re so cute! they’re so curious and alive and conscious! I can’t eat that! I can’t be the monster that murders them!”
Everything had changed. The gravity of that decision would not be felt for over a decade. I had no idea how monumental that moment would be in shaping my life, but what was done was done.
For the next 12 years I wavered between pescetarianism and near-veganism. (I don’t think I would have survived as a vegan – seriously, vegan cheese is just terrible… so no.) I joined PETA and did all my research on the virtues of vegetarianism through their website and like-minded sources. Over the years, a lifestyle motivated by moral and emotional objections turned into a political statement. I was protesting the truly horrid things that the industrialization of meat production and commodification of animal life bring about. I was voting with my dollars, and I was willing to ‘educate’ anyone willing to listen (read: any poor fool that asked why I didn’t eat meat). I’m sure I was insufferable.
I remember saying, on many occasions, that I didn’t think I would ever go back to eating meat. Why would I? I was perfectly happy without it, and the wonderful things I was doing for animal rights, the planet, and my health by eschewing meat were worth every awkward potluck and dinner party. Every time it took me an hour to pick up groceries because I had to read every can and box label, making sure those awful food companies weren’t slipping beef stock or chicken fat into my heat-and-eat meal, worth it. Every waitress I had to grill about the origin of their salmon or the base of their soup, worth it. Because I wasn’t supporting factory farming or animal cruelty, or the environmental catastrophe of industrialized meat, and I was going to be healthy forever, dammit!
And then I went to Italy. And everything changed… again.