I’ve recently realized that I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to fit into a dietary label. For 10 years I was a vegetarian. A Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian to be precise. I can’t really remember why I decided to stop eating meat. My uncle was the only vegetarian I knew and maybe that had an impact on me. I can remember thinking that meat was gross and not wanting to eat it from early on. I know I was, and still am, disgusted my the texture of some meat, and I cannot handle running into a “nasty bit” of tendon or fat or gristle. I remember battles with my parents and being forced to sit at the table for what seemed like hours until I finished my meal, a battle of wills, which I usually won. Eventually they gave up trying to make me eat meat.
Once I proclaimed I was a vegetarian it felt as if there were no turning back. To cheat and have a bite of a delicious smelling chicken finger would mean the end of the world.. To this day I can vividly remember a school outing where all they had for lunch was Hot Dogs so I gave in and took a bite. Seconds later a friend of mine declared “So much for being a vegetarian!”. I never ever wanted to feel that embarrassment and shame again. To be called out as not a true vegetarian. Didn’t every meal of all the other 365 days a year count for anything?? Because I wanted to live up to my vegetarian standards I denied myself so many experiences. Being from Nova Scotia that meant not participating in clam boils, lobster cook-outs, fresh caught fish or mussels on the beach. It also meant no chicken fingers. Honestly I don’t know what my obsession with homemade chicken fingers is, but it’s the one food that can break me.
Finally after years of always saying no to any meat people offered (and people like to offer meat to a vegetarian) I finally said yes. To a bite of chicken. I had a rocky non-vegetarian beginning sometimes chicken was ok and other times it was not. A piece of vein in a subway sandwich would traumatize me yet golden delicious chicken fingers would bring me back. I slowly started to add seafood and fish into my diet, experiencing all of them for the first time again. I felt sad for having missed out on these foods fresh from the ocean. Eventually I made my way back to red meat as well, slowly, cautiously. My first taste was a piece of pepperoni pizza. Then burgers, and bacon, and so forth until my very first bite of steak. I can still remember it clearly (3 years ago). Even though it smelled horrible, it was quite juicy and tasty and made me want more.
I carried on in this manner for a while, not really thinking too much about what I was eating. Shocking people by telling them I was a vegetarian for 10 years. And every time feeling a tinge of regret that that title was no longer mine. Even tho it deprived me of many experiences there was also always a sense of pride that came with the vegetarian title. A pride in being able to deny impulses or be able to stick with your conviction, will-power. I never fully ate meat like a normal person, I would eat this but not that, and most of my meals were vegetarian anyways just out of habit or preference. But I did develop a love of good meat.. not the cheap rubbery fake meat that you get most places but of a really good steak, or burger, or glazed salmon, or juicy BBQ’d chicken.
And then I watched Food Inc. and read Eating Animals and my meat eating carefree world came crashing down. I was traumatized and devastated by what I learned. I vowed to regain my vegetarian status! Or maybe I could pass as an Selective Omnivore.. Or maybe Eco-tarian would be a better title. I mean, I can still eat meat sometimes.. If it comes from a good source.. Right? So we bought and buy free range organic bison, elk from a farmer down the road, 2 chicken breasts from planet organic, organic free range eggs, sea choice fish filets.. We’re only buying responsibly raised, sustainable, organic meat so why do I still feel crappy about it. Why must I think of all the environmental reasons to not eat meat too. The fact that it requires so much more land, water, and energy to produce 1 lb of meat compared to 1 lb of grain.. That there really are no sustainable fisheries.. That free range literally means access to the outdoors which can mean a window.. Why can’t I just enjoy this meal.. And if not, why can’t I stick to my vegetarian label..
So far this year I’ve dabbled in a few labels. I like to think of myself as currently a vegetarian. A vegetarian who falls off the wagon for a bite of fish or chicken or meat every few months and then I think of myself as a selective omnivore.. I like the idea of veganism as well.. If it weren’t for cheese, and yogurt, and eggs, and honey.. Really I’m just a little weirded out that we collect the breast milk of another animal and drink it. I even bought vegan cheese the other day. I guess to show my support more than anything.
One day I strive to not let these labels control me. To be completely secure in who I am, what I eat, and how I live. To not feel guilty that one meal out of 100 I have something non-vegetarian therefore can no longer carry that title.. Until then I’ll continue my love/hate relationship with labels and label myself accordingly.