I Was A Vegetarian For 20 Years, Then I Started Eating Chicken Again, And Now I CAN'T STOP!

For a long time, I loved animals too much to feel OK about eating them. Then a nutritionist suggested I try eating some poultry for mental health reasons. I did -- and now I feel guilty for loving it.

Aug 11, 2013 at 3:00pm | Leave a comment

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I enjoyed reading to my little bevy of stuffed animals.

Sorry I keep talking about animals, guys. Are you tired of it yet? It's just that I love them SO much. And it's just always been this way. My parents had cats, but my love wasn’t limited to the feline persuasion. I loved dogs, horses, hamsters, elephants, squirrels, lions, tigers, bears (oh my) ... anything, everything, what-the-hell-ever.

Growing up as a super-shy introvert, I felt instantly safe when an animal was around. So as a kid, I took to attempting to save random animals in distress. On a fifth-grade class trip, I remember walking past a pet store with a bunch of miserable, scrawny-looking puppies in a gated area at the front window. I sneakily ran off to buy the poor buggers some bread (because it was the only thing I could think to buy, apparently, being 11 and clueless). If I had a do-over, I'd probably just get them some dog food, but hey, I was young.

So it kind-of made sense that, when I was 14, I decided to stop eating meat. I’d been a member of PETA for years (ugh -- I'M SORRY, I KNOW), and I'd obligingly fork over $20 whenever the foul asswipes would solicit me in the mail. The pictures in PETA’s brochures -- you know the ones, of the chickens all crushed on top of each other at factory farms, and the frightened cows waiting to be slaughtered -- told me everything I felt I needed to know: The killing and consumption of my fellow animals for food was cruel and unnecessary. It was totally possibly to lead a happy, meat-free existence; most of the foods I loved didn’t include meat, anyway (though the foods I loved were also nutritionally bankrupt -- we’re talking bagels, French fries, and candy, ALL THE TIME).

I stuck with my nutritionally questionable (I was a vegetarian who refused to eat vegetables!) veg ways for a looong time. Then, in my mid-twenties, I started eating fish again. It just sort of happened -- I tried a bite of my friend’s fish dinner out at a restaurant one night, and within days I was eating it again on the regular. It was like my body was holding a gun to my head, demanding: GIVE ME PROTEIN, BITCH, OR ELSE YOU DIEEEEEE. So I obliged, feeling a stab of guilt every time I bit into a delicious, buttery slab of salmon.

Fast forward to the fall of 2012. Having dealt with chronic depression since high school (yes, I'm on meds, but they don't do that much), and getting increasingly fed up with feeling like shit all the time, I decided to try enrolling in a holistic wellness program outside of San Francisco. The place is run by Julia Ross, who wrote a pretty major book called "The Mood Cure" -- she's an advocate of using supplements, amino acids, and dietary changes to help treat mood disorders.

When I called for my consultation, I gave the nutritionist a quick rundown of my mental health history. When I said I was vegetarian, she paused. "We don’t really work with vegetarians here," she told me. She said there were certain nutrients and amino acids in animal protein that you couldn’t get anywhere else, and amino acids were one of the core facets of the program. In order to be a client there, she explained, I would need to consider eating SOME meat again -- poultry was OK.

She also asked when my depression first kicked in. “Around age 15,” I told her. “Which is just a year after you stopped eating meat, correct? Have you ever thought about that correlation?” she asked.

I felt a little bit stupid, and a little bit like someone had smacked me over the head with a metal plank. “Um, yeah. I mean, no, I’ve actually never really thought about it...” I explained meekly. She made me promise to think it over and get back to her, urging me to try eating some sort of meat again in order to give their program a solid try.

I thought it over, thought it over, thought it over some more. I didn’t actively WANT to start eating chicken again -- I was still ethically not psyched on eating animals. But what she’d said about the possible link between my depression and my vegetarianism kept nagging at me. What if...? I kept thinking. What if all I really needed to do to kick my depression was eat a little bit of turkey a couple times a week?

I tried to put the niggling inner voices aside -- the PETA-influenced teen activist ones that kept flashing brutal images of dead animals in my face -- and decided to give it a shot. For the sake of my mental health. So just like that, I started eating chicken again.

And ... I LOVED IT. The first time I had it, after 20 YEARS of NOT having it, was pretty weird, I'll admit. It was so ... fleshy. And eating it off the bone really freaked me out. But it tasted so goddamn good (it still does). I began having it at one meal every other day or so, and started working with Ross’ clinic -- they put me on a crazy regimen of vitamins and amino acid supplements, and I ate a shit ton of protein and cut way back on sugar and wheat.

I did not get less depressed, sadly, and I felt a twinge of guilt every time I bit into a savory piece of fried chicken or turkey burger, but then the guilt would get drowned out by the sheer deliciousness. And the protein! 

It’s been 9 or 10 months since I started eating chicken again. I’m not doing the wellness program anymore, and I still grapple with depression. Now I also grapple with the guilt of not fully upholding my own ethics; I don’t love animals any less than I ever did, and frankly, I don't feel that awesome about eating them. (I don't judge others who eat meat -- it's a personal choice, and I'm not one of those weirdos who, like, can't watch a friend enjoy a steak). But for some reason, I just can’t seem to muster up ENOUGH guilt and/or resolve to quit chicken again.

I feel like a bit of a veggie failure. Anyone else gone through something similar? Any tips on how to get my veg groove back?