I’m a former vegetarian who returned to (eating) the fold.

Until recently I’ve wanted desperately to believe that eating animals is unnatural because we lack the teeth, claws, speed, instincts and digestive setup to catch, kill and safely ingest other animals. It’s been a nice moral high ground to take for a while. After all, it feels innately horrible to cage or murder a living thing. And innately good to look after it and keep it safe and free-roaming. (Just think about your pets).

But the more I’ve looked at the evolutionary research and historical evidence for the human diet, the more vegetarianism has become a grey area for me.

Taking my feelings and preconceptions out of the equation, I looked deeper into the sustainability of a vegetarian lifestyle. I’d already tried veganism and read that it was easy to suffer with serious (potentially fatal) nutrient deficiencies if not properly supplemented. Especially vital B vitamins, which are only found in animal-based food, in bugs and in the bacteria in soil (anyone want to risk eating the soil left on their veggies?).

Ok, I thought, so I’ll just stick to being vegetarian instead. But it didn’t take much research to learn that there’s not a single indigenous tribe on the planet with a purely vegetarian diet. Looking into it more, there’s still significant evidence of nutrient deficiencies in vegetarian diets — notably iron, zinc, B vitamins and vitamin D. Effects of these deficiencies on health have been shown to include brain shrinkage(!) (look it up), depression, foggy-headedness and hormonal imbalance. I may be a vegetarian, I thought to myself, but I’m a believer in science and evidence first. And I’m not keen on the idea of brain shrinkage.

It seems that without a significant amount of time and careful research invested into taking the right pills and supplements, it becomes difficult to sustain a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle without risking deficiencies and even damage to your health. Indigenous tribes and our ancient ancestors didn’t have access to pills and supplements so that they could avoid eating animal foods — not even dairy products — which would tell me that they made up for these deficiencies naturally by eating meat, eggs and fish.

Luckily I’ve never been in a position where I’m physically starving or put at risk by the rest of the natural world, but if I ever was I imagine the boundaries would begin to blur between what I could and couldn’t eat if I was days from death.

I’m sure some people won’t like it, but personally I think I’ve made an informed, evidence-based decision to go back to eating meat. I’m more than happy to return to a vegetarian lifestyle if the scientific evidence points overwhelmingly in that direction — and please, feel free to correct me in the comments below — but for the time being I’m afraid that the instinct to preserve my own life and health takes precedence.

I’ve also picked up on several other points during my research which may be worth a mention:

  • Given our evolutionary development, I’m led to believe that we were an omnivorous species before we were a highly emotional species. This would suggest that vegetarianism is a product of human empathy and/or religious beliefs, and not necessarily one of biological necessity. Therefore, is the drive to not consume animals a result of our nurture, not our nature?
  • Wild animals rarely die of old age, and even when they do it’s rarely done with dignity. Everything in the food chain, from grass up to humans, is naturally intended to be eaten; if not in life then in death. Watch any Attenborough documentary (and you should, they’re amazing) and you’ll see that no living thing dies and goes to waste. Not even apex predators. There’s always something there to consume it, even if it’s rotting on the sea bed. The natural world is a violent soup where something’s always waiting in the wings to profit from the weakness or death of something else. The only ones who’ve added a sense of morality to the whole violent dance is us, and we’ve successfully removed ourselves from the food chain. Well, until we die anyway, when all manner of life comes in to recycle us. Apprehensive though we may be to accept that there’s a natural order to life and death… there’s a natural order to life and death. And we’re a part of it. We’re constantly surrounded by cruelty and death beyond our insular human world; maybe we’ve just blinkered ourselves to it.
  • A lot of agriculture seems to be bad for our health. Grains are bad for our health. Refined sugar is bad for our health. Beans and legumes aren’t ideal either. The vast majority of the human race is intolerant to dairy products and may not even know it. Carbohydrates like bread and pasta appear to dump vast quantities of sugar into our systems and have been indicated in the meteoric rise of diabetes and other first-world diseases. What the hell are we supposed to eat then? Well, if you look into the world of dietary advice for just five minutes then you’ll come to see that everything is simultaneously great and detrimental to our health. It’s a complete quagmire and everyone seems to want to make money out of you. So, where the hell do you turn? Well, look at the scientific evidence. Look into what we’ve eaten the longest during our evolutionary development: wild vegetation and animal protein. For the overwhelming majority of our time on Earth, we’ve been hunter-gatherers. It’s a nice thought that we’ve evolved past that stage and don’t need to consume other animals any more, but it seems that our physiology hasn’t quite caught up to our sentimentality as a species.
  • Even many vegetarians help to fund the systematic rape, death and/or incarceration of other animals. Cows are mammals and, as such, only lactate when they’re pregnant. To achieve this they have to be impregnated; either naturally by a bull or unnaturally by humans. (Raped, in a word.) Many calves born out of this process are stock in the veal industry. Battery hens endure a hellish existence, while male chicks with no profitable use are minced or gassed shortly after birth. It begs the question: should the moral debate about animal slaughter be based on whether they’re killed at all, or focussed on how animals live and die? Is it more humane to hunt and kill an animal in the wild than it is to imprison it, rape it, milk it, pack it with antibiotics and then kill it once it’s reached the end of its profitability?…

What do you think? I apologise if this article causes offence to anyone; that wasn’t the intention. It’s been written to incite those most human qualities of all: free debate and scientific inquiry. Please feel free to add your own opinion in the comments below.

4 Replies to “I’m a former vegetarian who returned to (eating) the fold.”

  1. I’m transitioning to a Vegan lifestyle, heading to my doctor tomorrow to inform here and do whatever needs to be done to move forward with this (been about two weeks, something I’m blogging about too.) Personally, I feel great, I’m still eating “meat” just mock meats and they’re good. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything, I’ve tried a cheat meal twice both with negative experiences. I honestly don’t want to go back I’d rather take vitamins or whatever then eat meat again. I feel so much better without it.

    1. Hi Brittney, thanks for your comment! I totally appreciate where you’re coming from as regards the vegan lifestyle, and good on you for blogging to document your experience. It’s a good call to see your doctor about getting all the information you need to stay safe in nutritional terms — but just make sure that you see a doctor who understands the power of good diet. I’ve spoken with doctors in the past who have put very little store by the particulars of a correct diet and would sooner just prescribe pills all the way. (I remember reading somewhere that comparing doctors and dietitians is like comparing mechanics and electricians!) Best of luck to you, and let me know how you find it.

  2. Hey Andrew,

    Thanks for the post. I really enjoyed reading it. While I am a long-term vegetarian who recently transitioned to veganism, I think you have made some very good points here. The nature vs. nurture argument is always fun to discuss, and I would have to agree that veganism tends to be driven by nurture. Because of this, people following such a diet must be sure to safely and accurately obtain vital nutrients, whether through food or supplements.

    In the end, there really is no right or wrong diet, in my opinion. Everyone should do what works best for them, makes them feel the most morally comfortable, and allows them to maintain their personal desired level of health.

    1. Thanks Taylor, I’m glad you liked it. Sometimes it’s as if the whole question of the human condition is a big knotted ball of string, and we’re looking back trying to unravel the instinctual stuff from the traits we’ve evolved to negotiate civilisation, which is still relatively new to us as a species. It’s good to know there are plenty of folks out there like yourself who are concerned with the nutritional element of particular diets, and I’m doing similar research now as I move into a paleo diet (expect another blog post soon).

      You make a good point. Given that we no longer live in a prehistoric world of black and white absolutes, and the evolution of human society has given us endless possibilities in how we live and define ourselves, I agree with you, to a point. There is still such thing as a wrong diet, I think, in that there are people with poor individual diets which could be potentially dangerous. (That would be the ‘wrong’ diet in my opinion: a diet ‘done wrong’ by a person, like I was doing with veganism.)

      Thanks for your feedback Taylor, I appreciate it — and happy veganing!

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