Dietary restraint reigns in January: People resolve to give up alcohol, or sweets, or even meat. But depriving yourself of something you love for a month or longer can be torturous. No wonder studies say only 8 percent of people see their New Year’s resolutions all the way through. In fact, a third of all resolvers give up before January is over. And since it’s now the third week of the month, chances are good that, while you’ve given it a good run, you’re close to deciding it’s time to get real and go back to eating like you really want to. Don’t worry about it: Grub Street is here to be your enabler. To help you feel better about your inevitable slide, we asked ten former vegetarians (chefs and regular folks alike) about the moment they ate meat again — partly just because it’s interesting, but also so you know you’re not alone in your less-than-steely resolve.
“Eating too much soy can increase men’s estrogen levels.”
Why he went veg: My ex was a vegetarian, and over time, we started eating the same things. One day, it dawned on me that I had gone for two weeks without eating meat, so I just continued on the same track. Unfortunately, there are two kinds of vegetarians: those who make sure they’re getting all the nutrients they need, and then there was my version, which meant that I ate a lot of Mexican food, Thai food, and tofu. I noticed that even while I was working out, I was getting “fat” in weird places. It was later that I discovered that eating too much soy can increase men’s estrogen levels. Phenomenal!
The meat moment: After we broke up, a group of friends and I took a trip to Brazil. It was at a churrascaria that I decided to no longer be a vegetarian. I gave warning to my friends that this might turn out bad for me, but it was quite the opposite. At first my body tingled, and I waited for a wave of possible vomiting, but that never happened. I was in vacation mode, but I think it was my body rejoicing in that it was getting what it had been craving for two years. So after that, I never looked back. — Keenan, 35, actor
“I ate three burgers in one week, starting at Corner Bistro.”
Why she went veg: I gave up meat for Lent in middle school, and while I shed my Catholicism over the years, I still kept with the vegetarianism.
The meat moment: I had just moved to New York City, so maybe I thought my new life should include meat. I wanted to be open to all possibilities, including culinary. I started dating a guy who was also considering eating meat again. We lost our burger veginity together. I ate three burgers in one week, starting at Corner Bistro. It was divine. Now, we’re married. — Maura, 32, librarian
“I was working as a design intern at Google, with its plentiful heaps of steak and lobster.”
Why he went veg: My mom raised me with a simple parenting philosophy: I could have whatever I wanted, I just had to ask for it twice. It took until age 4 for me to ask twice for meat. I ate it for two years, but by age 6 I had collected all the McDonald Happy Meal toys I wanted and never really got that into non-fast-food meats. I also wanted to be a veterinarian at the time: My friends joke I didn’t know the two words were different, so I converted over to vegetarianism. I stuck with that until the summer after my junior year in college.
The meat moment: I was working as a design intern at Google, with its plentiful heaps of steak and lobster and organic arctic char served at lunch every day. My friends convinced me that I didn’t fully understand the opportunity cost of being a vegetarian at age 20. Clearly my preferences had changed over the ensuing fourteen years, but I had no idea how I would feel about eating meat. So I started a three-month-long experiment. At first, I hated it. Even grilled chicken felt heavy. I had to go back to my childhood staples — fast-food cheeseburgers, bacon, pepperoni pizzas — to build back up my thirst for meat. It worked. At the end of the summer, you couldn’t pay me enough to go back to being a vegetarian. — Noah, 27, vice-president of product management
“I fucking love cheeseburgers.”
Why she went veg: During my senior year of high school, I went to Sarasota on spring break with a couple of my female friends. Most of them were either vegan or vegetarian. One day, we went to the Old Salty Dog for lunch, and I ordered a foot-long hot dog dipped in beer batter and deep-fried. I looked up to see all of my friends’ terrified faces and my mentality changed almost instantly. What had moments earlier been a delectable treat now looked like … well … a pile of animal parts. I decided then and there that I wasn’t going to eat meat any longer, and that worked well for me for about ten years because I simply didn’t desire it.
The meat moment: I started eating meat again during my first year of business school because I had started to train to run the NYC Half Marathon, and I was starving all the time. I forced myself to eat meat for a few weeks, even though it felt like the weirdest thing in the world. I assumed bacon was going to be the thing to convince me I had made the right decision — but alas, I wasn’t that into it. The first meat I really enjoyed once converting back to omnivore was cheeseburgers. I fucking love cheeseburgers. I still don’t eat meat all the time, but when I do, it’s generally cheeseburgers. — Caroline, 30, consultant
“I’d never be a great cook.”
Why he went veg: I was a punk-rock, straight-edge kid, and a lot of my friends were vegetarians and it seemed easy. It happened between age 14 and my mid-twenties. I wanted everyone to know that I was different, and saying you’re a vegetarian in the early nineties was pretty dramatic. I was into it because I wanted to belong to something.
I decided to become a chef kind of because I was a vegetarian. My mom said if I wouldn’t eat what she cooked, I had to cook for myself. But I started missing practices and cooking more and more. The guys said my priorities were pretty fucked up and that I should quit the band. When I went to culinary school and started cooking professionally, I’d try everything and spit it out. I wasn’t swallowing meat, but I had so much butter in my mouth.
The meat moment: I was working in a restaurant in France and the chef said that I was a good cook, but I’d never be a great cook unless I started eating the food that I was a cooking. He said, “Do you want to be a vegetarian chef?” I said, “No I want to be a chef.” I took that to heart and started playing around with eating meat. By the end of the week, I was eating foie gras and mussels. I never looked back. — Jamie Bissonnette, 36, chef and owner of Toro
“The one-night-stand approach.”
Why he went veg: I stopped eating red meat somewhat as a result of learning about how meat is produced. Between the impact on the animals and the environment, it just seemed unnecessary … But after almost ten years of no meat, I wanted to eat some boneless fried chicken. I was just really craving chicken fingers. I started thinking about it for months before I actually went back, which almost made it harder. I thought it needed to be special. But after trying to figure out where, what, and with whom, I started to get somewhat overwhelmed by the whole event. I guess in the end I went for the one-night-stand approach.
The meat moment: I was eating breakfast solo at La Bonbonniere in the West Village. When I sat down that morning, I didn’t know that today was the day. The waiter knew my regular order, so he just came by to confirm, and for some reason, I ordered a side of bacon. The actual act of eating the bacon was fairly uneventful: not surprising that the taste of salty breakfast meat hadn’t really changed in ten years. The weirdest part was doing something that felt so wrong right out in the open with a bunch of strangers. And for some reason, I can’t actually remember my first chicken finger. — Bryan, 34, attorney
“Expecting some sort of orgasmic experience.”
Why she went veg: My entire family (extended family included) are all vegetarians owing to cultural and religious practices, so I was born and raised in a vegetarian household — to the point that even my friends couldn’t bring any meat into my house.
The meat moment: When I found myself in studying in London and traveling around Europe for a year, I decided there was no better time to dabble so that I wouldn’t miss out on any experiences. Trying meat for the first time wasn’t scary — just strange, especially when you become aware that you’re eating the flesh of another being. The first thing I tried was actually a burger. The way the world talks about burgers, I was expecting some sort of orgasmic experience, but alas, I was disappointed. It tasted all right, but I still to this day don’t see the appeal, even after having tried many more burgers. Chorizo, on the other hand, is a whole different situation. Same goes for Lebanese-style chicken and fish tacos.
Now, if I dine out with my family, I have to actively make sure that I don’t order anything with even chicken stock in it. My mom is so revolted by meat that she yells at me whenever I even watch a cooking show with meat (which is basically all of them) in front of her, so admitting that I’ve actively tried it? It would be easier to tell her that I did drugs. — Kay, 23, writer
“My boyfriend at the time was a self-professed foodie.”
Why she went veg: I became a vegetarian when I was maybe 10 years old. My sister and I were in an after-school program that showed us impressionable kiddos a video about slaughter houses. It hit us both hard. I remained exclusively vegetarian for about seven years, then toyed with the occasional bits of meat in a meal, and went back to vegetarian when I went off to college. My school had the most amazing salad bars.
The meat moment: I decided to eat meat a year or two into my college career. My boyfriend at the time was a self-professed foodie, and we went to fancy restaurants a lot. Most restaurants had one or two vegetarian options on the menu, but they were never fun. It felt like a waste of an experience to go with those dishes, especially since I was vegetarian more for my tastes and health than for animal rights. I decided that if something looked appealing to me, I should try it.
Because I had dabbled slowly, I can’t really remember a specific revelatory moment of coming back to eating meat. But I do remember going on a trip with a group of friends and preparing a feast together. Someone made ribs, and I was bullied into trying one. There’s a picture of me eating it, laughing hysterically because I just could not get enough. It was so freakin’ good. — Aurora, 30, business owner
“And then I took the plunge and ate sausage at Prime Meats.”
Why she went veg: I was a vegetarian from age 16 until March of this prior year — almost ten years. The conditions of factory farms did and still do appall me … But I truly never thought about meat. It just didn’t interest me. That all changed about a year and a half ago.
The meat moment: I was driving through Koreatown in Los Angeles, and I must have been passing a Korean BBQ place, because an overwhelming steak smell entered my car and suddenly I wanted it so much, more than any food I’ve ever wanted, ever. It was so strange that I called my boyfriend and left him a freaked out voice mail, like, “What is happening to me?”
This happened a couple more times, and then we moved to New York. I found New York to be a lot less veggie-friendly [than L.A.]. At one point, I even Googled, “How do I stop being a vegetarian?” Meat smelled so alluring to me, and I took that as a sign that my body desperately needed it. So I took a few small steps: a piece of pepperoni, a bite of chicken … and then I took the plunge and ate sausage at Prime Meats. It’s hard to describe the feeling my body had when I really ate meat for the first time in nearly a decade. It was like my blood was singing. It made me feel incredibly powerful. And from then, I haven’t looked back. — Eliza, 26, digital content manager
“I remember the first piece of bacon I had at Zingerman’s Deli.”
Why he went veg: I grew up in a kosher house, and my experiences with eating meat were limited: no pork, no shellfish, no meat and dairy at the same time. I had a lot of friends who were vegetarians and vegans, and we all had the same outlook: some sort of vague idea that it’s better for the world and your health — and girls are into it.
The meat moment: I started to get more into cooking, and I wanted to learn more. It started to feel counter to the way I wanted to experience life and food, and I wanted meat all the time. It smelled amazing and looked really good. I thought it was crazy to go through my life craving it.
I started sneaking meat off people’s plates, which I justified as okay. But then I encouraged people to order it who I knew were light eaters, and that was dumb. I finally stopped calling myself a vegetarian after three or four years. I remember the first piece of bacon I had at Zingerman’s Deli. I went through this bacon-bender phase; I tried to eat every different type of bacon they had. A whole world was available that never existed before. But I keep the values that I come from. I don’t want to be dogmatic, but when I buy food to cook, I make sure it’s coming from a good purveyor — someone who cares about the environment and the animals. That’s still important.— Max Sussman, 31, cookbook author