Omnivore’s Guilt

by kangcuzzi

After three and a half years of pescatarianism, I have returned to eating meat.

And it isn’t easy to share. I think the biggest reason why I’m ready to share it now, as opposed to three weeks ago when I ate meat again for the first time, is because of my new commitment to being honest and open with myself especially with matters that make me uncomfortable. As one can imagine, my contemplation regarding my lifestyle change hasn’t been without its struggles: compounded with all the other doubts I’ve been feeling towards myself in recent weeks (more on which I’ll write throughout the summer), my straying away from a philosophy I care deeply about — and which consequently forms a core pillar of my identity — had me think that perhaps I was not the selfless person I wanted to be, and, even worse, that my capacity to become this person had been suddenly compromised by the ‘selfish’ act of making a dietary change for the benefit of no other being but myself.

But before I share further thoughts — both positive and negative — that I’ve ruminated over in my mind, I think a little context would be appropriate.

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Throughout the past few months, I’ve experienced almost daily episodes of intense fatigue. I noticed my episodes of light-headedness, dizziness and general fatigue became particularly frequent in Brazil, which is why I was ceremoniously meme-fied as ‘the deficient’ one in the group of able-bodied, college-age kids. I mean, I’ve always stayed active — as many know, I like to lift pretty frequently and have been doing so ever since I returned home — and I’ve always gotten by. It was just exhausting, both physically and emotionally, to feel exhausted all the time when there were so many things I wanted to do… and I didn’t have a single clue as to how I could remedy it.

I would take naps, and the fatigue wouldn’t fade. I’d spend time at home, as opposed to walking around all day — still tired, even when I didn’t exercise. The final factor was perhaps the most intuitive, but one I was afraid of taking seriously: my diet. I wondered if things would change if I became an omnivore again.

I visited the doctor for a general pre-college check-up and talked to her about what I was going through. I found out that I felt weak and dizzy most likely because of low blood pressure and a lower-than-average heartbeat (oh, my poor heart). The doctor, however, also suggested I try eating meat again — including red meat, which I was reluctant to do — and taking iron supplements.

And so I did.

I find this difficult to admit for several reasons. Firstly, it might give off the impression that I pursued pescatarianism without a genuine conviction— a claim far from the truth. Still today I have a strong desire to reduce unnecessary animal suffering and the damage my consumer choices can do to the earth. (For a deeper insight into why I chose to not eat meat, you can read my post on it here.)

Secondly, I feel like my situation might mislead some into categorizing dietary changes — specifically ones that don’t include meat — as universally detrimental to one’s health, when it isn’t. Every body is as different on the inside as it is on the outside. I want to emphasize that just because I personally returned to eating meat for health reasons doesn’t mean that vegetarianism inherently affects one’s healthThere are many marathon runners and cross-fitters and super epic athletes who live a vegan lifestyle, and they feel better and stronger when they don’t consume animal products. On the flip side of the coin, there are women whose periods stop after a month of not eating meat. Every body is different, so a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t appropriate in this case. The general rule of thumb then becomes: you do you!

For me, I think the reason why I started feeling especially weak (I’ve always had dizzy spells in the past) is because I’ve been doing more weight training in the past year. Perhaps my body needed other kinds of nutrients in order to combat the extra stress or assist in the changes in body composition, and my feelings of weakness were a sign that something was missing.

(One could say that this pastime is a little selfish, especially if it does affect my consumer choices in this manner. Yet it’s something that helps me feel a sense of accomplishment, focus as well as physical strength and relaxation, and I think it’s important that people are able to do what helps them live their life feeling good and present.)

To be honest, eating meat and taking supplements haven’t changed things tremendously. There are still days when I feel fatigued and lethargic and light-headed. But it has reduced the frequency and intensity of these episodes to some degree, and I think if I started eating more (and if I stopped being so anxious about food) (more on which I’ll write later in this series!) I’ll feel better. It also probably has to do with how much stress I’m putting on my body, which is a lot more than at the beginning of this summer / in Brazil — working as a waitress and being on my feet for so many hours is really, really tough.

Lastly, the biggest reason why this ‘confession’ is so hard is because, well, I haven’t been going about the whole ‘Return to Omnivorism’ business in the way I want to. Personally, I’m not against the idea of eating animals; I disagree with the inhumane methods (e.g. factory farming) that are used to kill animals, and the consequent perception that livestock are mass-produced entities as opposed to actual lives. I believe in ethical omnivorism, which directs consumer dollars towards — and consequently increases traction for — ethical animal raising practices. This might include free-range farms (the real kind, not the miserable-patch-of-grass-beside-dingy-cages kind), antibiotic-free feed, certified sustainably-farmed practices (in the case of fish), etc.

The truth is, ethical omnivorism is hard. Sometimes it’s facilitated by certain markers — for instance, at our local supermarket there’s a special range of free-range eggs with clear certifications and the names of the farms from where they were sourced — but at other times the process of sourcing one’s meat can be muddy. It isn’t impossible: one can find one, or two, reliable supplier(s), research into them and buy their meat. This would make eating meat at restaurants hard, but you could always eat vegetarian when you go out. Having said that, however, I’m living proof that this is easier said than done.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been quite an indiscriminate consumer in recent weeks, partially because of the new excitement of eating Korean foods I grew up with and haven’t had in a while, and partially because I was developing a level of food-related anxiety that really hurt my emotional health. One thing I’ve consistently tried to do, however, is eat meat that was raised locally, because at least that reduces my overall carbon impact — even if it is greater than if I ate vegetarian.

I admit I’m ashamed; and yes, I know I can be trying harder and doing better. But in the spirit of this series, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to take my time when I make certain lifestyle changes, especially in the interest of my mental and physical health. For now, my focus is returning to a balance where I feel physically strong and mentally able to eat (and do anything else, really) without overthinking and ruminating. When I start college in the fall, I’m planning on developing certain habits that make my meat consumption sustainable and ethical in the way that serves both my body and the earth best.

Until then, this summer is one of experimentation and learning to take care of myself. It’s important to remember that the act of self-care is never selfish; as an act that can often make you feel comfortable enough to be present for others, arguably it can even be selfless. In my situation, there’s also a lot of gratitude involved as I think about the lives that contribute to fuelling my body, and the ‘welcome home’ that flavours the traditional foods that family and friends offer me with love. There are so many things to be grateful for.

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If you want to know more about my meat-free experience, I’ve written several posts about it in the past. I’ve linked one of them above, but I’ve also written about why and how I started, the ways in which it changed me and tips I wanted to offer omnivores. 

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