Plate after plate of potato salad makes everyone uncomfortable. I know, because I’m pitied at cookouts. Thanksgivings are worse: touching the turkey like tainted goods, skipping the stuffing with giblets and au ju, waiting for green bean casserole like some sort of a godsend.
Those nightmares were recalled as I stood in line at 9th and Passyunk. A few minutes later, a soggy lump of simple carbs and gummy beef landed at the bottom of my stomach, transporting me back to a glutton’s heaven that no tofu can reach.
Yes, a Pat’s cheesesteak claimed my vegetarianism. I figured it was an anomaly after five and a half years of being an upstanding herbivore. Then I devoured those chicken wings months later, before revoking my diet altogether at Citizens Bank Park this July—a hotdog loaded with sauerkraut, onions and mustard was the death knell.
In three fell swoops, I went from PETA compatriot to enemy of the vegetarian state. And it wasn’t even the cravings that made me relapse. Sure, I indulged in meat voyeurism now and then, when charcoaled burgers wafted in front of me. But I didn’t switch teams for a taste of Shake Shack. No, I simply lost my luster for the lifestyle. I had vegetarian fatigue.
When I went cold turkey on animal products at first (adding dairy two years later), I could recite the canon of anti-meat literature, from Peter Singer to Eating Animals. Here’s a sample of the moral compass that ruled my life: “When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own,” Jonathan Safran Foer wrote.
Yikes! I still believe our country on average eats far too much meat. It’s a nasty habit that pollutes the planet with greenhouse gasses (high-methane cow flatulence is part of what’s inducing climate change) and injects ugly antibiotics into our bodies. Except a plant-based diet cost me 60 pounds. Even after upping my cooking acumen, I typically felt hungry, fatigued and let meal-prep time constitute my schedule. When you’re a hunky rock climber able to get ripped on trail mix, the lifestyle looks noble and valid. When you’re a single guy who looks like Baggin’ Saggin’ Barry with his wardrobe, it appears painful.
A few years ago, Psychology Today surveyed ex-vegetarians about their reasons for returning to meat. The most common causes were health-related—losing one’s hair, iodine deficiencies and chronic fatigue stifle some herbivores—or the hassle of a vegetarian lifestyle. Both played into my decision. But social barriers hurt most of all. I was tired of ordering appetizers as entrees; tired of being an outcast at holiday dinners; tired of a loner’s diet.
I’m resigned to my choice, but apparently, still have a long way to go before I’m a bona fide Philadelphian carnivore. When I told this to a colleague, she reacted with grave disappointment. “Really? You went to Pat’s?”
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