Chicken Thighs

Confessions of a Carnivore Shifting to a Plant-Based Diet

(Editor’s Note: This article describes meat and the meat industry in detail and may be uncomfortable for some readers.) 

 

I really, really love meat. 

A really good sausage dog with sautéed bell peppers and onions and a generous squirt of Dijon? Love it. A road trip just to go eat Memphis ribs at Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous? I’d consider it. 

Yet there is a gallon of oat milk in my fridge, there are meatless meatballs in my freezer and I just ate the vegetarian version of a dish at my favorite restaurant. 

I am a meat-loving omnivore who has finally had enough. I can no longer reconcile the tastiness of Publix fried chicken with the cruelty of the meat industry in which animals do not have sufficient room or access to outdoor spaces, and so I am on a mission to reduce my meat and animal product consumption. 

This will not be the first time that I have tried to follow a more plant-based diet. 

My mother raised me as a vegetarian up until the age of 2 and continued to favor plant-based meals even after our strict vegetarianism ended. Although my mom retained a certain squeamishness for meat, the concept of meat did not phase me, especially as I was growing up in the Deep South, surrounded by deliciously tempting venison chili, andouille sausage, po-boys, oyster casserole, scrimp and grits, jambalaya, gumbo and pulled pork. 

For a while, my meat-loving tendencies did not conflict so brazenly with my moral beliefs. My family supported local organic farms where animals were raised humanely. Seafood was easily sourced locally, and venison was gifted from friends and family.

This is not to say that I didn’t feel somewhat conflicted even when eating meat from the best sources available in my area. Growing up in a rural area, I had gazed into a cow’s deep brown oversized eyes ringed with lush black eyelashes and I had seen the sharp, intelligent gaze of a mother pig supervising the joyous scuttling of her piglets. 

This discomfort soon turned to outright disgust with myself in high school and college as I began to consume more and finally exclusively commercial, non-organic meat. I was sickened by the trucks transporting cows stacked as if they were objects on Interstate 10. Freshman year of high school, I swore I’d become a vegetarian, but I never managed to do it. I would attempt to cut meat out of my diet several times throughout high school, and I utterly failed.

Now I’m trying yet again to transition to at least a more plant-based diet. 

I caught up with my friend Janine to get her take on my latest endeavor. Janine is not vegetarian or vegan, but she has considered these options frequently, especially because of the health benefits associated with a diet that is less reliant on meat and animal products. We met freshman year in the dorms, and she has witnessed first-hand my college eating habits. 

Janine pointed out, as we huddled under one of the beautiful historic tunnels of the Murphree Area to avoid a rain shower that had sneaked up on us, that college could actually be conducive to a more plant-based diet. 

“It’s more cost-effective too, and [it’s] easier to eat vegetarian I think sometimes,” Janine said describing her own eating patterns in college. “ [When] making stuff that’s all plant-based, you can have it for like a whole week or more in the fridge,” she said, making college cooking and meal prep easier. 

Feeling inspired by Janine’s outlook on transitioning to a more plant-based diet in college, I caught up with my friend Rose who had inspired me to consider a more plant-based diet again. (She jokes that she is the sole reason there is oat milk in my fridge.) 

Rose was raised vegetarian and has recently transitioned to veganism, motivated mostly by a desire to support animal rights. 

We chatted about the misconceptions surrounding switching to a more plant-based diet as I laughingly shared that I had felt almost afraid of vegan and vegetarian food. Rose said two common misconceptions she notices about veganism in particular are that all vegan food is healthy food and a lack of realization of the improved quality of meat and animal product substitutes. 

I asked Rose what her final thoughts on the subject were. “It’s all about the little changes,” Rose said without hesitancy. “You don’t have to change your diet 100% or even 90 or 80%. It’s just about the little things and doing what you can to make a difference.”  

I completely agree. 

What is helping me actually make changes to my diet this time around, compared to my many previous attempts, is the absence of exclusion. If I’m really craving meat, I go ahead and let myself eat it. These instances are rare, though. Usually, I don’t know what I want for lunch, so I am just as happy with a vegetarian or vegan option as any other option. 

This is the difference between a plant-based diet and vegetarianism or veganism.

Plant-based diets focus on limiting animal product consumption and maximizing plant consumption instead of excluding any one group of foods. I definitely can’t call myself a vegetarian or vegan, and I am not getting the full benefits of either or having the same impact on reducing animal cruelty or environmental harm. For me and my lifestyle, though, a plant-based diet fits. 

The first change I made after deciding to switch to a plant-based diet was to eliminate meat from my take-out orders. Then after using up the last of my cow’s milk, I transitioned to oat milk. It was important to me that I found a milk substitute that I really liked because I actually drink quite a lot of milk. After trying other options, I settled on oat milk. My fridge is also now full of my favorite fruits as well as my favorite southwest salad kit. When it comes to premade food, I am still trying out new plant-based options including a Daiya burrito and a meatless chicken substitute. Instead of taking away food choices, I feel like I am giving myself more options and I am finding that I often prefer the plant-based one. For example, after taste-testing both, I definitely prefer local Gainesville restaurant Dick Mondell’s veggie burger to its beef burger. I even prefer oat milk to cow’s milk now when it comes to crafting the perfect cup of tea. 

I still really, really, really love meat and animal products, but I am also excited and happy with the ways I am transitioning to a more plant-based diet.