Return of the Meat-Eaters: Many Lapsed Vegetarians Become ‘Ethical Omnivores’
Are you a vegetarian? Stats say you’re probably a woman. You probably bid adieu to four-legged creatures for ethical reasons. And you’ll probably be a carnivore again in no time.
In 2005, a CBS News study found that ex-vegetarians outnumber current vegetarians by a ratio of three to one, suggesting that 75% of vegetarians lapse. A survey by Hal Herzog and Morgan Childers found that these born-again omnivores were mostly women (as many vegetarians are) an average age of 28 years old and had been vegetarians for nine years when they reverted. The majority went vegetarian due to concerns about the treatment of animals and returned to meat because of declining health (“I will take a dead cow over anemia any time,” one man told Psychology Today), logistical hassles, social stigmas, and meat cravings. Only two of the seventy-seven former vegetarians surveyed resumed meat-eating because their moral views changed.
For some, like Berlin Reed, 29, the return to meat has ironically been a humane one. Reed, who went vegetarian at age 12, was such a die-hard that his friends once staged a “bacon intervention.” He has the world “vegan” tattooed on his neck. But these days, he both eats meat and works with it, calling himself “the ethical butcher.” He insists that changes in the butchery profession are crucial to improving the meat system. “I don’t eat beef from factory farms for many of the same reasons I won’t buy clothes from The Gap,” Reed told the Today show. “It’s all about the industries and practices that are polluting our world, not whether or not it is okay to kill for food.”
(MORE: Animal Cruelty: Could a Barbaric Pig-Handling Video Hurt Major Grocery Chains?)
Indeed, it seems that the latest form of animal activism is not not eating meat, but rather only eating ethical, sustainable meat. What’s that? It depends on the perspective, though it can include some combination or permutation of industry terms like “organic” “free-range,” “cruelty-free,” and “natural,” and labels about animal welfare from certification companies. Sustainable meat-eating is particularly suitable for those who return to omnivorism because of health problems, like nutritionist Julie Daniluk, 38, who co-hosts a cooking show on the Oprah Winfrey Network, where she promotes conscientious meat-eating and weekly “vegetarian days.”
Most of us will never be able to quit meat cold turkey. But maybe the cold turkey can find its way back to the fridge in a more humane form.
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Read more: http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/06/30/return-of-the-meat-eaters-many-lapsed-vegetarians-become-ethical-omnivores/#ixzz1fPAhXh5Y
A feisty vegetarian since age 12, Berlin Reed was a self-described “punk” who swore to abstain from supporting corporations that he believed profited from mistreating animals, abusing labor practices and “destroying” the environment.“I have ‘vegan’ tattooed on my neck,” said Reed, 29. “You could say I was a little passionate about it.”
Today, however, he’s known as “the ethical butcher,” a title which might seem odd for someone whose friends once arranged a “bacon intervention” to sway him to omnivorism. “It wasn’t a moment of weakness,” Reed said of the switch; instead it was motivated by his realization that, as a butcher, he was in a position to affect the industry he once protested. Reed holds that the butchery trade, in constant contact with customers, is the key to a better and more sustainable meat system.
“I don’t eat beef from factory farms for many of the same reasons I won’t buy clothes from The Gap,” Reed said. “It’s all about the industries and practices that are polluting our world, not whether or not it is OK to kill for food.”
Like many former vegetarians, Reed isn’t content to simply sit back and gnaw on his turkey bone. According to a recent study by Psychology Today, most vegetarians return to eating meat. But half of the survey’s respondents originally gave up meat for ethical reasons, and as such, were still concerned with animal protection: “The participants’ original reason for giving up meat did affect their level present meat consumption,” writes Psychology Today.
Are you a former vegetarian who went back to eating meat?
Food & Wine profiled several meat-eating “converts” who consider purchasing sustainable meat a new form of activism. “For many of our ex-vegetarian friends, the ethical reasons for eating meat, combined with the health-related ones, have been impossible to deny,” wrote Christine Lennon.
What’s in a label?
But “ethical” and “humane” mean different things to different people. The concepts can involve a mishmash of several industry terms, including “organic,” “cruelty-free,” “natural” or “free-range,” whose standards vary. Those concerned with animal welfare try to rely on certification companies whose labels are increasingly popping up on meat packages.
“We all have our ideas of what ‘free-range’ should be — animals roaming out on lush pasture, et cetera — but that is rarely the case,” said Adele Douglass, executive director of Humane Farm Animal Care, a nonprofit organization that monitors treatment of livestock. “I never buy ‘natural’ or ‘free-range’ or ‘on pasture’ because anyone can say those things and they can mean nothing.”
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Although Humane Farm Animal Care hasn’t seen a dramatic increase in vegetarians jumping ship, it has received enthusiastic consumer feedback, especially from vegans and vegetarians who are looking for way to ethically feed loved ones who love a good, juicy steak. “This program gives consumers a way to vote with their pocketbooks,” Douglass said.
Meat-ing of minds?
For those who are physically unable to keep up with the challenges of the vegetarian life, ethical omnivorism is a liberating conscience-saver. Nutritionist Julie Daniluk, 38, was plagued by guilt when she returned to eating meat, but 13 years of vegetarianism hadn’t suited her immune system. “I became a vegetarian because I love animals and want to preserve the environment,” Daniluk told TODAY.com. “But I also became anemic as a vegetarian.”
No matter how many iron supplements Daniluk took, she could not defeat her constant fatigue and the dark circles under her eyes. Hesitantly, she incorporated meat into her weekly diet, but was determined to do so responsibly.
Daniluk sought out farmers markets that sold organic, naturally raised, grass-fed animal meat. Today, as co-host of “Healthy Gourmet,” a cooking show on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Daniluk preaches responsible meat-eating — including taking a “vegetarian day” once a week.
New breed of butchers works against the grain
Some ex-vegetarians return to meat with gusto. Take Sasha Wizansky, who once shunned eating animals but now actually runs Meatpaper, a quarterly print journal devoted to all things meat. “Vegetarianism became part of my identity — a promise to myself — and I mostly stuck to it for seven years,” said Wizansky, who currently avoids consuming factory-farmed poultry, endangered species of fish and, more important, “mysterious ground meat.” Although her job is obsessed with barbecue fodder, the 37-year-old admits her daily diet tends to be largely vegetarian. “I believe in having rules, and also occasionally breaking them in the interest of balance.”
And Wizansky is far from the only one who straddles two worlds. As the ethics and interests of vegetarians and sustainable meat eaters become more shared, the more crossover there is between the two groups.
Mad science? Growing meat without animals
“Ten years ago or so, it seemed that most of San Francisco identified with a vegetarian lifestyle, but that has really changed,” Wizansky observed. “Meat producers couldn't even get a booth at Bay Area farmers markets. Now, local, organic, humane producers have a huge presence at those same markets.”
As several testified, the return to meat is all the easier when you have community support, be it the local farmers market, friends or family.
“My grandmother is German,” “ethical butcher” Reed told TODAY.com. “She was just happy she could cook for me again.”
© 2011 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints
Why Do Most Vegetarians Go Back To Eating Meat?
For most people, vegetarianism is temporary phase. Why?
I am interviewing Staci Giani who is forty-one but looks ten years younger. Raised in the Connecticut suburbs, she now lives with her partner Gregory in a self-sustaining eco-community deep in the mountains twenty minutes north of Old Fort, North Carolina. Staci radiates strength, and when she talks about food, she gets excited and seems to glow. She is Italian-American, attractive, and you want to smile when you talk to her. She tells me that she and Gregory built their own house, even cutting the timber and milling the logs. I think to myself, "This woman could kick my ass."
Staci wasn't always so fit. In her early 30's, Staci's health started going downhill. After twelve years of strict vegetarianism, she began to suffer from anemia and chronic fatigue syndrome, and she experienced stomach pains for two hours after every meal. "I was completely debilitated," she tells me. "Then I changed the way I ate."
"A half pint of raw beef liver," she says.
Ok....Staci is a bit extreme in her carnivory -- these days she prefers her meat raw, and she eats a lot of it. But the transformation from hard-core vegetarian to meat-eater that Staci illustrates is surprisingly common. Indeed, according to a 2005 survey by CBS News, three times as many American adults admit to being "ex-vegetarians" than describe themselves as current vegetarians. This suggests that roughly 75% of people who quit eating meat eventually change their minds and return to a diet that includes animal flesh. It seems that for most people, vegetarianism is a phase rather than a permanent change in lifestyle. Why?
Perhaps because I was raised a Southern Baptist, I have always been fascinated by backsliders, so I decided to find out why so many vegetarians eventually give up their all-plant diet. To study the motivations of ex-veggies, Morgan Childers and I set up a website that included a survey related to eating.Then we put out a call for ex-vegetarians through Internet sites devoted to topics like health, nutrition, and the treatment of animals.
Over the next week or so, seventy-seven former vegetarians took our survey. As is true of vegetarians generally, the majority of the participants were women. Their average age was 28, and on average, they had been vegetarian for nine years before for reverting back to eating animals. We asked the participants to indicate the primary reasons they quit eating meat in the first place and why they subsequently decided to give up their all-plant diet. They also had the opportunity to comment at length on the reasons for the changes they had made in their eating habits.
Why Did They Stop Eating Meat In The First Place?
As other researchers have reported about vegetarians, our participants originally quit meat for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons in our study were ethical concerns about the treatment of animals (57%), followed by health and environmental reasons (15% each). Fewer people stopped eating meat because they did not like the taste of animal flesh or because of social pressure from friends, spouses, etc.
Why The Ex-Veggies Resumed Eating Animals
The reasons that the ex-vegetarians gave for reverting to omnivory fell into five categories.
Declining Health. In his book The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson extols the health benefits of an all plant diet. He writes, "Now at 68, several years a vegan, I find I have never been healthier. I weigh less than I did at thirty; I am stronger than when I was forty; I have fewer colds or minor illnesses than at fifty." While Masson may have thrived on a meatless diet, this is not always the case with vegetarians. In fact, thirty-five percent of our participants indicated that declining health was the main reason they reverted back to eating flesh. For example, one wrote, "I was very weak and sickly. I felt horrible even though I ate a good variety of foods like PETA said to." Another wrote, "My doctor recommended that I eat some form of meat as I was not getting any better. I thought it would be hypocritical of me to just eat chicken and fish as they are just as much and animal as a cow or pig. So I went from no meat to all meat." The most succinct response was by a man who wrote, "I will take a dead cow over anemia any time."
Hassles and Social Stigmas. About a quarter of our ex-veggies described the hassles they said were associated with strict vegetarianism. They complained that it was difficult to find high quality organic vegetables in their local supermarkets at a reasonable price. Others began to resent the time it took to prepare meatless dishes, and some said they simply grew tired of the lifestyle.
A related reason for returning to meat consumption, one mentioned by 15% of our subjects, was that vegetarianism was taking a toll on their social life. The degree that vegetarianism and particularly moral veganism can screw up your day to day existence was nicely summed up in a New York Times op ed by the philosopher Gary Steiner titled, appropriately, "Animal, Vegetable, Miserable." In describing his personal experience with giving up the consumption of animal products, he wrote "What were once the most straightforward activities become a constant ordeal."
Irresistible Urges. About one in five of our participants had developed an irresistible urge to taste cooked flesh once more. This occurred even among some long-term vegetarians. Participants talked about their protein cravings or how the smell of sizzling bacon would drive them crazy. One, for example, said "I just felt hungry all the time and that hunger would not be satisfied unless I ate meat." Another described his return to meat in mathmatical terms:
Starving college student + First night back home with the folks + Fifty or so blazin' buffalo wings waiting in the kitchen = Surrender.
Shifts in Moral Thinking. About half of the respondents originally gave up meat for ethical reasons. Yet only two of our ex-vegetarians said changes in their views of the morality of killing animals motivated their decision to resume meat consumption. In fact, most of the former vegetarians were still concerned with animal protection and the ethical issues associated with eating animals. The participants' original reason for giving up meat did affect their level present meat consumption. Individuals who had given up eating meat primarily for social reasons indicated that they ate meat much more frequently than did people who originally became vegetarian for ethical or environmental reasons.*
The Bottom Line
For most people, the draw of meat is powerful -- often irresistible. This is not a justification for slaughtering creatures because they happen to taste good. Philosophers correctly warn against committing "the naturalistic fallacy" - assuming that because a behavior is "natural," it is also ethical. In fact, I believe the case against eating other creatures is strong on moral, environmental, and health grounds. Why then do even most vegetarians eventually cave to the desire to eat animal flesh? Is meat-eating in our genes? I will take this question up in a future PT blog. Stay tuned.
Note: This is the third in a series of posts on the human-meat relationship. Here are the first two:
Having Your Dog And Eating It Too?
Eating Disorders: The Dark Side of Vegetarianism
Hal Herzog is Professor of Psychology at Western Carolina University and the author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard To Think Straight About Animals.
Why Vegetarians Are Eating Meat
A growing number of vegetarians are starting to eat humanely raised meat. Christine Lennon talks to a few converts—including her husband and famed author Mollie Katzen.
To a die-hard meat eater, there's nothing more irritating than a smug vegetarian. I feel at liberty to say this because I am one (a steak lover) and I married the other (a vegetarian with a pulpit). For me, "Do you now, or would you ever, eat meat?" has always been a question on par with "Do you ever want to get married?" and "Do you want children?" The answer to one reveals as much about a person's interior life, and our compatibility, as the response to the others. My husband Andrew's reply to all of those questions when I asked him three years ago was, "No."
Obviously, we're now married. We had twins earlier this year. And somewhere in between those two events, the answer to the third question was also re-evaluated, and the vegetarian soapbox was put to rest, too.
Yes, my husband has started eating meat again after a seven-year hiatus as an ethically motivated and health-conscious vegetarian. About a year ago, we arrived at a compromise: I would eat less meat—choosing mostly beef, pork and poultry produced by local California ranchers without the use of hormones or antibiotics—and he would indulge me by sharing a steak on occasion. But arriving at that happy medium wasn't as straightforward as it sounds. In the three years we've been together, several turns of events have made both of us rethink our choices and decide that eating meat selectively is better for the planet and our own health. And judging by the conversations we've had with friends and acquaintances, we're not the only ones who believe this to be true.
For Andrew and about a dozen people in our circle who have recently converted from vegetarianism, eating sustainable meat purchased from small farmers is a new form of activism—a way of striking a blow against the factory farming of livestock that books like Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma describe so damningly. Pollan extols the virtues of independent, small-scale food producers who raise pasture-fed livestock in a sustainable and ethical manner. In contrast, he provides a compelling critique of factory farms, which cram thousands of cows, pigs or chickens into rows of cages in warehouses, feed them drugs to plump up their meat and fight off the illnesses caused by these inhumane conditions, and produce innumerable tons of environmentally destructive animal waste.
The terms "grass fed" and "pasture raised"—meaning that an animal was allowed to graze the old-fashioned way instead of being fed an unnatural and difficult-to-digest diet of mostly corn and other grain—have now entered the food-shoppers' lexicon. But Andrew and I didn't fully understand what those phrases meant until we got to know Greg Nauta of Rocky Canyon Farms. Nauta is a small-scale rancher and farmer from Atascadero, California, who grows organic vegetables and raises about 35 animals on pastureland. Since we met him at the Hollywood Farmers' Market a year ago, it has become even clearer to us that supporting guys like him—by seeking out and paying a premium for sustainably raised meat—is the right thing for us to do.
Nauta's cattle graze on 200 leased acres of pasture in central California and are fed the leftover vegetables and fruits he grows that don't sell at the farmers' market, supplemented by locally grown barley grain on occasion. "That's dessert," he says of the barley, "not a main course. That would be like us eating ice cream every day."
Three times a week, Nauta loads his truck full of coolers stocked with cattleman's steaks and handmade pork sausages and drives to the Los Angeles–area farmers' markets. Selling his vegetables and meat directly to conscientious eaters, people to whom he talks weekly about rainfall averages and organic produce, Nauta says, is "the best way small guys like me can compete." In the past several months, Nauta has noticed a handful of curious vegetarians, like Andrew, wandering over to his booth to ask questions. And they're satisfied enough with the answers to give his meat a try—and come back for more.
If preserving small-scale farming isn't a compelling enough reason to eat beef or pork, consider the nutritional advantages grass-fed meat has over the factory-fed kind. "One of the benefits of all-grass-fed beef, or 'beef with benefits,' as we say, is that it's lower in fat than conventionally raised beef," says Kate Clancy, who studies nutrition and sustainable agriculture and was until recently the senior scientist at the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists. "The other thing is that the meat and milk from grass-fed cattle will probably have higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease and strengthen people's immune systems. What's good for the environment, what's good for cattle, is also good for us."
Combine these findings with the questions being raised about meat replacements derived from soy and wheat gluten, and the real thing seems better by the minute. "What we know about soy is that as you process it, you lose a lot of the benefits," says Ashley Koff, a Los Angeles–based registered dietician. "Any soy-based fake meat product is incredibly processed, and you have to use chemicals to get the mock flavor. Any other whole-food diet is going to be a lot better for you." Vegetarians like Andrew—he once brought a tofu sandwich to a famous Texas barbecue restaurant—may now have a harder time justifying their "healthier" dietary choices.
Former vegetarians are some of the most outspoken proponents of eating meat. "I was vegan for 16 years, and I truly believed I was doing the right thing for my health," says the actress and model Mariel Hemingway, who is the author of Healthy Living from the Inside Out. "But when I was vegan, I was super-weak. I love animals, and we should not support anything but ethical ranching, but when I eat meat, I feel more grounded. I have more energy."
Even chef Mollie Katzen, author of the vegetarian bible the Moosewood Cookbook, is experimenting with meat again. "For about 30 years I didn't eat meat at all, just a bite of fish every once in a while, and always some dairy," she says. "Lately, I've been eating a little meat. People say, 'Ha, ha, Mollie Katzen is eating steak.' But now that cleaner, naturally fed meat is available, it's a great option for anyone who's looking to complete his diet. Somehow, it got ascribed to me that I don't want people to eat meat. I've just wanted to supply possibilities that were low on the food chain."
Recently, when responding to the invitation to her high-school reunion, Katzen had to make a choice between the vegetarian and the conventional meal. She checked the nonvegetarian box. "The people who requested the vegetarian meal got fettuccine Alfredo," she says. "It's a bowl full of flour and butterfat. I'd much rather have vegetables and grains and a few bites of chicken."
For Andrew and many of our ex-vegetarian friends, the ethical reasons for eating meat, combined with the health-related ones, have been impossible to deny. "The way I see it, you've got three opportunities every day to act on your values and have an immediate effect on something you're concerned about," Andrew says. "You're probably worried about Darfur, too, but what can you do about that every single day? Write a letter? It doesn't have the same kind of impact."
Supporting ranchers we believe in, and the stores and restaurants that sell their products, has a very tangible impact that we experience firsthand all the time. But ask most vegetarians if the battle between small, sustainable ranchers and industrial farming is at the top of their list of concerns about eating meat, and you'll probably be met with a blank stare. "For people who are against eating meat because it's wrong or offensive to eat animals, even the cleanest grass-fed beef won't be good enough," Katzen says.
Convincing those people that eating meat can improve the welfare of the entire livestock population is a tough sell. But we'll keep trying. What we've discovered is that you can hover pretty close to the bottom of the food chain and still make a difference, quietly. We've found a healthy balance somewhere between the two extremes—which, come to think of it, is also a good way to approach a marriage.
Christine Lennon is a freelance writer in Los Angeles who regularly contributes to InStyle and Time.