I remember being at a party years ago and I somehow (likely not through my own doing) ended up in a conversation about diet. The person I was talking to looked right at me–intently–and asked, But don’t you miss meat? He clearly didn’t like my “no” and, somewhat frustrated, turned to a vegetarian across the room. Posing the question again, this time he got the answer he was looking for and, satisfied, the conversation moved on to other topics. I could have pursued it, because he never asked me, Why not? Or if I had ever missed meat. Which would have led to when or how I stopped missing meat. But I knew there was no point in carrying on with the conversation, because he was looking for an excuse to continue eating animals, and not an excuse to stop.
A State of Perpetual Discontent
But I don’t think the question is a trivial one. As a culture we’re generally taught not to deny ourselves, of anything. If it brings us pleasure we often chase it, no matter the consequences. And for most of us, meat tastes good. And that fear of missing (although in a slightly different sense), is one of the things that initially held me back. Not so much missing the physical taste (which I did thoroughly enjoy) but missing the physical feeling: How can I live without meat? I’ll never feel full, I’ll always be hungry. I’ll suffer forever in a state of perpetual discontent. I was contemplating a life in which I may never be gustatorially (is that a word?) satisfied. Ever. Again.
I thought it was a valid concern; meat is the substance of a typical American meal. For me, the vegetables were just kind of…fluff. Necessary nutrient-wise, but nothing to sate the appetite. Plus, there was the tiny matter of hating vegetables. Literally hating. The two exceptions were corn (smothered in butter and salt) and mashed potatoes (smothered in gravy). Everything else was torture. As a kid I remember gnawing on carrot sticks long after everyone else had left the table, miserable. Just waiting for my mom to finish cleaning the kitchen so that I could spit them out into my napkin and skedaddle. It wasn’t an altogether smart decision, because we used cloth napkins. And my mom did the laundry. But honestly, while my vegan future looked morally pleasing, it also looked physically depressing.
But here I am, twelve years later, happy to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of deprivation, expansion. Instead of denial, compassion. Instead of frustration, peace.
A Lot Of Meat
But why should you believe me? Because who knows what I ate in my pre-vegan days? Well, I can answer that with one word: meat. I ate meat. A lot of meat. Honestly, what was a meal without meat? But to believe me, I think that a story is in order. Really, what would one of my posts be without a story? (Short. It would be short. But hopefully not nearly as interesting…)
In one of my early memories (maybe 7 years old?), I was having a hard time falling asleep one night. I could hear the murmur of my parents’ voices in the living room and crept over to my door, open just a crack. (Because ghosts. And goblins.) I sat up against the wall and strained to hear their quiet voices. They were talking about moving from our little beach cottage (converted to a year-round home) to a small farm somewhere in the country. And maybe we could have chickens, like my sister, Mom said, her voice excited. Dad quickly agreed, adding in some long-since-forgotten thoughts of his own, and the dream-spinning talk carried on. Eventually, the soothing sound of their voices made my eyes heavy and I crawled back into my bed, drifting off with the thought, Yeah, chickens. I LOVE chickens…
We did move. From the Rhode Island coast to a five-acre parcel of land in Connecticut. Complete with an old farmhouse and a resident friendly ghost. And we got our animals–a whole bunch of them. My childhood was full of puppies and kittens and bunnies (spayed? what’s that?) and chickens and ducks and horses and piglets and anything else we could think of. But most of these animals weren’t simply our furry companions–they were our food. And as the resident (ardent) animal-lover, I was one of the two primary caretakers. Every spring we purchased 50 baby meat hens, 25 turkeys, and 2 pigs. Maybe some laying hens or ducks. I was blessed with an idyllic and happy childhood–an animal-lovers heaven. Until slaughtering time.
I remember once, in my early teen years, a friend dropping me off from a sleepover and eyeing (in shock) the pig hanging, halved, from the enormous old ash tree in the backyard.
I remember watching a chicken thrash, headless, while my siblings and I looked on in a mixture of horror and fascination. What was it doing? Was it dead? Alive? Or somewhere in between?
I remember holding my rabbit, Fluffy, on my lap, knowing her time was almost up. I wish I didn’t have to eat animals was my frequent prayer.
I cleaned out cages, pens, and stalls. I fed the animals every day after school. I climbed into the hen house for eggs, armed with a rake because the rooster was so violently aggressive. I helped my parents castrate piglets. I gathered with the whole family at the picnic table in the backyard (hidden tastefully behind the spruce trees) as we butchered chickens.
I prepped so many chickens through the years that I could probably still do it to this day. A dip in the boiling water, handfuls of feathers plucked, off with the neck, off with the feet. Slice down the abdomen, pull out the intestines. Gather the heart and liver. Careful! Don’t break the gallbladder. Another rinse. Then onto the next.
The Thump Of The Ax
What I’m saying is, I lived the life. Meat was our food. Every day. Money was tight, and raising it ourselves made sense. I participated in the whole process except for the actual killing. That had me plugging my ears and turning away with eyes squeezed shut until the thump of the ax. Or running up to my room and burrowing under the covers until the roar of the gun. But just about everything else? I was a part of it.
So when someone tells me, Oh, I could never give up meat, with a firm (and final) shake of their head, I get it. I do. Transitioning to veganism meant changing virtually every aspect of my life. And while my conscience desperately wishes it could claim the vegetarian-from-birth status, I realize now that those years needed to be part of my story. Humility is a lesson God’s had to work on with me a lot; my ego likes to think it knows virtually everything, about everything. Whether I’ve lived it or not. So I had to experience both sides, understand both sides. Which led me to this realization: Only one of those sides sat right with my soul. Only one of those sides brought me peace.
As it turns out, my concerns (physically missing meat) weren’t legitimate ones. I assume it was just more of that standard societal programming. Because from the beginning, I don’t ever remember feeling starved. I found that a lentil loaf was just as filling as a meatloaf. And that a bean burger was just as filling as a beef burger. That a bowl of creamy mushroom soup was more filling than a bowl of chicken noodle soup. And surprisingly, just as (if not more) tasty. In fact, my diet expanded exponentially when I switched to plant-based living. Deprivation? Not even a thing. As for the vegetables? Fortunately, retraining your taste buds is a thing, and veggies are often the highlight of my meals now. Go figure.
Do I Miss Meat?
Do I miss meat? No. I don’t miss meat. And if I ever did, it was a quickly passing thing. After all these years I don’t see “meat” as meat anymore. I see a cow, a chicken, a horse, a turkey, a fish. I see life, transformed into an unnecessary and violent death. I’ve watched the documentaries, I know the stories. Ignorance is no longer an option. Do I miss meat? Never. Because in a nutshell? Non-vegans see everything but the animal, while vegans see nothing but the animal.
While drafting this post, I had the thought that maybe I should try reaching out to some of my vegan pals for their input. Was I in the minority, and missing meat was a much more-common reaction? I really had no idea. So with Jordan’s help, we took to Instagram and sought out some of our vegan and vegetarian friends. We asked them these questions: Do you miss meat? If yes, what prevents you from eating it? If no, why not?
And then? We were overwhelmed with people eager to help. (There’s a reason why we love our Insta friends so much!) We actually had to stop sending out messages for fear that this post would become grotesquely long (because it isn’t yet, right?) But it was too late; virtually everyone we messaged responded (thank you, guys) and I’ve made the decision to include every single one. Is the post long? Yes. Very long. But the answers–so open, honest and compassionate–begged to be heard. And as it turns out, I’m definitely not alone.
vegetarian for 12 years, began transitioning to vegan a few years later
“I don’t miss eating meat, because in my case, being vegan is not about me. I will easily admit that hot dogs and burgers cooking at a barbecue smell temptingly good, but it’s a temptation without any power behind it, because my reason for not eating meat has little to do with my own preferences and everything to do with my morals. When you start seeing a gentle cow instead of a burger, an intelligent pig instead of a plate of bacon, saying no to a Christmas ham becomes a whole lot easier. It doesn’t mean meat doesn’t taste good, but there are plenty of vegan foods that taste just as good, or even better. And when you make it about the animals instead of yourself, it’s not such a hard sacrifice to make, after all.”
vegan for about 10 years, vegetarian for 2 years prior
“I don’t know if meat will ever NOT smell good to me, but I don’t miss it nor crave it. Once I made the connection between the meat on my plate and the animal that suffered for it, there was absolutely no going back. I never wish to be the reason for a creature’s unnecessary suffering and, personally, I can never justify taking a life for the pleasure of my taste buds.”
vegan for about 10 years, vegetarian for 12
“With the exceptions of chicken and a couple types of fish, I have always abhorred meat; so it was a pretty natural choice for me to switch to a plant based diet. As for the chicken, once I realized that the food on my plate was the same thing as the beloved pets I had in our coop, I really couldn’t think of going back. The more I learn about animal agriculture and how it abuses animals, people and the environment, the more firmly established in veganism I become.”
vegan since June of 2017 when Donald Trump pulled us out of the Paris Climate Agreement
“I don’t miss eating meat because I’ve trained myself to see meat as not just “meat” but as a dead body that most likely suffered the last part of its life if not the majority of it, and by consuming it I’m bringing in that energy. Also I’ve vegafied the majority of my favorite meat dishes so now I’ve replaced the concept of those dished in my own brain.”
vegan off and on for 8 years (on for the last 2)
“Honestly, I have never missed eating meat. Cheese (on occasion), but only when it comes to pizza 😆 otherwise there are great substitutes. There are so many meat replacements and vegan sources of protein, that it was never an issue for me. I also grew up in a household that hardly ever cooked meat. In my teen years, both my parents became vegan. I do feel that having a support system is always best when making a dietary change.”
vegan for 25 years, vegetarian for 25 years prior
“NO, I do not miss eating meat. It is not even a food for me. It would be like wanting to eat an old shoe or something. And the thought of eating a dead animal is repulsive to me.”
vegan for 5 years, vegetarian for 10 years prior
“I don’t ever miss meat! I will never go back to eating it again. Eating plant based has made me appreciate food in a whole new way. The food I eat now is tastier and healthier than anything I ate before. My tastes have drastically changed since going vegetarian and then vegan. The smell of meat is gross to me now. Eating a plant-based diet is empowering morally and physically. It’s changed the way I treat and nourish my body. It’s made me more health conscious, but more importantly I know I’m living in alignment with my ethics and beliefs. I can feel confident that my choices are not contributing to animal exploitation and abuse. Plus I’m doing right by this beautiful earth by not contributing to the devastating environmental impacts of the meat and dairy industries.”
vegan for 3 years, vegetarian for a year prior
“I NEVER miss or crave meat. Maybe in the beginning I did but my taste buds have shifted so much that I only crave plants. My cravings have shifted toward plants because you crave what you fill your diet with, but also I know every horrific step that goes into the production of meat that even the thought of eating it makes me cringe. I also have personal relationships with the animals that people consider food and I see their faces and think of them when others around me are eating meat.”
vegetarian for 8 years (wanting to go completely vegan)
“I don’t miss it at all, even the smell doesn’t feel good anymore, and I used to eat a lot of meat. I just feel that my body doesn’t need it and I feel more attracted to fresh food, like fruits!”
I would say about 90% vegan (because I am constantly learning) for 6 years and 10+ for beef
“Do you miss it? Not at all! Eating with my family of meat eaters can be difficult sometimes, though. I love that my meals do not cause harm to another sentient beings. Plus, my meals are delicious and I feel better than I ever did as a meat eater!”
vegan for 2 years, vegetarian for 2 years prior
“I don’t miss eating meat because I don’t have to! There are sooo many fake meat options these days that I’m really able to enjoy all of the same things as anyone else – just without the cruelty (or cholesterol).”
“Honestly I don’t miss meat at all. Now when I see meat, it doesn’t look appetizing to me whatsoever. My brain now makes the association between meat and the animal carcass it came from. I think Our society is very desensitized in regards to the actual source of our food. When you learn about the injustices that occur within the animal agricultural industry, it’s hard to turn a blind eye just for a meal.”
“I do miss eating meat on occasion because it’s so much easier socially. I don’t eat it because I have no desire to harm a creature that wants to live. I don’t eat it because I am unconvinced that it is healthy to do so. I don’t eat it because I felt a calling to this life and I want to do my best to honor that calling.”
“Sometimes I do [miss meat] if I smell some bacon cooking!! I don’t want to consume another living being’s pain, and no smell can convince me otherwise!!”
“Not at all! I never liked eating meat. Making the commitment to a vegetarian diet was easy and also a relief for me. I thought going vegan would be hard too, but it also came natural to me. I cannot bear the thought of any living being suffering. I’ve always loved animals and I think their lives are as important as mine. Just as one might be shocked at the idea of eating a dog or a cat, I extend that feeling to all animal lives. Furthermore, I think plant-based eating is delicious and I feel entirely satisfied by the food I eat. I honestly feel like I would be missing out if I ate animals – my way of life fills me up spiritually and I cannot imagine having to live any other way.”
“I don’t miss eating meat. The thought of someone else’s pain feels like my own, it was enough to stop eating meat. I will never touch meat!!!!”
“I don’t eat meat for 18 years, don’t miss at all and will never eat meat again. I’m a raw food vegan at home, vegetarian at my family and friends or restaurants /only in cases when there is nothing vegan to eat.”
“Don’t know how it tastes though some of the dishes do look appetizing. I am the unofficial adviser for ordering my non-veg friends. Never tasted so no idea as a kid because of religious reasons, moreover I have even thrown up at a fish market. As an adult [meat] never appealed to the palette and I can’t get over the fact that I am taking somebody’s life to fill my stomach.”
“No, apart from the two hot dogs I ate at a ski day camp, thinking they were like the ones we brought to camp out, I’ve never had any meat to miss! There is a great social pressure to consume meat, and as a student of cultures, I’ve often been nearly compelled to, but I’ve always kept animals and loved them, + I grew up with a strong idea of why a vegetarian diet is the healthiest.”
“I was raised vegetarian; I went through a brief meat eating phase as a teenager. Think it was rebellion. I do not miss eating meat. My body doesn’t digest it well. Think it was from being raised without it. I was almost 6’3 at age 13 and very rarely got sick. Also compassion kicks in. I really love animals, cows and pigs and chickens are just as precious as dogs cats and us.”
“Mostly I miss the convenience and certain dishes I enjoyed but not meat in and of itself. Actually, now I find the idea of meat terribly off-putting, if not repulsive. This is because I am unable to disconnect the images of the beings that the meat came from and everything they went through from the end product. Honestly if you sit back and really think about what ‘meat’ truly is, it is quite nauseating. What keeps me from eating meat isn’t these feelings that have come about as my awareness has grown but rather an acknowledgement that I do not want to harm animals. I do not eat meat because I value the lives of others more than convenience, habit, tradition, and my taste buds.”
“I don’t miss meat–I used to, but after some time passed everything changed. I stopped wanting anything but plant foods because I feel so much better, and I could never hurt an animal again. Plant foods taste so good, and I feel so much better mind, body & spirit. Last but not least, I am recovering from pancreatic cancer with the help of my vegan life!”
“I don’t miss eating meat at all. I never have. Ever since I was 5 years old and found out what meat was, the thought of consuming a dead animal’s flesh repulses me. Plus there are plenty of plant based products available that are “meat like!”
“Don’t miss eating meat, in fact I’ve lost my taste for it (coming from someone who’s favourite meal used to be a Prime rib dinner). Seeing the meat section in a grocery store actually repulses me now. Why would I want to eat the dead remains of a tortured animal, and support a cruel industry which is literally destroying the planet?”
“I don’t miss eating meat because I’ve never really enjoyed it, and I have great love and respect for all living things. I’ve never really understood when you’re supposed to stop chewing meat. It’s like eating a mouthful of coconut or pumpkin seeds with the shells. There comes a point where you just want to spit it out.”
“I’ve never missed eating meat, or consuming dairy for that matter. The well-being of animals is far too important to me and I don’t believe I have the right to be exploiting them.”
“No. Growing up eating meat, I was never really comfortable eating it in the first place. Once I found alternatives, I never looked back.”
“I don’t miss eating meat because I look at it totally differently now I look at meat as an animal rather than food but it also helps that there are so many amazing substitutes out there now.”
“I do not miss eating meat. What stops me from eating meat is my compassion for all living creatures. To me, a cow is a dog is a chicken is a cat. All animals deserve to be treated with love and respect. Also, one of my favorite quotes I have heard in the vegan community, “If we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others, why wouldn’t we?”
“No, I do not miss eating meat… At all. In fact the smell makes me sick. Literally… Which is why I stopped eating meat in the first place. In the beginning I did not want to be vegetarian. Because it was hard to find and prepare meals. I was young and did not know much about it back then. But I educated myself and learned that vegetarianism is meant to be a part of me and I learned to embrace the lifestyle and just how to incorporate it into my life.”
“At first I definitely missed eating meat, especially when I would smell backyard BBQs in the summer time. It’s much easier now with companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods making replicas of the classics.”
“If I ever feel like I want the texture of meat in my mouth, there are already great plant based alternatives on the market and there continue to be new products being launched all the time. I get the satisfaction I used to get from meat, but I also get the added benefit of knowing its better for me, the planet as a whole and I’m reducing the number of victims of animal ag.”
“Hell to the no I don’t miss a thing. Nothing about animal suffering sits right in my mind, soul, or taste buds. I’m better than that to be the reason someone dies or is exploited . When we know better, we need to do better. We have a moral obligation as humans to fulfill.”
“Not one bit. Was never a fan of meat if anything I always had some sort of fish instead but I don’t miss that either!!”
“No. If I ever wanted something that resembled meat there’s a vegan version of it! And there’s no reason to take an individual’s life even if there weren’t vegan versions of meat, just eat plants! Lol”
“Never [miss eating meat]. I see it differently. It is from a sentient being. The idea of eating an animal’s flesh has become repulsive to me. So many great new products like Beyond Meat.”
vegan for over two years now, vegetarian for 12 years prior
“I don’t miss meat or many animal products. Mostly because there are awesome substitutes now that I can almost easily find a vegan version of my old favorite foods. Knowing how we obtain animal products in the first place is enough for me to not miss eating a non-vegan diet, but having so many awesome choices certainly makes it even easier.”
Sebastian, Germany, Lutheran preacher/meditation teacher
vegan for 3 years, vegetarian for 1 year prior
“I do not miss meat, milk, eggs. I stopped eating meat because I did not want to eat the flesh of a being, that wants to live like I do. In that year of my vegetarian life I read many books about these things and changed my mind: I wanted to nourish myself without doing harm in any way.”
vegan for 3 years, vegetarian for 7 years prior
“Not at all!! Honestly, every time I see meat or any type of animal product, I see the face of the animal that suffered for it. It no longer represents “food” to me, it represents sadness, pain and suffering.”
Thank you to all of our plant-based friends for your input and thoughts; I appreciated every last one. Wishing you all a happy and productive week…xoxo
(For more posts in my Vegan Q&A series, please click here)