Becoming a Vegetarian

Well it’s been four months of being a successful herbivore. I really did not think that I would get this far. (Mekayla didn’t think I would last a month, but here I am).

I grew up in a household and an environment where eating meat is a part of everyday life. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for us to eat meat at every meal. Bacon and eggs for breakfast. A ham sandwich for lunch. A fully cooked dinner of roast-whatever in the evening. Our snacks would even include Biltong (various dried meats).

I have known for a long time that on some factory farms, animals are not treated very well. I saw one of those typical videos a few years ago, and I just stored it in the back of my mind like everyone else. I suppose I didn’t think that it was something that happened where I lived. Except it is a reality, although not many of us think that it is.

In South Africa, where I grew up, we went on many field trips. Visiting dairy farms and nature reserves. We got to play with some of the animals. We even milked a cow. We have family members who hunt wild bucks and make their own biltong. We’ve tasted everything from Kudu to Ostrich. We’ve been to crocodile reserves and even gotten a taste of Crocodile meat. For Christmas we would have a whole lamb on the spit braai (similar to a barbecue).

Meat-eating is a part of the culture. It is not often that you meet someone here that is Afrikaans and a vegetarian or a vegan. For many people it is a totally foreign concept.

I have often toyed with the idea of becoming a vegetarian. It just didn’t seem possible. It took me while to decide that after bonding with so many beautiful animals that I didn’t want to eat any of them anymore. I didn’t want a life to suffer for my sustenance when it wasn’t necessary.

I’ve played with lion cubs and cheetahs (and all sorts of other little-big cats). I’ve petted a giraffe and an ostrich. I’ve even rubbed a wild hog’s belly and fed a zebra. I’ve held a baby crocodile. All of the wild animals are gorgeous. I didn’t think of farm animals the same way until I babysat two chicks for a day in an amusement park. Then I visited a dairy farm and one of the calves licked my hand. They were beautiful too.

I never liked the idea of hunting. However, it seemed more humane to me to kill an animal that has lived a full life (like it happens in nature when a lion eats a buck), than to keep one in a cage for it’s whole life and then snuff out it’s existence for a chicken burger.

Those are the thoughts that made me feel better about my indulgences for a while. I didn’t think South Africa could have those cages full of animals to be slaughtered. I was sure they all lived outside and were happy grazing in the fields and mountains.

I began to think of vegetarianism more when I moved to Dubai. It didn’t seem possible for them to have many farms in the desert. So where did the food come from? Clearly it was mostly imported. Then I began to think of the animals again. Where did they live? Were they treated with kindness?

Around February of 2016 I attempted to become a vegetarian. I quickly surmised that going cold turkey and just completely cutting out all meat immediately, was a method that does not work for me. I lasted 2 weeks before ordering McNuggets.

I wasn’t eating enough in general and more importantly, I wasn’t eating enough of the right foods. I was confused about what I should be eating and I had the mindset that I was depriving my body of something. That made me want it more.

After a few months of deliberating, I decided to choose a different path. That one clearly was not the right one for me. What works for some, does not work for others.

I grew up using food as a comfort. Home cooked food (especially my grandmother and my mother’s cooking) was my go to. I used it to feel better whenever I was sad for any reason. That and candy, chocolates and chips. Anything that tasted nice, helped me to feel a bit better. For the time it took me to empty a plate of course. That’s why second and third helpings stepped in. I used to weigh a bit more than I should, thanks to indulgences that were helped along by many negative emotions.

I wrestled with my self confidence and my body image for quite some time. I few brushes with eating disorders later, and I decided to end the love affair with sweet and salty snacks and especially second helpings. I gradually cut them out, one by one. I allowed myself treats here and there in the form of chocolate and ice cream when I wanted something for a bit of comfort. I did a lot of dancing at school and I lost a lot of weight in the process.

I thought of this time in my life when I wanted to become a vegetarian recently. Home cooking was a new crutch to deal with recent bouts of depression and anxiety. I had formed my own fears surrounding food. I decided I was being selfish and silly. I can still have home cooked meals and replace the meaty parts with something else.

I decided to make a slower transition this time. I took two months where I slowly ate less and less meat, taking my time to find alternative that I liked to eat. My body wasn’t in shock and neither was my mind. I ate something when I really wanted it. When I was very hungry, I ate something vegetarian and if I was still hungry after that, then I would indulge my meat cravings. I didn’t deprive myself of anything. My body was used to a certain diet for over 20 years, and suddenly changing it will cause a bit of withdrawal. It happened with the candy and the chips, and naturally the same would happen with meat.

Finally, on the first of September 2016 I had successfully cut all meat and fish out of my diet. Checking labels in Dubai is a bit of a hassle when it comes to checking for gelatine and so on, but otherwise I’ve been okay.

When you want to make a major life change, it is important to find a way that works for you. Don’t feel pressured to follow someone else’s guidelines.

My best friend has had a vastly different journey. You can watch her story below.

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