How I Slowly Cut Out Meat From My Diet Completely
“What kind of meat are we having for Christmas this year?”, eight-year-old me called into the kitchen. I felt uneasy because I didn’t want to eat any rabbit, deer, or pigeon. Little did I know it is all the same.
My youth friend had two soft and squishy pet rabbits. It felt wrong to be eating her pets. No deer either. When I stepped outside of the family tent on a camping site in Italy at three years old, I stood eye to eye with a baby deer. It had horns the size of short stumps. The animal seemed tame. The encounter was magical.
Pigeons I saw as granddad’s “pets”. I held quite a few young birds in my hands, these tiny, warm, unfeathered and butt-naked but breathing creatures. They would grow up to serve as racing pigeons, but I knew some would serve as supper as well. I just never asked.
Whatever exquisite meat was served during Christmas, I ate it, even when the thought of where this meat came from made me somewhat nauseous. Leaving food on the table was considered rude, and I knew extra money and effort was spent to prepare a lavish, multiple-course meal.
Those are my earliest memories of me questioning eating meat.
Eating meat in the early days
Growing up in a Dutch household, we had “typical” Dutch meals every day. We refer to this standard as “AVG”: “aardappelen, vlees, groente” (potatoes, meat, vegetables). Meat was considered the norm, and being able to afford “good meat” a luxury.
Still a child, I didn’t question the carnivore diet most of us were following. Our focus wasn’t on the type of meat, but on what we did with it in our meals and how to season it for the best possible taste. The real connection to its origins had not yet been made. Or it was, but I was told either “that’s just how it goes”, or “don’t think about it”. The classic: accept the norm, or just look away.
Twenty years ago, the term “vegetarian” felt like a faraway, mythical lifestyle, impossible to replicate for us traditional meat eaters. Vegetarians were the minority. Vegans? Unheard of. I used to make fun of non-meat eaters (I know, shame on me). I have no idea if meat replacements were available at all in supermarkets back then. We for sure weren’t eating these at home, nor was I looking for it in stores myself.
Fast forward some years. I heavily cut back on products of animal origin. I never buy meat in the supermarket anymore, or choose a dish that contains it when dining out. When eating at friend’s places, I refuse to eat meat, despite the potential backlash or disappointment of me as a guest refusing to eat the meal prepared by the host.
The “but, bacon” is replaced with “but does it contain meat?”.
I’ve seen one too many slaughterhouse videos. Eating meat just doesn’t sit right with me anymore. In other words, I became one of those people I used to make fun of.
How did that happen? Very gradual and slow.
Changes in diet
I can pinpoint the pivotal moments that influenced this change.
The first real exposure happened a solid eight years ago. A vegetarian flatmate at the time showed me the possibilities of cooking nutritious, tasty-looking meals without the use of meat.
I was mind-blown.
In my mind, a vegetarian meal was a boring, tasteless salad. But she showed me so much more of what was possible. We never judged one another for our dietary choices, so I never felt pressured to hide my food from her or to feel shame. She sometimes shared bites of her meals with me. At the time I unfortunately couldn’t return the favor.
When I moved to Berlin, my very first friend here was a hardcore vegan activist. On one bright summer day I offered to buy her a waffle at the park. She rejected my offer. I asked her if she didn’t like waffles. She replied with “It has eggs in it.” Again, I was mind-blown. I still bought my waffle and uncomfortably ate it, knowing she despised the food’s contents.
Just by hanging out with her, I was exposed to her way of thinking. She made me reconsider things I never thought twice about, especially regarding my diet.
The next stage of my shift was when I noticed I couldn’t get “quality” meat for the prices I was used to back in the Netherlands. If the meat tastes so poorly, I don’t even want to know what happened to the animals. How they lived, under what conditions.
My new flatmate in this city, by coincidence, ate lots of vegetarian food as well. We often exchanged food and meals. That expanded on my existing knowledge of the meals you can make, without “needing” meat even more.
I was open to new inputs and ideas, so this exposure had an effect on me.
It gets easier
The past three years, choosing to not eat meat has become a whole lot easier. It started with adding one piece of soja or tofu to my shopping basket. Just to try it. Now, I ignore the meat section and go straight to the vegetarian aisle, and try different types of soja, tofu and what else each time.
When I’m hungry and need to eat, the effort of me grabbing a steak versus grabbing something else essentially is the same. I still grab the veggies and potatoes. The “V” in my “AVG” however is now replaced with vegetarian.
Cow milk is replaced with soy or almond milk. When baking cakes, I look for vegan versions of a recipe I like. It makes my conscience feel less heavy. The plan is to continue down this path, and keep learning about plant-based foods, until it becomes second nature.
I still love the taste of meat, but I don’t like where it comes from or the process of how it got on my plate, so I prefer to avoid it.
And I know that I eventually influence the other end of the chain by deciding where I put my money.