Food & Drink

Ex-Vegetarians Tell Why They Began Eating Meat Again

burger with beef, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and bacon
Sara Norris/Thrillist

Our relationship with meat is complicated, and there are myriad reasons why we might choose to ditch it from our diets completely: health concerns, moral ambiguity, trying to impress Paul McCartney, etc. But even as some turn away from the omnivorous path, on occasion those same people come back. The individuals profiled in this article all flirted with the veggie side of life, but eventually rediscovered flesh fare for varied and compelling reasons. None of which include pregnancy.

David Chang
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The hardcore vegetarian who was seduced by David Chang

Leanne Butkovic, a Thrillist city editor, spent six years as a vegetarian and one year as a card-holding (they have cards, right?) vegan. "When I was 16, I handled a piece of raw, ground beef that just set me off. It was gross, and that was really my first big adverse reaction to meat," she said.

Afterwards, she tore through the benchmark reading materials -- Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma -- and by the time she hit college, she was a veritable vegetarian. Her school, University of Missouri-Columbia, boasted a surprisingly robust vegetarian community that made the lifestyle appealing, and realistic.

"The impetus here was originally based on what I read about, the problems with the food industry, animal cruelty. I also knew it was probably something that would be healthy for me. But it was really easy to be a vegetarian at college, for me. I was in a culture that massively supported my decision, surrounded by like-minded people."

"He says something like 'if you could only smell this right now.' It was like something snapped, it was an epiphany."

"When I moved to New York, it became harder to be a vegetarian. There was so much good food, and at the time I didn't really have the means to buy the food I needed to maintain the lifestyle I had been living at school," she said. "I was suddenly looking at meat, almost wanting some.

"One night, I was watching David Chang cook this juicy, inches thick steak on Mind of a Chef. He was drizzling oil all over it. He says something like 'if you could only smell this right now.' It was like something snapped, it was an epiphany." 

Butkovic said she literally experienced "meat dreams," that night, and the very next day she was "serendipitously served a coal-oven pizza with uncured pork jowls" (it's Brooklyn), which she ate enthusiastically. "After that, I do eat meat now, about every other day. And I try to be conscious of where my food is coming from. But I actually don't think I've had a steak since that David Chang moment. I should get one, right?"

woman smoking weed marijuana
Pe3k/Shutterstock

The woman who smoked weed and ate Wendy's

Another woman I spoke to, who works in the medical field, who chose to remain anonymous, was a vegetarian for three-and-a-half years. She had adopted the diet to help combat the freshman fifteen, and because she was stressed out about her classes' subject matter. "I was learning about all these diseases, and everything that can go wrong with your body. I thought -- and probably still do think -- that a vegetarian lifestyle is healthier. So that's the way I went for almost four years," she said.

I just snatched it from my friend and ate the whole thing. I think I literally forgot I was a vegetarian. 

But during one fateful Christmas break, a bong and some square burgers made her break her vow to vegetables: "I was in grad school and things were getting crazy. I hadn't smoked pot in a while, but I didn't really care at this point. I smoked and went with my friends through the drive though, it was actually Christmas Eve. When my eyes hit one of those little burgers, I just snatched it from my friend and ate the whole thing. I think I literally forgot I was a vegetarian. It looked that fucking good."

After she had broken that meal seal, she let meat slide back into her life, with some restrictions: "I thought I might as well just incorporate meat back into my menu after that -- I had already blown my streak. But I mainly just do fish and chicken, now. It really did teach me how to develop healthy eating habits though, and that's what I originally intended. So, I win this round, meat."

The dude who was swayed by Spanish ham

Thrillist staff photographer Cole Saladino was also a vegetarian for a little over a year, before calling it off on a Euro-trip. "I did grow up in California -- where you expect everyone to be a vegetarian -- but I didn't give up meat till I came to New York. I thought it would be cheaper to be a vegetarian, I cooked mainly at home and I didn't mind eating the same thing every night. And, I thought it would be healthier."

"I don't think they fully understood what a vegetarian is over there. Even their vegetarian pizza has some pork on it."

Saladino said the decision came after he realized he hadn't eaten meat for a week, so he decided to "just keep going." After a year and some change of vegetarianism, he left New York for a semester abroad in Madrid -- where, according to him, abstaining from meat wasn't an option. "I knew I was going to Europe, and I knew I wanted to experience the full spectrum of food there, because I thought it was an important part of the culture and I didn't want to limit myself. It's a good thing, too -- I don't think they fully understood what a vegetarian is over there. Even their vegetarian pizza has some pork on it -- and that was the first thing I ate over there. I didn't regret it," he said.

Though Saladino now eats meat frequently, he said that being a vegetarian has helped him learn to shape a healthy, veggie-centric diet. But he does take a lot of meat pictures. That counts for something, right?

Vegetarians eat burgers
Natasha Photo/Shutterstock

And the girl who one day decided to eat meat again

The girlfriend of Sex and Dating writer Jeremy Glass agreed to talk to me about her vegetarian days, but only if I didn't include her name. Mainly because her boyfriend does weird stuff. Let's call her M. 

"It was not any sort of noble decision. It was more a lifestyle choice made by a nerd aching to be cool and crunchy. But I do love animals, and that probably played a part. I'm not even sure why I started," she said.

"I don't think I ever looked back! I just started eating real hot dogs again and was LOVING IT."

"People used to mistake me for a vegetarian all the time, and say, 'Oh, but you look like a vegetarian.' Kind of like how now people assume I have an MFA, 'Oh, but you look like you went to art school.' So I went with it, there's lots of good reasons to be a vegetarian, but I was not vegetarian for any good reasons."

M was living the vegetarian life for about three or four years. Then, as suddenly as she dropped meat from her diet, she picked it back up again. "Honestly I was probably just offered some chicken fingers and decided to eat them."

She has no regrets.

"I definitely do not regret going back. I do, however, wish I had the means to be more responsible about where the meat I eat comes from. 

"I don't think I ever looked back! I just started eating real hot dogs again and was LOVING IT."

Fair enough. 

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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. He's not a vegetarian, but once played one on TV. Follow him: @wilfulton.