I have received a number of emails with the same questions, so I thought I'd post a quick Q&A here. If you have any other questions, I'd be happy to answer them in the comments.
So what exactly do you eat now?
Mostly the same stuff, except that I add meat to some things. I eat a bit of meat every day. Breakfast is my heaviest meal, and I might eat vegetarian for the rest of the day, or I might include some meat with dinner; I have no rules, except that our meat must always come from our community. My diet is still very diverse according to what's available in my county.
What was it like to return to eating meat?
I expected some discomfort, so I took it slow, but actually I had no problem whatsoever digesting meat. Some ex-vegans experience a moment of epiphany the first time they eat meat. I didn't have any such experience. One thing I do notice is that my mood is very stable after I eat meat; I feel truly full, less inclined to overeat. I expected to feel strange, grossed out and horrified, about handling meat, but it's felt quite natural and healthy overall.
I never much liked meat before I went vegetarian, so it was relatively easy to give it up. In returning to meat, I do experience some pleasure with it, but mostly I appreciate how it makes me feel.
What about the kids?
My son is 5 and my daughter just turned 4. They've been eating eggs for the last year, dairy for the last six months or so, and meat for the last month; before that, they were vegan.
Isaiah experienced some significant distress when I first began eating fish. I'd always discussed my reasons for avoiding meat in terms I hoped he could understand; one of these was that animals are living creatures who feel pain and I didn't think it was right to kill them. (I was always careful to frame these discussions in terms of what I felt was right and wrong while pointing out that others feel differently and he can decide for himself. I'm not sure how relevant that is to a kindergartner, but I made the effort.)
So when I brought meat into the house, Isaiah had this foundational understanding to object. I explained to him that I was feeling ill, fish made me feel better, and he was under no obligation to try it if he didn't want it. For a long time, he didn't. I never pressured him to eat fish; I always prepared a vegetarian version of our meals for him and his sister.
Recently, the kids have begun sampling fish dishes, and now they eat some meat. Isaiah is always curious about the source of our meat, so we explore it together. If I buy fish, he wants to know what the fish looks like when it's whole and alive, so we find photos and learn together about the fish's habitat, mating habits, and so forth. When we started eating meat from pigs, he wanted to know where each cut originated on the animal. He continues to ask these questions, but he rarely expresses disgust or hesitation.
I intend to keep this situation as low-pressure as possible, respecting my kids' wishes to avoid meat if that's their decision. When I was a child, I didn't want to eat meat. I loved animals ferociously and couldn't bear to think of their deaths on my behalf. I remember very well the feeling of being ignored and disrespected, chastised instead of encouraged in my fledgling compassion for others. That's what I keep in mind as I go into similar situations with my children.
What about the man?
I don't want to speak for Jeremy, but since there have been some questions about whatever strife might exist between us as a result of this process, I'll just say that he's been right there with me, supporting me while coming to his own conclusions, one of which is that he wants to learn the skills of slaughter. (He spent last week in a homemade forge and built our chicken coop with no carpentry experience, so this isn't much of a surprise. He's Mr. Self-Sufficiency.)
You mention all these health problems, but many people are successfully vegan for years, even decades. What did you do wrong?
One thing that was very frustrating was watching my family continue in relative good health while mine failed. I'd often pointed to my beautiful children as evidence that vegan diets are safe. If there's any age at which a vegan diet would fail, I'd say, it's the first five years, but my kids have always been the picture of glowing good health, tremendously smart, tall, well-proportioned, with good teeth and strong bone structure, and always well above average in development. I'd still struggle to find evidence that growing up vegan was harmful for my kids. Jeremy, too, hasn't seemed to change much, for good or ill, as a result of going vegan, and then consuming meat.
So what did I do wrong? Why couldn't I figure it out despite my training? Well, I am an individual. And it's my personal health history, I think, that caused this project to fail in the end.
Some people have asked why I didn't see a vegan, or at least vegan-supportive, doctor for my blood tests. My doctor actually is quite supportive of veganism, if it seems to be working for that patient. In my case, I had several markers of deficiency that could be traced to my diet. On the other hand, I have to wonder what value there can be in shopping around until you find someone who will tell you what you want to hear. Doctors oughtn't be in the business of cherry-picking evidence to support a patient's lifestyle. Sometimes we need to hear hard things to move forward in better health.
Why not just eat eggs and dairy? Why revert entirely to omnivorism?
There are two reasons for this. The first (practical) reason is that I simply feel better when I'm eating meat. For six months I consumed ever greater quantities of eggs and dairy, and then fish, but when I started eating meat, that's when I saw a real difference in my mood and blood sugar. No, I was not anemic. But my blood tests did show a marked scarcity in protein uptake and utilization, so perhaps all that is happening is that I'm consuming some easily assimilable protein.
The second (philosophical) reason is that I've shifted to favor proteins produced locally rather than those grown far away. I can't get grains, beans, or soy where I live. None of these crops are particularly successful on a small scale. I can, however, get meat, eggs, and dairy, and they are quite suitable for small-scale development. I still consume grains, beans, and soy, but I'm also able to subsist primarily on what's grown where I live. That's extremely important to me.
Have you abandoned the vegan lifestyle altogether? What about leather, wool, cosmetics, etc.?
After my first year as a vegan I couldn't think of a rational reason to avoid secondhand leather and wool, especially as an alternative to first-hand petroleum products such as polyester and vinyl, or conventional cotton. Most products specifically designed for vegans (such as non-leather shoes and hemp clothing) are way too expensive for me. I will continue to buy secondhand products of any sort while being cautious about first-hand sources of wool and avoiding first-hand sources of leather. I don't use cosmetics, generally, but as far as soap and shampoo and so forth, I do seek out products that haven't been tested on animals.
What about veganic agriculture?
Veganic agriculture (as described on this delightfully impartial Wiki page) is heartily endorsed by vegans who'd rather not consider animal agriculture essential to sustainable growing systems. In practical terms it's essentially a useless concept for people who need to eat right now, as there are no commercial sources of veganic food. If it were adopted on a mass scale it could be helpful in areas where animal agriculture is difficult. But for now I think it wise to adopt sustainable systems that are already in place, including closed-loop small-scale farms that incorporate many species of both plant and animal. Like it or not, most small-scale growers are going to seek "value-added" sources of fertility (animals who can be raised for manure but also meat, milk, eggs, wool, and companionship), something that veganic agriculture cannot provide.
Some proponents of veganic agriculture are embarrassingly disconnected from reality, and that marks against the presumed sanity of their method. For example, the website Veg For Life says,
"Hundreds of years ago, nearly all farming was done without animal manure or animal byproducts simply because farmers did not keep animals in high concentrations, nor did they have a way to deliver manure from place to place."Make no mistake: any pre-industrial farmer worth her salt included manure in her fields, whether from her own animals or those of a neighbor. Hundreds of years ago, farmers weren't expected to feed hundreds, even thousands of people, often from a single crop. CAFOs weren't in existence and weren't necessary as farms were organized around village life, with most people having a few animals to provide manure in combination with compost and cover crops for soil fertility, as well as meat, milk, eggs, and fiber.
The advent of the Haber-Bosch process of artificial nitrogen fixation cued the tremendous explosion in population and reformation of farming that resulted in the splendidly devastating industries we see today, including the rise of CAFOs and monocropping of largely non-nutritive plants such as commodity corn. It's incorrect to apply our current principles of agriculture to pre-industrial communities. Soil fertility in such systems was absolutely dependent on animal waste. Land nourished solely on plant matter will swiftly become deficient in essential nutrients.
Some veganic supporters believe that "humanure" and human urine will fill this gap. Certainly, we should be using our own composted waste to serviceable ends rather than dumping it in drinking water. I can't speak to whether the composition of human waste is appropriate to replace animal waste, but it would certainly be preferable compared to nitrogen fertilizers.
Don't you have any guilt at all?
If I had any, it surely would have been elicited by this commentary:
"This isn’t a matter of distrusting someone or feeling betrayed by or angry at someone because he or she has left a religion or a mindset or an identity or just any way of living — it’s about a return to violence, to exploitation, to torture, to suffering, to killing... It has far more in common with going from peace activist to subway bomber or, as Chad says, from social justice activist to virulent racist than it has in common with leaving a religion. Veganism isn’t a religion. It’s a social justice movement. It’s a way of living. And it’s not about us. It’s about them — the ones we can choose to torture and kill unnecessarily or choose to respect and advocate for."Last week I drove to work with a bag of dead chickens in the trunk of my car. I'd paid a friend to slaughter these chickens for me, to pluck them and chop them up into manageable pieces so I can, at some time in the future -- after first "resting" (passing out of rigor mortis) for two days in the refrigerator and then being frozen for days or weeks or months in my garage -- roast them or boil them or bake them, and then eat them, then store their bones in my freezer until I have enough to boil up into stock.
Eating meat is undoubtedly an act of violence. But is it a return to violence, as this author eloquently states? For it to be so, one should assume that veganism -- consuming only plant foods -- is not violent. And I simply can't agree.
Maybe this is difficult to understand, but one cannot study the history or present conditions of industrial agriculture without appreciating the massive devastation wrought by our simple need to eat. And I have so desperately wished, for all of my days, to reduce the harm I cause to the world -- to other animals, to other people, to the land. For a long time, veganism made the most sense to me. Don't eat animals, or consume their milk or their eggs, and nobody gets hurt. Animals aren't slaughtered on your behalf. Emissions aren't released from their copious shit. Land isn't razed to grow grains and soy to feed them.
And this makes a kind of elegant sense. But I strenuously ignored the lives lost, the energy wasted, the land destroyed to produce plant foods on a mass scale. When I did confront this reality, I made excuses for it. It's all about the intention. I have to eat something. Accidental death is preferable above premeditated slaughter. We can feed more people with grain. And so forth until I finally admitted that my consumption resulted in untold slaughter, and yes it does matter.
I'm not sure that my philosophy has changed all that much. I'm still coming from the same position of wanting to preserve life, protect animals from harm, improve the land, and enjoy good health. What has changed for me is my approach. If a few animals are deliberately slaughtered to provide my protein, that's a more refined and specific approach than depending on plant foods grown on land where absolutely every last ounce of living matter, down to soil microorganisms, is annihilated, and continues to be devastated with each year's plow, each year's application of pesticide, each year's rotation of the same annual plant, each year's dosage of petroleum (to which so many lives are lost). Not to mention that if the farm is organic or otherwise "sustainable," there's a good lot of manure, bloodmeal, and bonemeal in there, most likely from CAFOs.
As long as the animals I eat are raised nearby, in gentle conditions, allowed to act out their animal natures, prevented from harm, and slaughtered quickly, I don't feel particularly guilty. Sometimes I pause and realize that I'm consuming what was once a living thing, but then I ask myself, where would my food come from otherwise? And the answer to that is not acceptable to me anymore.
A few final thoughts...
I followed some of the chatter after Tasha posted A Vegan No More on her website. At first, I was gratified to see so many whose experiences clearly paralleled mine: I'm not alone! Then, I had more than a bit of déjà vu as I followed the comments on her site and elsewhere. Word for word, many of these sentiments from angry vegans align with those thrown at apostates from religion (including me, with my own apostasy from Mormonism).
Some vegans bristle at the flippant belief that veganism is like a religion, while others embrace it because nonviolence is so much a part of their spiritual philosophy. Either way, it troubles me to see so much of the same bitterness and vitriol directed at ex-vegans as I've observed (and experienced) from religious people.
For example, it's common to tell an ex-vegan, and a formerly religious person, that they were never very committed.
"If you've stopped being vegan, you never really were. You never fully embraced the philosophy."
"If you've quit the Church, you never really believed. You were never fully converted."
Or it might be said that you're returning to something so unhealthy, they can see it in your face.
"Now that you consume rotting corpses I can see how sallow and greasy you've become."
"You've lost the light from your face since you stopped going to church."
Certainly there is the commonly-levied accusation of doing it wrong.
"You should have eaten more beans, taken a vitamin D/B-12/calcium/omega-3/iron/protein supplement, eaten spirulina/maca/goji berries, gone raw. You shouldn't have eaten so much fruit, seen a non-vegan doctor, consumed unfermented soy, used supplements, gone raw."
"You should have read your scriptures more, attended the temple more, asked for a different calling, talked to the bishop, put it on the shelf. You shouldn't have supported gay marriage, voted Democrat, moved out of Utah, read the Journal of Discourses, asked questions."
And you can reliably expect to hear that you're now an evil person who gave up the cause because it was easier or more pleasurable to quit.
"It's too bad that you don't care enough about animals to spare their lives."
"It's too bad that your children won't grow up knowing the gospel."
"Sure, it's hard to be vegan, but it's worth it!"
"Sure, it's hard to be Mormon, but you can't just give up!"
"You just want to eat bacon, eat at restaurants, eat at parties. You're willing to sacrifice animals for your own pleasure."
"You just want to drink coffee, sleep in on Sundays, have premarital sex. You're willing to sacrifice your eternal salvation for your own pleasure."
So much speculation flies around about apostates and defectors, and having been on both sides of these arguments, it seems to me that it's all about one thing: distraction. Distracting yourself, distracting others. After reading these endless streams of comments, on Tasha's site and also on the many other articles about leaving veganism, and also responding to many emails (before I decided to do this post), reviewing so many arguments that have gone before and anticipating the mud-slinging to come, I have to say: I'm tired.
We're all struggling, we're all suffering, we're all damaged. We're all trying to do what's good and right. We're all trying to understand the concept of least harm and we're all trying to implement our understanding of it. It is in our worst nature that we turn on each other when we need to band together and look outward to reach others. I think it's especially true for those of us who are steeped in the rhetoric of social justice and inevitable complicity: we torture ourselves so much, we don't need anyone else to do it for us. So I think this will be my last post in this vein for some time.
Again, thank you for the wonderful support, the excellent comments, and the sweet emails. You guys make this all worthwhile!
Back to the food!