Confessions of a Former Meat Eater

This is the story of my life growing up eating animals and the reasons I stopped. I hope somebody who is where I was might read it and change as I did.

For my second birthday, my parents brought home a Bedlington terrier for my sister and me. We named her Marshmallow Jellybeans Gumdrops Kirschner – a marriage of our favorite candy. We loved our dog as much as any people ever loved a dog but we never made a connection between our family dog and the animals we ate which we also purported to love. I learned not to pull my dog’s tail or pet her eyes — my first lesson in kindness to animals. She died when I was 16. It would take a long time before I realized the importance of extending the respect and love I had for my dog Marshmallow to all animals.

The Turkey
My father worked in a deli in the Bronx, New York to pay his way through college. He used to carve animals for a living. Every Thanksgiving, family and friends would comment on how well he carved “the bird.” It was a “masterpiece” they would say and he was “Picasso.” I grew up in a culture that took pride in eating animals and the art of serving them. Whether we marveled at the redness of the roast beef on rye or shared our pleasure over the tenderness of “white meat,” we ate animals often and without pause — chicken, steak, turkey, fish, bacon, hamburgers, hot dogs, eggs, and cheese.

My father took me fishing often. A traditional American father-son activity, I cherished that time with my Dad. I wrote poems about how he untangled my fishing line and used it as a metaphor for how he untangled my life when I needed his advice. I yearned to see my bobber sink beneath the surface and to feel the tug of a fish at the end of my line. We reeled in and ate everything we could catch. I don’t remember ever feeling sympathy for the fish. I was a water hunter and killed countless animals. I thought nothing of it. I don’t ever remember feeling any remorse or having any idea that what I was doing was wrong.

My Goldfish Reggie Jackson
I loved my goldfish. I perched myself in front of his bowl and stared at him endlessly as he swam in circles. One day I came home from school and found him floating at the top of the bowl. I buried him in one of my Dad’s cigar boxes in the backyard. I missed him so much that I dug him up a few days later so I could say goodbye again. It is my earliest memory of feeling sad about the loss of an animal. It reminds me that I had the ability to show compassion for animals at a young age but I didn’t extend it to all animals, likely the result of a lack of exposure to them. I never recall interacting with a cow, chicken, or pig until adulthood. I wonder how much my decisions would have changed if I had visited a farm sanctuary as a child. After meeting a turkey for the first time, it was unimaginable that I could ever eat one again.

I rarely ever saw the face of the animals I ate – no eyes, ears, or nose. I never thought about them. I saw slabs of unidentifiable meat. I cringed as I cut the veins out of chicken and felt disturbed by occasional blood splotches – a result of a weak stomach rather than compassion. I grew up in New York. We didn’t have any farms near us. As a child, I learned animals lived happy lives on outdoor family farms where they roamed freely. When they got older, they died a painless death. Finally, we ate them because we needed to eat them to survive. It sounded logical and humane. I thought nothing of it. I ate with confidence and without regret. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Lobsters
My earliest memory of any concern for the welfare of animals happened when my mother cooked lobsters on New Year’s Eve. I recall her anguish over dropping live lobsters in boiling water. She debated if she should lull them to sleep and let the water heat up or kill them instantly in hot water. I remember my mother dropping them in the pot and hearing a hissing sound. I couldn’t watch. It triggered a new response in me. I felt sad but it didn’t translate into making any changes. My mother talked about how bad she felt and then we ate them. It would be a long time before I realized what people did to farm animals before they reached my plate. I always remember my own indifference to suffering because it keeps me from judging others as they evolve.

Still Indifferent and Naive
As I grew up, I became more and more health conscious or so I thought. I exercised regularly and made sure I got my protein every day, which meant eating plenty of chickens and fish. I thought those were my best options so I ate them often and with great certainty and pride. Ironically, I also volunteered for select animal and environmental causes in my community. I reflect on those years now with disbelief and shame that I spent so much time criticizing others for abusing dogs, whales, elephants, and other animals while simultaneously contributing to the pain and suffering of so many others.

The Awakening
Sitting among hundreds of dog and cat lovers at an annual fundraiser for an animal shelter, a video of abused and abandoned dogs and cats played on a big screen. I scanned the room and noticed people wiping tears from their eyes. They stood up one after another and announced donations of $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 to help end the abuse. And then, in a moment that will forever be seared in my memory because it marks the instant that I made the most important connection of my life, the host announced: “Thank you for your support this evening. Your donations will go a long way to help us end the abuse of animals. Now, please help yourself to the lovely buffet. We have veal, chicken, steak, hamburgers, roast beef, and much more. Enjoy!” Hundreds of people made a beeline for the buffet.

Having recently attended a march for animals that highlighted some of these issues, I wondered why would we eat abused animals to raise money to end the abuse of animals? I remember going home that night and asking myself “What is the difference between the pain a dog suffers and the pain any other animal suffers?” I couldn’t answer the question. I was raised to love dogs and eat other animals. “Was that the right thing to do?” I asked myself. And so began the exploration for the truth that changed my life forever.

I have regrets in my life but none more than the fact that I spent so many years contributing to the confinement, abuse, and death of so many animals. I will always live with the fact that I’m responsible for the killing of thousands of animals. I always fancied myself a critical thinker and muckraker but for so long I followed cultural norms and failed to think for myself. I didn’t know about the cruelty on farms, the negative environmental impact of animal agriculture, or the steroids and antibiotics the workers inject in animals that cause people so many health problems. Most of all, I didn’t know I didn’t need to eat animals to survive. I should have asked more questions and given it more thought. I’m grateful I figured it out and now lead a more compassionate life where I try to do as little harm as possible to animals.

I am not perfect. Nobody eating plant-based food is perfect. In fact, it’s counterproductive for any of us to act perfect because our lifestyle will seem unattainable to people who aren’t motivated to be meticulous in every decision. People who eat plant-based food are still responsible for the displacement and death of animals. Tractors kill mice, rabbits, and insects in the production of vegetables and marine life dies as a result of offshore gas exploration and oil spills. Organic farmers use animal manure in their soil. Natural habitats are cleared to make wood furniture and cars often contain leather timing belts. The list goes on and on. It’s important to realize that choosing to stop eating animals and their byproducts doesn’t end your negative impact on the lives of animals; it significantly reduces it. Simply by choosing not to eat animals, you can save thousands of animals in your lifetime from the horrors of commoditization. If someone told you that you can single-handedly save thousands of animals’ lives, would you do it? I’m telling you.

Will I Die If I Stop Eating Animals?
No. To the contrary, you should be healthier if you have good eating habits. Since I stopped eating animals and their byproducts, my blood test results have been immaculate. I don’t suffer from a protein deficiency and my cholesterol and blood pressure are perfect. I’ve also retained all of my muscle mass. Do my results mean that you still don’t have to account for B12, iron, and D3 intake? No. Just like you do when you eat everything, you need to ensure your intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and other foods that contain these essential nutrients for optimal health. Are some people who stopped eating animals still unhealthy because they eat junk food? Yes. I recommend a full series blood test at least once every year so you can monitor your progress and ensure your health.

I don’t expect you to make the transition overnight. It takes many people time to change their eating habits and discover new and delicious food. Even if you begin the process on your own timetable, reducing your consumption of animals and animal byproducts, you will make a huge difference in the lives of animals, the environment, and your health. I hope my 30 Ways in 30 Days: A Guide to Compassionate Living motivates you to start.

Reality Stinks
Many people tell me how much they love animals as they dine on their remains, wear their skin, and pay to see them exploited. I explain to them in a gentle way that if you eat animals, you don’t love animals; you love to eat animals. If you love animals, you don’t eat them; you save them from being eaten, tested on, worn, and exploited for profit. When I made that realization, it hit me like a freight train and I felt awful but it snapped me out of a cultural coma and ended my delusions of compassion. I was not who I thought I was; now I am who I think I am.

Make the Connection
I’m no better than anyone eating animals who isn’t thinking about what they’re doing. I just made the connection sooner and it feels terrific. I feel sad that people eat animals so I try to help them learn what I learned. Animals belong in their natural habitats. They don’t want to be caged and abused or die prematurely and there is no reason for it to happen. We can do so much better as a people. We don’t need to eat animals to survive. I wonder how something so simple could have escaped me for so long. Time and time again, people who make the transition tell me “I can’t believe I ever ate animals. I don’t know what I was thinking.” Neither do I.

15 thoughts on “Confessions of a Former Meat Eater

  1. I feel the same way. I never made the connection about eating animals until my son became vegan 2 years ago and gave me the book Skinny Bitch for my birthday. I read it on a plane and when I landed 3 hours later I said I would never eat meat again! After reading the truth about the cruelty on factory farms, about the negative environmental impact of animal agriculture and all the steroids and antibiotics that are injected in the animals that cause people so many health problems, that did it for me! How can I know the truth and just look the other way! I could never eat another animal or any animal product for as long as I live!

    Everyday I learn more about animal cruelty and I suffer every time I see a video or pictures of them being tortured! I don’t know how some people knowing the truth behind eating meat and can still eat meat like it was nothing! I can not be around people eating meat or even talking about it! Some people even get offended when I say I’m vegan, when it should be the opposite! I am saving animals from cruelty! I am so happy that I am vegan! I feel good physically and mentally! It’s the best decision I have ever made! I just wish I would have done it sooner!

    Thank you Andrew, I wish I was a good with words like you are! Every time I read anything you write I say to myself, wow that’s exactly how I feel!!!

  2. We are all on a journey. I too wish the light had come on for me sooner, but my children are listening now. I have a grass roots group to avert an impending cull in my region and some members felt it was important to insist that other members consider vegetarianism, if not veganism. I insist that we can indeed use their help in any capacity that they are willing to give it; for the deer who desperately need a voice today. As for the others – they talk about how much they love animals, they work with some of us vegans, and no lecture is necessary. They will think more deeply soon. I can count on it.

    Thank you, Andrew, for being you and for inspiring others.

  3. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I’ve sent your post to my meaty friends, hopefully it will change the way they eat.
    I became a veggie at the age of 20. I had to pull apart a whole dead chicken as the oven had broken, so we needed to fry it up instead. I then saw it for what it really was, a dead animal. While eating the curry we had conjured up I saw the bits of veins that had survived the cooking process, this made me feel physically sick. Two nights later I had a nightmare where I was repeating that preparation process, except this time I was pulling my pet cat’s spine and ribcage off her body. I woke up crying and gave her cuddle and kiss. I told her I was sorry for being such a moron. I realised there should be no difference in importance between animals and the roles they play in our lives, that it is WRONG to label some animals as pets and others as food.
    A couple of years later I decided to focus my 3rd year dissertation on diet choice, as a result I discovered the book ‘Eating Animals’ by the legend that is Jonathan Safran Foer. That guy converted me and my boyfriend vegan. We’ve been at peace and felt free ever since; at peace with the animals we share this planet with, and free from all the lies we are subjected to by the greedy corporations who’s sole aim is to make money. The blinders are well and truly off…

    1. Thank you for sharing your story Amber. I highly recommend that book for the aspiring vegan. It’s a good starting point to learn about the factory farming industry. I appreciate your compassion for animals.

  4. What a wonderful example you place before us. I’ve been vegan over two years but stopped eating meat about ten years ago. My house rabbits have taught me much. My dilemma though are the house cats and the feral cats I care for. Cats are predators and eat other animals. I understand that. But, I need to buy cat food which is based on tortured killed animals. How do I justify this? Anyone with cats and dogs feeds animals that have been tortured and murdered for our food and theirs. Until we stop killing cows, pigs, chickens, fish etc for all consumption we will not be truly vegan. Your thoughts Andrew?
    Piper Provost

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