After 15 years of being a vegetarian I decided it was time to expand my culinary horizons so on one rainy night in the UK I ate fish and chips complete with mushy peas and tea. Frankly it wasn’t as shocking as I thought it might be. I predicted that I’d hate the taste and have to choke it down. Others predicted I would love it and immediately see the error of my vegetarian ways. But honestly it wasn’t really either. I ate it without any remorse, guilt, or disgust, but I certainly wasn’t craving any more of it. If that is what the omnivore world has to offer, I really haven’t been missing anything.
I was a vegetarian for many reasons including issues around the environment, my health and my morals. But as I analyze those reasons, I start to realize the convictions I once held so firmly no longer stand up to scrutiny. I still believe that meat produced from factory farms is ethically wrong and environmentally unsustainable, but the truth is I always ate dairy and eggs which routinely come from factory farms. I still believe a vegan diet can be beneficial to overall health and wellness, but the truth is lately my vegetarian diet contained mostly junk. I still believe that how we raise and slaughter animals should be done in a respectful, natural way but the truth is that as a biologist I don’t disapprove of an omnivorous species eating another species. I am still very interested in our global food system and the consumer culture in which every human participates, and perhaps one day my career will focus on these issues, but for today I no longer believe I need to lead by example. I have 15 years of self-righteousness behind me and I think it is time I lived another experience.
So then what’s the reason for all this? Basically it boils down to the fact that I didn’t want my travels to be limited by a choice that no longer held meaning for me. Instead I wanted to give myself the freedom to eat what I choose, when I choose, without the constrains of a strict vegetarian diet. I didn’t want to miss out on immersing myself in the culture of new places. In the end, I doubt I will become a full-fledged daily meat-eater. I will probably continue to eat/cook vegetarian regularly, but I am happy with my decision to give myself permission to be an omnivore when and if I choose.
I don’t know if eating fish and chips was a life changing experience but at the very least I now know what it tastes like to be a local in the UK. Maybe next time it will be tapas in Barcelona sitting by the ocean, or moules et frites in France with dark red wine. And maybe, just maybe, those will be a life changing experiences. If not, at the very least, they will be a memorable moments and isn’t that really what life is about?
So today I say yes to removing barriers to experiences. Yes to eating what evolution’s design allows. And yes to beer battered haddock with piping hot chips.
The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for a new and richer experience.