To eat meat or not eat meat? That is the question. Now, let me first establish that this is not one of those moral dilemmas. This is purely a personal decision that I had to make, because it came down to what was best for my body. So, this is my story of how having not eaten red meat in almost 10 years, I found myself in a position where I needed to reintroduce red meat into my diet.
15 year old me: “I don’t want to eat red meat anymore.”
I gave up eating red meat when I was 15 years old. And I had my own reasons for doing so. Basically, it was a combination of watching a documentary on pig farming (I will spare you the gory details), the fleshy appearance and texture of meat and the blah feeling I had every time I ate meat. Initially, giving up meat was easy days. My mom is a vegetarian veteran and was more than happy to pass on the non-meat baton. While I also didn’t mind eating more veggies and dairy (cheese is life), I soon grew tired of lentils, soya and chickpeas (to be honest, I actually don’t like their taste). So, I resigned myself to a pescatarian diet so that I could get enough protein in my diet without relying on pulses. As it was more the appearance and richness of red meat that was off-putting, I was okay with eating chicken, fish and other white meat sources. I must admit I even indulged in biltong and stukkies boerewors every now and then, justified by the fact that they were dried meat and didn’t look too flesh-like.
23 year old me: “I’m just a tired human, okay!”
During varsity, and venturing into the working world, I was always tired and downright burnt out — and I thought that was normal. I put it down to stress and my busy schedule trying to juggle studies, waitressing, social obligations, not to mention life and adulting. It never crossed my mind that my exhaustion and lack of energy had anything to do with my meat-free diet. I mean, I have a healthy balanced diet, including protein, good carbs and veggies in my meals. The thing is, I’m naturally a petite person and burn energy quickly, so was I actually getting enough sustenance?
Also, triggered by a few convos I had with friends and work colleagues about tiredness and anemia, I started worrying that I may be iron deficient. Although theoretically I would love to have a predominantly plant-based diet, I realised my body was lacking something. So, I decided to do a little experiment to see if adding a bit of red meat (a rich source of iron) to my diet would make a difference to how I felt.
I’m now on a meat journey
Instead of taking it easy, and slowly-but-surely eating a bit of meat here and there, I threw myself in — full force! Though it was not exactly what I had in mind. It all started at our office’s end of year function at Tankwa. On the first evening of our trip, there were no vegetarian options. The only thing on the menu was succulent Karoo lamb chops served with a deliciously spicy tomato relish and pap. And egged on by my colleagues, I had my first chop in 10 years. My boss commented that he could literally see the colour awakening in my complexion as I slowly worked my way through the generously portioned chop. Maybe not the best choice of meat to start off with. Although, admittedly, unbelievably delicious (my fave meat when I was a kid), lamb is a rich meat and my stomach was not quite used to digesting it. Feeling a bit heavy and slightly nauseous afterwards, I did not feel quite ready to continue my meat-eating journey.
However, I’m no quitter, and I wasn’t ready to back down quite yet. This time, I let my body adjust to eating red meat. I started eating red meat about once per week, and then slowly but surely increased my intake from there. This has worked really well. I’m now eating red meat about three times per week and so far, so good! I think it got to a point where I didn’t eat meat out of stubbornness, and once I made the mental shift that my body was actually craving red meat, it became easier.
Not only am I surprised at how easy it was to include meat into my diet, my body has adjusted remarkably well. Not to mention, I am blown away by how much I’m enjoying the taste experience and how full of life I feel. Here is an overview of some of my meal highlights:
- My Sunday brunches are so much better with the addition of bacon. French toast topped with crispy bacon and honey is my new fan favorite.
- As long as the meat doesn’t look too fleshy, I’m happy. I’ve also had some delicious dishes with beef mince, from fat burgers, beef stroganoff, and bobotie, to gem squash stuffed with spiced beef and rice.
- I’m no longer confined to just chicken at braais and I’m loving it. I can’t believe I have been missing out on boerewors for so long!
- Much to the amazement of my work colleagues, I was even brave enough to do a Merino lamb tasting as part of the Woordfees. While I ate the bare minimum, it was super interesting to taste how the grazing landscape of the lambs influenced their flavours. And boy was it tasty.
Have you ever given up meat and then realised you actually need it in your diet? I’d like to hear your story. Feel free to share in the comment section below.