I get quite a number of emails from vegetarian readers asking me how to go back to eating meat after a period of vegetarianism or veganism. While seeing the health benefits of omnivorous recovery, they are hesitant about the transition themselves. As you all know, I have had a number of vegetarians in my life and there are many present and active in our MDA community. I can empathize with the thinking that goes into their engagement, but I choose meat and obviously encourage others to do the same for optimal health.
I’ve found that their concerns generally fall into four areas that I’ll refer to as taste, digestion, morality, and psychology. For all of the vegetarians out there interested in getting back on the omnivorous side, let me take up your concerns and make some primitive thinking suggestions.
Taste and texture
Some vegetarians are still nostalgic for certain meats after many years (bacon seems to be the most common), while others have completely lost all semblance of cravings. Perhaps they managed to satisfy their taste for umami so well that they learned to live happily without a source of meat. Alternatively, they may have long ago vehemently talked their way out of taste.
Given the interest in regaining the nutritional value of meat, they wonder how they can rebuild a positive relationship with their alienated tariff. We are all creatures of habit and tend to turn to the familiar. As hard as it may be for meat lovers to give up a food group for years (and in some cases, decades), it means breaking away from it completely. The associations with meat can become apathetic at best and revulsion at worst. One reader worried because he hated the smell of grilled meat wafting through his neighborhood from the corner restaurant. “If I can’t even stand the smell,” he said, “I wonder how I’ll ever take the taste again.”
Readers will no doubt have great advice on the subject, but let me make a few suggestions to help ease the taste transition. It goes without saying (unless I say so) to do it slowly. Use small pieces of meat (shredded or ground) as a filler for already popular dishes. Add some shredded lamb to a ratatouille. Add small bites of chicken or shrimp to a Greek salad. Throw some ground beef into a vegetable stew.
Alternatively, you can let someone else cook for a while. Make your first forays into a restaurant. Look around the room and see what other people are eating. Go with a visually appealing dish or something that just sounds good on the menu. Bring an experimental mindset. If the restaurant doesn’t do it for you, ask some carnivorous friends to share some of their best dishes. Host a potluck. Try to try as many things as you can. Who knows you might like it.
Many vegetarian readers share a more difficult concern. They worry – either because they heard they should or because they have had problems in the past (in some cases) – that their bodies will no longer be able to digest meat. Let me say that a lot of falsehood is being thrown around on this matter.
Do I suggest a 10 year old vegetarian reinvigorate their carnivorous lifestyle with a large T-bone steak or black pudding? No. But I think there is a way for almost anyone to reintegrate meat if they take it slow enough.
Most of the noise is about stomach enzymes. People state that their stomachs simply no longer produce meat-digestible enzymes and they are forever restricted to a plant-based diet. Most of the time I hear this claim from people who have been vegetarian for five years or less.
This is one of the times when I wish I could refer to a group of studies and say, “Look, there’s really nothing to worry about that a couple of years have selectively destroyed your digestive profile.” Unfortunately, I don’t have any found certain study with this focus. (If you know one, please send it to me.) Nevertheless, common sense and experience can often tell us what scientific research cannot. While long-term, strict vegetarianism or veganism can potentially lower the production of certain protein-controlled enzymes, stopping them, let alone reversing the genetic potential needed to produce them, shouldn’t be enough.
Still, I can see why people don’t want to jump into the deep end of the pool right away. Some people, especially those who have been vegan or vegetarian for many years, experience indigestion for the first few days or weeks after they re-eat meat. (Similar in some ways to a sugar burner that turns into a fat burner during the low-carb flu period.) Rest assured, this doesn’t mean you will always be plagued by nausea. In my experience, most people who take it slow say they have little to no digestive problems during the transition.
Still, here is a humble suggestion to get back to efficient meat digestion.
Moral problems with meat
I admit that the basics are not covered in sugar. Yes it was an animal and – unless you are looking for roadkill – it died to become food. As bad as a person may feel about this act, it is of course the way of life. Nature is not a gentle, magnanimous force. We evolved to eat both meat and plants, regardless of what some people say. Eating meat (especially after cooking was added to the mixture) has been a major boon to our species. Yes we can live without it, but we better live with it.
Even so, I can understand the discomfort of many in the modern meat industry. When properly correlated, the animal husbandry practices that produce the healthiest meat are also overall more humane and overall less harmful to the environment. It’s not a perfect scenario, but it’s a better one.
Nowadays it is possible for most people to find human-raised grazing meat either within driving distance, through local cooperatives and shopping clubs, or through direct mail. If the local stores don’t offer what you’re looking for, find out about the area farms and natural shopping clubs available to you and check out direct farm shipping options to consumers. You should be able to find out how the animals are raised, how they feed, and which facility handles the slaughter and processing. Look at the facts, weigh the finances, and choose the best you can.
Then there is always the do-it-yourself approach. As unattractive as killing an animal may sound, the option offers the best chance of ensuring that an animal has a life (and death) as naturally as possible. Some people fish for their dinner or raise their own chickens for that very reason. Raising a small herd of cattle or sheep is obviously more complicated, but I know some people who do. Of course, this is one of the reasons why people hunt. I admit I’ve made a mental 180 regarding the hunting problem over the past few years. There are, of course, hunters who are cruel and irresponsible, but friends and MDA readers (among others) have helped me see how the hunt – when done with respect and skill – provides a humane and even reverent way to deal with the Relate to the animals we eat.
Often times, people’s emotional reservations are primarily caught in the previous factor. However, sometimes there is another level of aversion – a kind of heebie-jeebies feeling. It is more common among people who have been vegetarian or vegan for many years, or who have focused on the “disgusting” carnal aspect of carne, to keep their commitment going.
Some vegetarian readers have told me that they try to ignore the meat in the bowl. You tell yourself in vain that it’s just one more ingredient. Your efforts to separate thoughts from sensory experiences make the situation worse. The meat is all they can think of.
While I can see why they want to get it out of their mind and do the deed with as little thought as possible, the reverse approach may be appropriate. Light the grill or, even better, the campfire. Give the occasion its original fault. Make it a ceremony. Think about this animal and all it offers you now. Think about your ancestors and what they sacrificed over the centuries to achieve basic survival. Toast them all. Celebrate the choice you have to make today. Eat with your hands. Feel the life giving energy of the flesh and enjoy its connection to what is essential and wild. After all, at the end of the day we are all animals.
How to eat meat again after being a vegetarian or vegan
- Start with good gut bacteria. Consume fermented foods and take a probiotic supplement at least a few weeks before and after starting meat again. A healthy intestinal environment creates the conditions for optimal digestion (among other benefits, of course).
- If you’ve had digestive problems with meat before, try broth, especially bone broth, for the first week. It’s good nutrition and may be easier to work with. Continue the broth until you are ready to transition to firm meat.
- Eat meat or fish alone and stop eating for a few hours. (Be sure to eat it earlier in the day than at night.) Allow enough time for digestion and gastric emptying if you want to gauge how you will feel about it.
- Use a marinade that contains an acid like vinegar or a natural tenderizer like the bromelain in pineapple.
- If you have persistent problems, try short-term treatment with HCL or an enzyme supplement.
Thanks for reading today, everyone. Have you made the transition to eating meat? Do you know anyone who has? What helped (or not) I would love to hear your thoughts.
About the author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Marks Daily Apple, godfather of the Primal Food and Lifestyle movement, and the New York Times best-selling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, which describes how he combines the keto diet with an original lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is also the author of numerous other books, including The Primal Blueprint, which is credited with the growth of the Primal / Paleo movement in 2009. After three decades of research and educating people about why food is the key component for achieving are to ensure optimal well-being, founded Mark Primal Kitchen, a company for real food, the Primal / paleo, keto and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples manufactures.
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