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Once you go plant, you’ll never go back—or will you?

A 2009 survey for the Vegetarian Resource Group reported that one percent of Americans were identified as vegan, and in 2007 two percent were identified as vegan in the UK. The trend for eliminating animal foods grows every year as celebrities and media personalities bring awareness to the environmental, economical, and animal welfare issues that surround the mainstream meat industry.

We hear a great deal about these new vegans and vegetarians, the born-again foodies with a sense of vitality and virtue in their newfound meatless diets. But what about those individuals who did the vegan and vegetarian thing years ago? What about those who went vegan and vegetarian for all the noble causes, but for one reason or another, came back to eating meat? We don’t hear many of those stories.

Here are two stories of such individuals—food-minded and eco-minded, they gave up meat for years. But now, they’ve come back. Why?

Meet Laura Fudacz, a professional chef living in Los Angeles. Growing up in a meat-and-potatoes household, she ate the standard American fare of meats, dairy, and starches—all the things you think you’re supposed to eat. She constantly struggled with Crohn’s disease (a severe intestinal disorder), a condition that required regular prescriptions to control. In her teenage years, Fudacz eliminated meat from her diet against her parents’ wishes, and for three years during college she followed a strict vegan diet.

While originally giving up meat for environmental and animal welfare reasons, Fudacz soon discovered her medical condition to also be healed by her plant-based diet. But now, at 27 years old, Fudacz currently eats an organic, sustainable diet that includes meat and small amounts of dairy.

So why did she go back?

A few years ago, Fudacz entered a classical culinary program where she was forced to come face-to-face with butter, bacon, and dairy.

“A good cook has to taste what they make to know it’s good,” Fudacz explains. “If I was going to be successful in my career, I was going to have to eat meat. I was extremely conflicted about this decision…and was super grossed out at the thought of even touching meat.”

But two years later, Fudacz has come to terms with her decision, and she’s even found a happy balance that keeps her both well-fed and guilt-free. Back in her vegan days, Fudacz constantly feared not getting enough protein in her diet, so she consumed large amount of fake meat products—including tofu, seitan, and various processed fake meat products.

“I am now inclined to think that the most important part of a healthy diet is eating whole organic foods,” she reflects. “Veganism is all well and good, but so many of the vegan products that I used to eat are so over processed there is no way that can be nutritionally dense. “

And this is the place that countless once-vegans have come to: frustration with fake, processed vegan foods combined with a strong desire to eat real, whole, identifiable foods—all while meeting nutrition needs and supporting a local food system that considers animal welfare.

“Now I try to stick to whole, simple, organic foods, free range poultry and eggs, and grass fed beef (on the rare occasions I eat beef).  I still have residual vegan guilt for partaking in the eating of animal flesh but it gives me comfort to know that they were treated humanely before they died,” Fudacz reveals.

Her advice to both veggies and omnivores out there: “Be knowledgeable about what you eat and where it comes from.  Eat organic, local and sustainable.”

Meet Sara Ost, editor-in-chief of EcoSalon.com, SF resident, foodie, and nature lover. Unlike Fudacz, Ost was fortunate enough to have grown up in a household where fresh fruits, vegetables, and real foods were the norm—not the exception.

“My parents were not at all what you’d call health nuts, but they cooked fresh meals from scratch with real ingredients. We never had a pizza delivered once while I was growing up,” she looks back. We should all have been so lucky!

Yet as good as her home-grown, home-cooked meals were, once Ost read the ever-influential “Diet for a New America” by John Robbins, she felt that it was her moral obligation to give up animal products. Having been fed wholesome foods as a child, it was easy enough for Ost to stick with “real” plant foods—but like most vegans, once she hit college she landed quickly in endless pizza and meatless fast food.

What brought Ost back to meat wasn’t culinary school or any outside imposition—rather, it was her realization of the self-imposition she had placed on herself by eliminating so many foods and dining experiences from her life. By following such a strict diet, Ost eventually discovered that the guilt and suppression included in that lifestyle weren’t healthy for her body or her mind.

The final straw came after an experimental dinner trying fish at a sushi restaurant. When Ost discovered she had accidentally consumed foie gras in the meal, she broke down in tears of guilt. The next day, she awoke and decided to free herself of such guilt and restraints and to instead follow a positive, accepting relationship with food. Though she is back to eating meat, it is only in small amounts, and balanced with plenty of the whole, fresh foods similar to those she grew up on—and most importantly, avoiding refined foods.

“My overall diet compared to my meatless days is both more indulgent and more healthy,” she tells. “I’m basically what you’d call an organic foodie. I feel like I have the right relationship with food. I enjoy it tremendously, I experiment, and I treat myself.”

This last statement cannot be overemphasized. Many long-term herbivores have come back to eating meat after years of depriving themselves of the joy of eating. Once they are able to find trusted local and humane sources of the foods they once loved, they come back to it with a fresh perspective, a deeper understanding of the food system, and a more complete awareness of what it is they are eating.

Currently following an omnivorous diet that includes lean protein and plenty of wholesome vegetables, Ost finds herself at a happy balance with her diet, which allows for flexibility and guilt-free nourishment.

Her advice to everyone thinking about food: “Read.”

As a 6-year vegan veteran turned back to meat, I can personally speak to this issue. I believe in no dogma to be better than the others, no diet to be healthier or more righteous than the rest. I ask simply that I understand what it is I’m eating, how it makes me feel, where it came from, and (ideally) who is getting my hard-earned dollars for the well-raised meal.

Image: waferboard