I Was One Bacon Bit Away From Failure
Written by Brittany Veenhuysen
I was born in Alberta and so naturally, meat was the centre of my family’s meals.
On some level I always believed it wasn’t a meal if it didn’t include meat.
It was a surprise to everyone, then, when last year I announced I was going to give vegetarianism a spin.
That’s exactly how I broke the news to my family and friends. “I’m going to give vegetarianism a spin,” I said casually, examining my fingernails in an attempt to conceal my steel-like determination to never even look at meat again. I didn’t want to startle anyone with the intensity of my barely-concealed emotions.
My sudden leap onto the vegetarianism bandwagon wasn’t completely unforeseen. I had never loved meat, preferring it scattered over salad or nestled in a complex bowl of stew than as a hunk sitting between the beans and potatoes. For me, there's something a little morbid about an island of steak floating in a lumpy sea of gravy, and when presented dishes like this, I always eat the meat first, choking it down as quickly as possible.
Also, in recent months I had fallen into a vortex of Netflix documentaries about the horrors of the meat industry and the negative impacts of eating so darn much of it. I discovered that other people had the words to explain why I stuffed down my chicken cordon bleu at a wedding last summer so quickly that I choked on it, to the distress of nearby strangers.
In essence, what I was really stuffing down was the reality we all try to forget: that the food on our plates once had a heartbeat and a lovable personality. And deeper than that, I faced a hard truth: given the task of slaughtering and preparing my own meat, I would choose bean salad every single time.
Feeling hypocritical and fired up by the passionate folks of the vegan movement, I quickly dedicated myself to a meatless existence, armed with beautiful photos of vegan food presented on distressed-oak cheese boards, a new love for tofu, and informed responses to naysayers who might raise issue with protein and nutrients.
During the first few weeks of vegetarianism, my heart felt fiery and passionate. Every time it came to buying groceries or cooking dinner, I was raring to go with the fervour of the recently-converted, recipes in hand.
I truly loved everything I was eating and wondered why I had never done this before. Sure, the donair shop down the road permeated the air with tantalizing whiffs of slow-cooked beef, but I convinced myself it wasn’t that good. I went out for a pub dinner with friends and there wasn’t a single vegetarian option on the menu, so I went hungry. I rose to each challenge like a pro.
When the fifth week rolled around, something changed. I felt the threat of an oncoming internal battle and prepared myself as best I could. I knew what was happening because of all the past goals I had failed to achieve.
The first thing to falter was the resolute inner voice that stringently rolled through the reasons I was a vegetarian. It began to grow quieter, like a radio station with too much static. Meanwhile another voice arose: “Would it kill you to eat the bacon bits on your salad?” It asked pointedly when my meal arrived at a restaurant. “Does all your self-worth, all your success, really rest on the consumption of a single bacon bit?” This new snide voice sat back, arms crossed, and made itself comfortable.
The bottom line was this: in an attempt to free myself from a life of guilty eating, I had become trapped in a new kind of cage.
I struggled forward anyways, now trying to emotionally detach myself from my food choices. I didn’t want to feel anything about food. What I really wanted was the proud title of Vegetarian with a capital V and to effectively live on autopilot, choosing meatless option, unburdened by this weird urge to buy an IKEA hotdog. I wanted so badly to be one of those people who makes it look easy, because I wanted it to be easy.
To counter my growing weakness, I barely left my apartment for fear of encountering meat. My bean dishes started tasting lacklustre and thick on the tongue, but I ate them anyways, with forced gusto. In a moment of desperation, I re-watched some of the documentaries, but this time with a new perspective. Try as I might, I couldn’t help but ask better questions– ones that remained unanswered. However, the films still affected me on a soul level, leaving me deeply conflicted. My love of animals and genuine distaste for eating a lot of meat was as real as it ever was.
When I finally broke, it was terribly spectacular. Sitting alone in my apartment, I breathed out a giant sigh, and with it, the last of my willpower. I hopped in the car and started driving… where? I honestly didn’t know until I found myself in a McDonald’s drive-through.
I ordered two McDouble burgers (no fries, no drink), and ate them right there in the parking lot without even turning off my car. It took me about fifteen seconds. And then I sat there in the sad wake of my miserable failure.
Many months have gone by since I “gave up”. I spent a few months beating myself up pretty badly and decided not to give vegetarianism another spin, in fear of the crushing weight of a second failure. How could I care so deeply about this, and yet not be able to follow through? My values and actions were deeply out of sync, and it left me unspeakably disappointed in myself.
Where am I today? I am not a vegetarian. It turns out there’s no such thing as being a dedicated “sort-of” vegetarian. In all honesty, I am still very conflicted about it. This isn’t one of those blog posts with an answer at the end. However, I do hope there is something in my experience that rings a bell and brings you relief, because I hold a deep admiration for people who try new things and even deeper empathy for them if they fail. The fact is, it’s not easy to make these changes. It’s not a mathematical equation. You are not alone.
What I can offer is optimism, which I have in spades, and some good news. The good news is that something strange happened. I was teaching my boyfriend to slow-cook chicken the other week and opened the freezer, only to discover there was no chicken in there. There wasn’t any in the fridge either, and a further search revealed that the only meat in the whole apartment was a singular can of tuna. “When was the last time we bought meat?” I asked him. He shrugged. He’s the kind of guy who would live on futuristic food in tubes if it was an option, so he doesn’t pay attention to this kind of thing.
I thought back over the last few months. I had ordered chicken fingers a few weeks ago, I bought a burger or two (and that IKEA hotdog), and my parents cook up some good fish when I’m over there for dinner, but I couldn’t recall the last time I had purchased meat at a grocery store.
I sat down and tried to figure out what had happened to make this work, almost as if by accident. Here is the optimism: In the wake of failure, my disappointment had given way to a rueful brand of self-admiration, which gave way to kindness.
The word “kindness” doesn’t do itself justice. Kindness means more than patting yourself on the back. It carries true power—not only to heal, but to fortify, clarify, and help you live life genuinely, not perfectly.
Kindness helped me feel pride in myself for caring so much about living things and my own health that I would try to make a huge change, even with my previous experiences of failure. I felt pride in going there, out to the boundaries of my comfort zone to brush up against a dark place, and then to come back again with a little more wisdom.
It left me somewhere interesting, this unexpected kindness. I’m in a place where I just eat what I want. I feel kind of like a parent who lets their child clamour over rocks and logs knowing that they might fall, but also that it’s going to be ok. Falling isn’t bad or a sign of failure. It’s just part of learning and living.
I eat things that I wish I hadn’t, and I take note. I eat things I revel in. My kindness is leading me on a long-term journey down the path I so zealously charged down in the first place.
Maybe I’ll be a vegetarian one day. I know that if I get there, it will be a sincere, gradual, and confident choice.
And maybe I’ll go through life eating mostly vegetables, grains, and beans, with the odd bacon bit thrown in. And you know what? That’s just fine with me.
Is perfectionism keeping you from pursuing your goals and enjoying life to its fullest? Book a free coaching call with Yvonne today to learn how to fulfill your desires through clarity and kindness. Yvonne will help you discover what you really want and how to get there.