- I gave up meat for Lent which is 40 days, and it was hard after 23 years of all meat, all the time.
- I learned how my body reacts to such food and what I want it to feel like from now on.
- I expanded my food knowledge and learned to love new things, even if it’s not conducive for me all the time or for everyone.
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For the past 23 years of my life, since I was able to eat solid food, I’ve eaten meat. It was always a staple food item in my family’s diet and I knew nothing else. Chicken was something eaten daily, ham sandwiches were often school lunches, and tacos always had beef in them.
Going to my grandparents’ house in the summer resulted in brats and cheeseburgers straight off the grill, and homemade meatballs when we had spaghetti. It was what I always knew, and had never even entertained the idea of being a vegetarian. But for the first time ever, I decided to give it up, cold turkey, for six straight weeks for Lent.
For context, I was raised Catholic and although I disagree with many teachings within the church, I go to mass every Sunday with my family. While my relationship with the church is complicated, I do take Lent very seriously. I always give something up and make sure to fast on the designated days, etc.
I had been toying with the idea of doing something really hard for a couple of years. Typically I give up nail-skin biting (yes, it’s a bad vice of mine) or sweets or pop one year. There have been difficult ones, like when I gave up knuckle cracking, but giving up something like meat is something on a whole other level. As already mentioned, I know no other way to live, and honestly, vegetarianism has never appealed to me, up until recently.
Even still, for some reason, I've been toying with cutting back on meat. Maybe it has to do with having some good friends who are vegan or vegetarian and seeing it on social often. Or maybe it had to do with all those anti-cruelty campaigns finally taking a toll on me.
Whatever it was, that sliver of interest is what spurred me to give up meat (but not fish) for the whole 40 days of Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. And here's what I learned.
Giving up meat is expensive
The discourse around going vegan or vegetarian sometimes doesn't fully embrace the fact that these choices are not conducive to a lot of people's lives; especially those that live in food deserts where even basic fruit and veggies aren't found, let alone meatless alternatives. And if you do live in areas where these things are readily available or you can seek them out easier, it's can be on the pricier side, especially when going out to eat.
On my first trip to the grocery store as a pescatarian, I needed a full food overhaul. As said earlier, almost every meal in my family is meat-based, so I had to get things I could eat for lunch and dinner. I live at home and am fortunate enough to have my mom do the household grocery shopping, so this was new, especially for the amount I was buying.
I'm lactose intolerant and try to keep myself completely dairy-free, so I still shop for myself bi-weekly for my personal dairy-free milk, yogurt, cheese, etc., but again all of this other stuff was new territory.
I bought enough groceries for several meals for at least two weeks or more (until I got paid next). This one trip ended up lasting me way longer, and the subsequent trips were less because I figured out proportions and what was smarter to indulge on.
I spent a total of $98.07 that first time, which hurts to think about, but nothing went to waste and it lasted me a while. That being said, that is not something many people can afford. I can't do that all the time either. It wasn't until after I did this trip that I found out Aldi has a pretty good line of vegan or meatless options. That would have been cheaper, but for this trip, it was a good haul.
It impacted my body in a very positive way
I had figured that I'd feel super weak or hungry to start off with. However, that was not the case. I was actually surprised that I didn't feel anything change. I still felt good, I didn't have slumps of energy or anything of the like in my body. In fact, I felt a little better. I wasn't eating unhealthily beforehand (I don't really do sweets outside of special occasions, I don't really enjoy candy, and I don't have ice cream for obvious reasons), so I would never consider myself sluggish, but after a week on meatless products, I was feeling really good.
It definitely did wonders for my skin. I have a pretty detailed skin routine day in and day out and have been dairy-free for at least a year and a half (I do cheat here and there, though), and because of these two things, my skin has been behaving very nicely. But of course, it can still be uneven and I occasionally break out. But without meat, it was consistently good. Maybe that's just my mind at work, but either way, my body was doing great things during these 40 days.
It made me more conscientious of how much meat I ate
I realized just how much I had depended on meat while doing this. On top of having to cook a lot of my own meals except on Fridays when the rest of the family couldn't eat meat too (another Lenten rule), I also had to change my eating out habits. I eat at Panda Express a lot. It's my favorite commercialized restaurant, and now my whole order was turned upside down. Along with that, I couldn't eat Cane's anymore, or at my favorite local Chinese restaurant. I found out that I eat chicken even more than I thought.
Add the fact that I couldn't get my beloved chicken nuggets at McDonald's after a night on the town or meat on my pizza, and I had to face the reality that so many of my guilty pleasures revolve around meat.
It made me fall in love with meatless products
I was very pleasantly surprised by the fact that I love meatless food. "Fake" meat freaked me out before, but now I'm obsessed with meatless alternatives like tofu.
I made sure to steer clear of tofu at all times, especially in the dining halls in college. But I went full-force into trying it out this time and I decided to try my hand at teriyaki tofu stir fry. This time, I knocked it out of the park if I do say so myself.
I wasn't really a cook before this, but it's quickly turned into my special culinary skill. I got a ton of compliments on my Instagram when I posted this for the first time at the beginning of my meatless journey, along with so many words of encouragement about being a pescatarian. Not only was I feeling good on the inside, this food didn't taste like a sacrifice anymore. It just tasted like good, healthy food.
It was even harder than I thought it would be but changed how I'll eat from now on
Despite feeling good and liking this newfound lifestyle, I struggled a lot. I was tempted by the allure of an al pastor taco on St. Patrick's day and nearly gave in. I went to a comic convention in late March and when I went to search for food, there were no vegetarian options. So for lunch, I had to eat two churros, which was fun, but unsatisfying.
I also just missed eating meat. When I was about one week out from Easter Sunday and my mom's famous Easter ham, I almost cried in the store from want. I really was excited to eat that sweet, sweet meat again. And chicken, hello, I'd missed my old friend.
Yes, it was hard. But that's the whole point of Lent and giving stuff up. And on top of that, I did really do some inner thinking on the meat I had been consuming for 23 years and what I wanted to take away from this 40-day experiment. I did have that ham on Easter Sunday, and the leftovers after that. But I realized that going straight into my regular habit of meat was making me feel horrible - my skin became so angry with me, and I did start to feel a bit more sluggish - and it just wasn't paying off like before.
I've decided that while I'm not giving meat up all the way again, meatless products are going to be a part of my life now. I'm no longer afraid of meatless alternatives or tofu, and will buy them to cook for myself. I'll also order vegetarian dishes more often when I go out.
It's a nice medium, for now, and it makes me happy that my food knowledge has grown. I learned that I can try new things and don't need chicken seven days of the week. It's a great new normal.