A Vegan's Meaty Secret | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

A Vegan's Meaty Secret

The menu at Charlie Trotter's features: Millbrook Farm venison loin, roasted squab breast, and pork cheek. What you won't find is foie gras—Trotter helped inspire the recently overturned Chicago ordinance banning the fatty goose liver. But even for those whose convictions keep them away from such delicacies or even meat in general, temptation can occasionally win over. Chicago writer Kristina Francisco shares her secret of remorse.

I've got a secret I've been keeping, one that some of my closest friends don't even know. I'm telling you because I've got to get it off my chest and since you don't know me and I don't know you, maybe it's easier to share my secret.

I eat meat. I've been eating meat for more than a year now. It's awful, I feel like a criminal, but I just can't go back.

I became a vegetarian in college because I learned about the awful things that come with eating meat – the animal cruelty, the environmental effects, the health risks – remember mad cow disease? It also helped that all my college friends were vegetarians, and, as they say, strength is found in numbers.

For a while, everything was honky dory. I ate a lot of tofu, pasta, veggie burgers, and rice. I discovered the joys of Ethiopian and Indian food. I found a host of vegetarian-only or -friendly restaurants in the city. It wasn't long before I turned vegan and then it was no butter, eggs, milk, or cheese for me. I didn't proselytize – I kept my veganism to myself. I didn't encourage others to become vegan and I never lectured my meat-eating friends.

But, deep down, I knew my veganism would come to an end one day. There were just so many temptations. Sometimes, I would get a whiff of something good cooking in a restaurant – like barbeque chicken – and I would want it, bad. After a few years, I wasn't doing so well health-wise. I was tired and I couldn't stay awake much of the time. I was lifeless, and sometimes I was so fatigued that it was hard for me to move. I went to the doctor and she said I should get some exercise. So I started biking more, but that didn't help. She tested my thyroid, but everything came back normal. I started taking vitamins, but nothing changed.

On some level, I was OK with my health problems. I rationalized – I wasn't tired when I was a meat-eater, eating meat meant being healthy! That was it; I had to change my diet. But the guilt. The guilt of going back and eating dead animals, I just couldn't do it. And then one day, when I was so tired that my arms felt like they weighed fifty pounds, I went to a restaurant. There was no easing back into it – I went right for it and ate a big, medium-well, hunk of meat, a hanger steak actually.

This new freedom is something I don't yell from the mountaintops to my friends. I'll order fish at a restaurant with my boyfriend, buy a chuck roast at the grocery store, cook chicken at home. But I live a double-life. With my vegan friends, I still play the vegetarian role, fearful of their judgment.

Out at dinner, it's only vegetarian food, even though that lamb shoulder with white beans, pancetta, and Swiss chard looks good. At home, I rearrange groceries to hide the forbidden meat in case someone comes over and peeks in the fridge. In conversation, I never talk about the wonderful meals I'm cooking, like the great recipe for pot roast I just learned – talk about tasty.

It's a charade, a farce, and I'm sick of it. I feel healthier but, honestly, I also feel guilty, not just about eating meat, but living this lie. Yet I'm in so deep I don't know how to get out. Still, it's probably better to come clean now, before another year passes, before there's an undercover operation by a suspicious vegetarian friend and I'm outed. Friends, maybe you're listening now.

Uhhhhhhh…I didn't think about that.

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