After 8 Years as a Vegetarian, My Culture Is the Reason I Started Eating Meat Again

Many people feel amazing after making the decision to go plant-based, and I am one of them. My reasons for adopting a plant-based diet more than eight years ago are very much legitimate and rooted in love. For starters, I'm passionate about decreasing my ecological footprint on this precious planet, and meat consumption is not the most sustainable practice for the earth. I also wanted to improve my health. I suffered from unbearable menstrual cramps and kidney stones as an adolescent, and I believed eating more anti-inflammatory foods would help me heal.

There are so many benefits of living plant-based that I can personally attest to. I no longer feel sluggish and tired throughout the day, my mind is clearer, I sleep sounder, my menstrual cycle has finally regulated, and my skin glows. Yet while the benefits are undeniably visible, I've been feeling a bit empty lately. I've reached a point in my life where I've come to terms with the fact that maybe, just maybe, I don't need to be so strict with my diet.

If there's one thing that's most responsible for my decision to begin eating meat again, it's my culture. I grew up in a Caribbean family; the food was spicy, flavorful, and meat-based. My favorite dish as a child was curry goat, a staple in Jamaican culture and various islands across the West Indies. When I first became a vegetarian, I was almost afraid to tell my grandmother, the queen chef herself. When I broke the news that I would no longer be eating meat, she replied in our native Patois, "Ave yuh fall pan yuh head?" Meaning, "Have you fallen on your head and lost your mind?" It took Grandma some time to adjust, but she eventually supported my decision and learned how to serve my dinner without drowning my rice and peas in oxtail gravy. As crazy as it might sound, I felt like I was stealing some of her joy, because in my culture, food is so much more than just a way to sustain our bodies. It's about community, sharing love, and expressing gratitude — food is life.

In my culture, food is so much more than just a way to sustain our bodies. It's about community.

I was 22 years old when I stopped eating meat, and at that time, I was all about being disciplined and striving for perfection. Now I'm 30, and boy did I go through some much-needed growing pains. I've learned that perfection is boring and unattainable and balance is key. I'm also a frequent traveler, and when I visit countries like Germany, where meat plays a vital role in the food culture, I want to be fully immersed. I want to eat the traditional dishes without substitution or reservation and completely dissolve in things so foreign to my own. Life is a privilege, and it should be treated as such. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to travel the world, meet new people, and explore the way they journey through life. So I plan to soak it all in and revel in its flavorful glory — with no regrets.

There are other choices I've made to live more sustainably, and while 90 percent of my diet is fairly plant-based, eliminating meat entirely is not an option at this point in my life. I exercise mindfulness and balance in every area of my life, and I listen to my body. I no longer label myself as a vegetarian, because why should I have to? I live my life freely with no restrictions, so when I travel to Florence, Italy, you can bet I'll be ordering a plate of peposo dell'impruneta upon landing. And when I visit family in Jamaica, you better believe I'll be greeted with a plate of curry goat by Grandma Ina, which I will always welcome with open arms, a grateful heart, and a happy belly.