It’s been over 40 days since I stopped eating meat. I got up one weekend, brought out the last frozen chicken and beef in my freezer—then spiced, marinated and grilled them till they were dripping with juice. After eating in my kitchen and bedroom, and on the living room floor, I decided I was done. Strands of meat were stuck between my teeth and my tongue could still taste the ting of pepper, but in that moment, almost as if my head announced a past deadline, I knew there would be no more.
It’s not like I had any plan or strategy for giving it up. I was packing my bags, heading out of state for summer, so I had to clear my fridge, hence the indulgence. But the people who I was going to stay with are heavy meat-eaters. Not even the regular stuff, I’m talking goat meat, gizzard, cow tail and tongue and all such wonderful details. So, it was necessary, with my newfound resolve, that I arrived at their house that night, dropped my bags and my dietary declaration: I am no longer eating meat.
To be fair, the thought had danced around in my mind for a while after I had a health scare, but it was not enough. Then I watched a documentary that basically suggested meat was the devil. Haaa. I remember watching it and thinking: ‘all die na die, something must still kill a man.’ So, even in the face of health risks, I did not budge. There can never be a justification for cooking Egusi without meat. Yet, few weeks ago, I actually used carrot broth and tofu in a highly regrettable and never-to-be-revisited kitchen experiment. #Sigh. Anyhow, the point of this piece is not about giving up meat; all of us cannot be suffering please. Abeg eat your meat and enjoy it o. So, what’s my point? It is about how these last thirty days has opened me up to a much-needed self-conversation about my relationship with food.
I remember growing up and how the idea and presence of meat was flagged as a kind of reward. How the men in my life—father and uncles had the largest chunks as a sign of honor. Meat was a social status. How much you can have in a pot of soup demonstrated the financial stability of the breadwinner. A meal that did not have meat was a meal that did not have character, a meal that was flat, dead on arrival, an insult to the receiver. And if there were no chunks of fish, then your family was at the very low rung of the ladder. We grew so used to eating meat, having the juice flavor our soups and rice that there was simply no need to eat lettuce, or carrots or mushrooms. Even when we ate our spinach or bitter leaf or ugwu, it is often in soup boiled so hot that the leaves lost their crunch and flavor.
I gave up meat because I wanted to have a more intentional relationship with food. I wanted to address some digestive issues, investigate fatigue and learn which added animal hormones my body was responding to. What I got in the process was, some frown lines on my face becoming less visible, lesser days of fatigue and bloating, a stronger capacity to resist sugar and a discovery of my culinary interests. There are a world of herbs and spices and flavors that I was missing out because once you slap meat into everything, it becomes okay.
Don’t get me wrong. Meat is great. My giving it up is more of a phase than a lifelong commitment. (I think) So, it’s not about meat. It’s about our relationship with food. Because food is socialization. We are conditioned to adapt to what we are fed. It’s about maybe having a ‘No Meat Monday’ or a ‘Sugar-free week’ or even a ‘Plant-based weekend.’ It’s about putting aside Maggi with its high sodium content and letting the natural herbs spike up the natural flavours of your meal. Sometimes, eating is about getting creative. Not every day, jollof rice and chicken. Or maybe the problem is that I am just suffering, and I want others to suffer with me. Lool!