I lost my veg-inity on a hard hospital sofa earlier this year. It was quick and messy and sordidly satisfying. The situation was this: my pregnant wife had gone for a 39-week ultrasound and the doctors made the unexpected decision to induce labour immediately. We had spent 24 hours in the hospital waiting for the baby to make an exit and the stress and excitement of it all had made me a little tense – and very hungry. Going in, I’d had the vague idea that the miracle of imminent birth would overwhelm me with beautiful feelings and wonder; instead, I just kept thinking about bacon. I hadn’t eaten meat for almost a decade at that point, but I was suddenly overcome with the urge to abandon my vegetarianism and inhale a BLT. People respond to stress in different ways and instead of fight or flight it seems my body kicks into meaty sandwich mode. (My wife, who had been subsisting only on clear hospital broth and apple juice, gave me her blessing to go and get one, by the way. I don’t want you to think I am a monster.)
Here’s some free advice: do not eat an enormous BLT before your partner gives birth, particularly if your innards haven’t dealt with meat for a while. Shortly after shoving the food in my mouth, my wife started pushing and I started feeling very queasy indeed. I broke out in a meat sweat just as the baby’s head started showing; shamefully I had to sit down for a minute. “I’m fine, I’m fine! I’m not squeamish, I promise!” I told every nurse who asked if I was going to faint. “The thing is, I just ate a bacon sandwich and I’m actually a vegetarian.” I kept on trying to explain this to everyone in the room until my wife told me, in no uncertain terms, to shut up.
I am not the first person to have their willpower cruelly broken by bacon. There is something about the strong, smoky smell that makes it notoriously hard to resist: NPR once labelled bacon a gateway drug to meat for vegetarians. I haven’t gone the whole hog yet, and don’t intend to go full carnivore any time soon, but I have temporarily downgraded myself from vegetarian to flexitarian. I recently scoffed another BLT. Apologies to the pig, and the pig’s family, but it was delicious.
Before the lectures start, let me say that I am not proud of my foray back into the meat-eating world. I know very well that pigs are highly intelligent – perhaps even more intelligent than my beloved dog. I know that factory farming is dreadful and cruel, and that we need to stop eating meat to save the planet. We all know this: that is why 40% of Brits feel guilty when they eat meat, according to a survey commissioned by the Vegan Society. Then there is the fact that you can find tasty plant-based alternatives to meat everywhere these days, which makes reaching for the flesh-based choice even more egregious. On top of all that, eating meat has never been so unfashionable: every other celebrity now seems to be a vegan. And everyone else seems to be cutting down: Britons have cut their meat consumption by 17% over the past decade, according to a new study.
But while I am hardly proud of letting a bacon sandwich (or three) get the best of me, I am also not beating myself up too much about it. Uncertainty weakens self-control, or so a psychologist told the Observer earlier this year in an article titled “Lockdown made me do it”, which profiled vegetarians who lapsed in lockdown. Almost two years of a pandemic and its attendant uncertainty has taken a toll on all of us. It is only to be expected that vegetarians, like me, have found ourselves going against the grain.