By Erin Hailstone

It is not easy being a vegetarian, especially when both sides of your family are carnivores and you have the good fortune of being from the Northeast. For a good part of 30 odd years, I was a staunch non-vegetarian who loved to chow down on mum’s roasts and curries and would not pass up the chance to snarf pork momos and chow.

Then life decided to explore a different direction, as it often does. Pangs of discomfort began to accompany my carnivorous ways and twinges of guilt started to lace each bite.

“These are sentient beings. What are they doing on my plate? Shouldn’t they be free to live out their lives? They have families whom they nurture and protect”.

“Is there really a difference between a cow and a dog? Or a chicken and a pig?”
“Do I really need meat? The market’s flooded with supplements, and I can easily make up for a lack of protein with synthetics”.

The more I read up on vegetarianism, the firmer I became in my convictions. One could say a tad zealous even. Deciding whether “to meat or not to meat” took a few years until the day I decided to watch Earthlings, a documentary sometimes called the vegan maker. It lived up to its moniker.

Six minutes into it and I could not stomach it. And so began my exploration of vegetarianism for nearly a decade.

Mind you, the adjustment was hard. I remember having nightmares of gorging on chicken and waking up in a panic. But things gradually became easier. Before not too long, I was well into the lifestyle, feeling quite proud of myself.

Nine years later, I did a complete about-turn. My “righteousness” was not sitting too well with my body, which did not give two hoots about my morals. It needed what it needed and that was that. The signs? No longer being able to donate blood because of low haemoglobin; some very uncomfortable formication-like sensations – a feeling of insects crawling on your skin; confusion, anxiety, irritability: Things that I had never experienced before but that worried me.

In my zeal to be a plant-based person, I had forgotten about a vital nutrient: the oft-overlooked but very essential vitamin B12. Responsible for nerve health, red blood cell production and even brain function, my B12 stores had maxed out.

A consultation with a doctor turned out to be a deus ex machina. He promptly put me on strong supplements and gave me a stern look when I said, “I live sans meat”. He said, “You are B12-deficient”. I thought I could counter him with some “common sense” and confidently asked him why this was happening now. He looked at me with that weary patience parents have for their children and said: “A car’s tyres don’t wear out in a day”.

I wonder what would have happened if I told him I often turned to Dr Google for medical advice. Or maybe he already guessed.

Today, meat is back on the menu.
Yes, I still feel bad.

Yes, we need to temper our consumption of meat as the planet would be better for it. Yes, I might return to a plant-based diet – but with more knowledge and wisdom, hopefully.

Yes, DrGoogle is not a real doctor, I realise that.

Moral of the story?

Listen to your body. Do what’s good for you. There’s no one-size-fits-all lifestyle. What
works for one person may not work for you.