I remember the moment I decided to stop eating meat like it was yesterday. I'd watched a PETA film about chickens being thrown against factory farm walls and felt sick to my stomach. I went to school the next day and held up the queue in the canteen trying to pick from the veggie menu - chips or jacket potato.
I lasted 12 years choosing 'either/or' in restaurants and putting up with nut cutlets at posh meals. My downfall? A juicy pulled pork sandwich in a sweet brioche bun.
In the beginning, the torture that animals suffered so I could enjoy a burger made my stomach churn. But the truth is, the longer I denied myself meat, the less I cared about the plight of animals.
I didn't enjoy eating meat much as a kid. I'd chew chicken until it was too difficult to swallow and gagged at the thought of fatty bacon, so I figured I was well suited to vegetarianism.
But as time went on, I found myself craving chicken burgers and wanting to fry some bacon to pop in a macaroni cheese. I remember sneaking the tiniest bite of roast chicken while my mum was setting the table, and felt so guilty about it for months afterwards. I didn't think that denying my body the protein it could so easily get from meat would be harmful for me.
By the time I was old enough to look after myself, my lack of knowledge about nutrition for vegetarians meant I chose to eat pizza, chips and veggie pasta ready meals instead of fruits, vegetables and nuts. My BMI was under average and I suffered with anaemia, but I stuck to my principles - meat was murder and there was no way I'd be eating it.
Fast-forward to that juicy pulled pork sandwich 12 years later and you'd never guess it was the first time ever I was tasting it. After years of standing in supermarket aisles trying to pick out a something other than a cheese sandwich for lunch, I gave in. I got sick and tired of telling myself I 'couldn't eat that chicken salad'. Was it really can't, or won't? If I wanted a ham and cheese toastie for lunch, I should get it. The only person making food difficult and unpleasant was me.
I'd got so used to not eating meat and simply buying the same foods over and over again, I'd forgotten about why I gave it up in the first place. So as I stood over that tray of pulled pork sandwiches at my work summer party I asked myself - do I still care that this was an animal? Do I still believe that meat is murder?
No, I don't.
So I picked up that sarnie and oh my god...it was amazing. I ate it like no one was watching (and I seriously hope no-one actually was because I destroyed it in seconds.)
Since that summer BBQ moment I honestly believe that my life has changed. I now eat meat at least twice a week and I feel excited about food instead of bored. My skin feels softer, I don't get mid-afternoon slumps and here's the biggie - my anxieties feel much easier to handle. Of course I still have bad days - but for the most part I'm less anxious and feel more confident in myself.
I've taken my return to meat slowly; I don't want to overdo it! I've had some turkey Sunday dinners here and there, more pulled pork (of course), real sausages and mash, and even tasted a bit of guinea fowl.
I finally put that fried bacon in my macaroni cheese, don't feel guilt when I sneak a taste of roast chicken, and I've stopped checking if sweets contain gelatine. Lifestyle choices like my vegetarian diet had a huge effect on my outlook on life, and now I feel that eating meat again was the best decision I made for my health. Lunchtimes feel much more free now I'm not telling myself I 'can't' eat what I fancy.
In a way, I grew out of thinking animals aren't for eating. I still think animal rights are important, and can't believe that in this day and age battery farms still exist. The protection of animals like dairy cows needs new and tougher legislation too. But I've realised that you can eat meat and still love animals.
By the way, the one thing I'm yet to return to is beef. So, who wants to treat me to my first cheeseburger?Suggest a correction