When Vegetarianism Fails

In 1999, I stopped eating meat, fish, pork. But last week after a long period of feeling physically depleted, I discovered that my digestive tract could not process the soy and vegetable based proteins and nutrients that I’d long relied on.

My body needed mackerel, sardines, oysters, trout and other omega 3 and protein rich fish. Vegetarianism for me is a practice devoted to non-violence. It respects all of life and seeks not to harm. But faced with the prospect of more depletion or an immediate change of energy, I opened a can of sardines and ate them. My body immediately responded with a huge sigh of relief.

Some vegetarians make their lifestyle choice grounds for judging and criticizing others. I have not been one to judge friends and colleagues who eat meat. In fact, on the contrary, often when we eat meals together they apologize to me for having a chunk of meat on their plates even though I said nothing and had no ill feelings about their choices. My choice prompts open discussions about why and what meat alternatives exist. I remind people that we each have to listen to our conscience and know our bodies to decide what path to take. For many years mine had said eat a vegetarian diet.

The shift to fish brings me to reflect on the ways that native peoples treated animals and game. In the Inuit tribes before consuming them, they honored and thanked the animals and fish for giving their lives to sustain them. With the fish in front of me I did the same. My energy immediately shifted after I ate it and I felt a thousand times better. The real lesson of the change in diet relates to adapting. Our bodies, minds and spirits are going through rapid and intense transformations. What worked yesterday may not work today. Keeping an open mind and being willing to go with the flow of change becomes essential in staying vibrant and alive.

While I may not continue eating fish long term, I realize that this past week I have felt physically better than I have in a very long time. And I’m very grateful to the oysters, mackerel, trout and sardines that gave me that energy.  In spiritual practices I’ve learned that no rigid rules apply. What works as an effective practice in the beginning often needs to evolve and adapt as we grow.  One of those long enduring spiritual practices for me was vegetarianism. But wisdom opens the door to flexibility and necessity. I believe more than anything that we need to continually adapt and change as our bodies, minds and spirits call for this in these rapidly changing time.

For the month of July, Intent Blog is featuring 30 Days of Recipes. Everyday we’ll feature recipes and food-related articles contributed by bloggers in the health and wellness sphere. Our intent is to encourage you to get back into the kitchen and re-connect with your food in a way that promotes greater health, happiness and well-being! This week, we’re focusing on veganism and vegetarianism. If you have a recipe to contribute, please send it to us (along with a brief story about why you love it)  at editor [at] intent.com.

photo by: SweetOnVeg


  1. I recently gave up a month-long vegetarian diet trial. I didn't put much thought into my decision; I was just at the store one day buying groceries and couldn't bring myself to buy the meat sitting there. It was a sudden, unexpected, and visceral feeling…but I had just taken up yoga for about 6 weeks and did feel that it was changing me at an unconscious level.

    however…I work out regularly (not just yoga, but moderately intense cardio) and have a really exuberant high-energy toddler. And I just feel hungry all the time. I feel that I eat more and have gained weight as a vegetarian. I have read a lot about the nutrition, menu planning, etc (esp. because I have a child to feed also) and it's just not working for me. I find it really expensive (I live in a very small southern town with no farmer's market, co-ops…nothing)…much more expensive than when I ate meat. I think it's because I eat larger quantities. Anyway…the plus sides…I feel much better INSIDE…just "digestively" speaking…I notice the flavors of herbs and spices more than I ever did–in fact, I feel like I never really noticed them before. I really love some of the vegetarian meals I've learned to make and will remain MOSTLY vegetarian, but have started working in the same types of fish you're talking about here…and I will eventually go back to poultry and beef, I think. I don't plan to do that until I find a local source for organic. thanks!

  2. Thank you for this blog. I am a vegetarian, and much like you, this is MY choice. And for the same reason, a non-violent and personal relationship/spiritual relationship I have with animals. But…lately I have been eating fish, and I feel healthier. I am not always "happy" about straying from my commitment to my vegetarian style, but, yes, I do feel better. As with your path, this may be just a temporary shift. I don't know at this point. But reading your blog has given me new respect for all of our choices (because we are free to choose – others do not need to follow me, I do not judge) and for the grace and sacrifice of the animals we need to sustain our lives. So – thank you for today's message. It means a lot to me!

  3. My wife is going through the same process this week, which promptly led me to read this post. Your realization and understanding of your body is commendable. I for one have no health issues with vegetarianism, though not everyone can say the same. I do find the Inuit connection weird however. The Inuit would also cut the heads off of anyone who whistled at the Northern Lights – does that give them an ethical bypass in a court if someone does that today? I’m not being facetious; I think it’s dangerous to pick and choose whatever fits your agenda from past cultures, a recurrence that is common these days. The fish suffers no less if you pray for it; your conscience may, but that’s a different story.

  4. I absolutely love this. I was one of those people who embraced a strict vegan lifestyle and wasn't so accepting of others' choices. But I realized that rigidity was bringing me down and taking me to a place that lacked love. Now I strive to practice veganism with love, and if I'm craving something I need, I eat it with gratitude and without guilt. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  5. Thank you for this post, as I have also started to eat fish after being vegeterian for about two years. Reading your blog has made me feel better knowing that I am not alone and that I have not "failed". Thanks for sharing.

  6. First off I will say no matter how I word this or how I share my thoughts or my personal opinion it will be considered as judging or criticizing. Just being at a dinner table and mentioning that I'm vegan… even when I'm asked why..is in some peoples mind grounds for accusing me of being critical or judgmental. Especially if I say I'm vegan for ethical reasons the people who eat animals immediately become defensive. Sometimes just ordering a vegan dish makes people uncomfortable even when I've said absolutely nothing. It's like saying I don't believe in god around a table of evangelical whoevers. I get asked questions and when I explain..I'm thought of as judging others. Maybe that experience is coming from a different source?

    Let's just realistically step back for one moment and look at the statement/title When Vegetarianism Fails. Is that really what's happened? Did vegetarianism fail? This reminds me exactly of what happens when people say "universal health care fails" "it does not work" because the US can't get past the for profit industry it has set up. Why does universal healthcare work in so many other places? Vegetarianism in this case didn't fail just the adherent to the practice here who… decided to opt out.

    If this were an essay about how I felt that stealing was wrong and that those who steal are acting unethical would I be accused of judging and being critical? well possibly by people who teal…Yet when someone kills and eats another animal they are stealing. They are someone else's very precious life.

    The truth is much more intriguing than merely saying vegetarianism fails. If one is honest and looks at the science and all the writers who are science based, and have nothing at stake, there does seem to be a consensus. Living on a plant based diet is not only possible but in the long term healthier for the human body. The big mainstream organizations (not the eco, spiritual, tree hugging, animal friendly organizations) like the world health organization, the american cancer institute, the american heart association, the american dietetic association all agree that a person can live a perfectly healthy life as a vegetarian or vegan. (with certain caveats in taking a B12 supplement). I've been vegan for 22 years and get most of my B12 from the many many foods that are fortified with B12.
    I find it curious of how many professional athletes have been going vegan recently and are thriving. When I went vegan most vegans i knew were women and I was warned it would be tough to be vegan and get enough protein being a man. Now the tables are turned and so many men (ironically in the fighting world) are going vegan because they feel they can train harder and not have to cut weight before a fight.

    These pro fighters can't fake it in the ring…and are proof a vegan diet let alone a vegetarian diet does not fail for human health and strength. It's those practicing it who are responsible for the results.

    It's rather ironic that many of these fighters have a spiritual component to their vegan/veg diet…one that is based on animal rights and ahimsa (non violence). It's also ironic that I'm seeing so much of this growing outside of the yoga world which seems to be evolving into a scene where people are much more concerned with themselves than others. It did not used to be this way when I started practicing yoga over 10 year ago.
    I'm an ethical vegan and by stating that…I'm not judging others just sharing my opinion here now. An ethical vegan has a vegan diet and rejects consuming animal products but also does not wear or use any animal products. An ethical vegan rejects the commodification of nonhumans as property. An ethical vegan is committed to the abolition of animal exploitation. Moreover, ethical vegans recognize that an animal-based agriculture harms other humans as well as non-humans and sees the connection between human rights and animal rights. My veganism is the moral baseline of the animal rights movement too. This type of living vegan represents a commitment to non-violence in one’s daily living.

  7. Part 2

    There is a myth also that fish do not feel pain. It's embedded in human thought but it is simply not true. The new scientific literature makes it quite clear that the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and other animals. There are 7 Billion humans on earth and the oceans simply cannot sustain a diet of seafood…we are destroying the ocean thinking its just you or me eating a bite of fish here and there. Read Peter Steinhart's "Cry Of The Ocean"
    My animal rights comes from my wanting just one right. The right for someone else not to be the property of another. The fish living her life was not yours to take. Her life is not yours either is the chicken, cow, or dog.
    When people argue about human rights, what they are really arguing about is what human interests ought to be protected…. irrespective of consequences. Why do we regard human slavery as a particularly bad thing?
    The answer is because slaves do not have any real rights. Any protection that slaves receive for their interests is only consequential. That is, they protect their interests only to the extent that it benefits someone else (usually the slave owner) to do so. Slavery treats humans as having only extrinsic or conditional value.
    The right not to be treated as property means simply that the interest in not being treated as a commodity must be protected even if it would benefit others to treat certain humans as commodities. I simply extend this thinking to include the other animals of the world and I find it difficult to understand that my expressing this… is somehow judgmental or critical. It is critical thinking..yes… but in the same air it was written how vegetarianism fails one can see how this would appear that maybe I'm judging.

    I do think vegetarianism fails because vegetarianism means you’ll still be eating animal products and not necessarily less. You'll still be supporting the use of animals and all animal use and killing them for food involves unspeakable violence.

    Having empathy for others and wishing them well even if they might be another animal is not about judging… it's about nothing other than the ability to love. Becoming vegan is simply one expression of love.
    Namaste (for the tuna too)

  8. Tolerance becomes the key word — and realizing what one needs. I don't know if I will continue eating fish, but I certainly know that I needed to to get through this shaky health period. Please be very conscientious about not judging others. It's only when we walk in someone's shoes that we can truly experience what they do. With love and light…