Whenever people ask why I became a vegetarian, I lie. ~ Carolyn Gilligan

Via elephant journal
on Jun 6, 2012
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Lying on the First Date.

I was on a date last week with quite possibly the sweetest, most thoughtful guy I have ever met. Having read one of my previous articles, he knew that I was quite the picky little eater (something he seems to be taking in stride, bless his heart). He asked me why I became a vegetarian and I lied to him.

Why did I lie?

Because the truth is honest and exposed and personal. Because it illuminates us and makes us vulnerable. Vulnerability, while undeniably, extraordinarily beautiful, often seems just too risky. Once someone has seen you emotionally naked, there is no going back.

Just when I think I might do it—get all naked—a vicious chemical reaction takes place in my body, leaving me vocally and emotionally paralyzed. Just as my lips begin to open, my voice, she leaves me. My freckled face flushes bright pink.

I am forced to swallow my story back down and tuck it up and away, deep in a far off, secured corner of my little aching heart.

Because how will they be able to love me if they know I lost my mind?

The truth is I became a vegetarian because I was raging a war against flesh. Not animal flesh, but my own flesh. On a potentially deadly quest to rid myself of all of my fleshy bits, all of my womanly softness that was developing relentlessly, all of the genuine parts of me that didn’t live up to my own self-imposed, physically impossible standards of perfection, I gave up eating meat.

Telling people you don’t eat meat is much more socially acceptable than telling them you don’t eat food, period. That could be a red flag. They might think I am crazy. Scratch that, know I am crazy.

So instead of telling the truth, my truth, I keep most people at an arms distance and feed them lies.

The truth is:

I didn’t become a vegetarian for the animals. That would be compassionate. I was selfish. I didn’t do it for our mother earth who is crying and dying and screaming out as factory farming and Big Ag so recklessly and inhumanely destroy our planet and its ecosystems. That would be respectable.

I didn’t do it because I hated Monsanto and industrialized agriculture and the undeniable dangerous and destructive environmental and health consequences that their heartless corporate greed has caused not only in our nation, but on the entire, decreasingly green globe.

I was still in middle school, the controversial and fascinating politics of eating in this country wasn’t yet on my radar.

I didn’t do it to save my liver and my heart and whole body from the pollution of dangerous, genetically engineered, arguably cancer causing growth hormones and dioxins. That would be taking care of yourself.

I was much too busy destroying myself, reeking immeasurable, irreversible damage on all of my internal organs. Literally, breaking my own heart and so painfully, regrettably and guiltily, the hearts of those who love me so dearly.

“If your heart stops beating Carolyn, mine will too,” my selfless saint of a mother whispered to me through the tears in her eyes as blue as oceans, pleading with me in vain to get off the f*cking treadmill.

When my charmingly chivalrous date asked me why I gave up meat, my voice disappeared on me again. “Oh ya know, I struggled with anorexia from the time I was in middle school to infinity,” isn’t exactly first date material.

It certainly isn’t presenting oneself sunny side up.

Part of me doesn’t want to tell people the truth because there is this popular myth that people with eating disorders are all seeking attention. On the contrary, I wanted to disappear. I couldn’t possibly need more attention or love as both of my doting, devoted, always present parents loved me unconditionally even before I was born.

They love with a love that is unparalleled and completely selfless. They have always been there supporting me in every way. I wake up every day and think to myself, “In a world of so much immense suffering, why am I so blessed?” No, attention was never my objective.

Another reason I withhold the real origins of vegetarianism is I feel ashamed. I became a vegetarian because I wanted a completely concave stomach. Of all the admirable, compassionate, health-minded and sustainability-related reasons to give up eating meat, my own seems selfish and narcissistic in comparison.

So, I lie.

With an unfamiliar burst of courage and a g-d sent rush of adrenaline, I have decided to tell the truth. Even if that means exposing the most broken parts of my being.

I didn’t become a vegetarian for genuine reasons, but ask me why I am still a vegetarian today and I will proudly tell you that I do it for the fuzzy little animals, because the lack of humanity and compassion in the factory farming industry breaks my heart into tiny little bits.

I do it for our planet, because I want my future darling, babies to be able to swim in oceans and lakes and other big, beautiful bodies of water that aren’t completely contaminated with pathogens, heavy metals and antibiotics.

I do it for me and the people whom I love, so. Because I know that when my body is healthy, I can focus my efforts outward. How can I take care of others, when I can’t even take care of myself? How can I have a functioning, loving relationship with someone else, when I lack love and compassion for myself?

So there it is,  my honest, naked truth. The chapter I usually gloss over in my ever-evolving story. No more glossiness, posturing, fast forwarding or lies. I pinky swear.


Carolyn Gilligan is a daughter, sister, best friend, listener, lover, ice cream eater, sometimes writer, easily excitable, embarrassingly gullible yoga teacher in training who drinks too much coffee, makes a lot of mistakes and has too much fun for her own good.




Editor: Brianna Bemel

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44 Responses to “Whenever people ask why I became a vegetarian, I lie. ~ Carolyn Gilligan”

  1. Cristina says:

    Thank you for sharing your honest story. So many woman, more than would like to admit it, can 1000% relate to your story. It's so brave to put your truth out there- congratulations! It's something to be proud of 🙂

  2. mccubma says:

    Amazing, thank you!

  3. Thaddeus1 says:

    Not only is this a profoundly honest and engaging story, but the style and eloquence with which you convey it is amazing as well. One of the best things I've had the pleasure to read as of late.

  4. CarolynGilligan says:

    Awwww, thanks Thad! I am very honored that it is coming from a fellow apprentice! Glad you enjoyed it!

  5. liv willis says:

    Sing it girl!! Be the voice to all of those who are scared to speak out!

  6. simms says:

    That was so deeply personal! I'm just floored! Thank you for sharing Carolyn, truly…

    • CarolynGilligan says:

      Yes, it is deeply personal! It was very cathartic writing it. Thank you for reading and commenting! xoxo

  7. Violet says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am an overeater of all foods, including meat. Unfortunately, I am unable to hide this from others.

    • CarolynGilligan says:

      It is an honor to be able to share my story here on elephant. Thank you for reading and responding, Violet. It means a lot to me. Maybe you should share yours, even if isn't exactly top secret. xoxo

  8. jon says:

    As a man in his late twenties I can share that when a woman tells me she became vegetarian in her teens regardless of what she says I assume an eating disorder might be at play. I think most people who know a little bit about eating disorders might make this assumption as well. Yes its not always the case but sadly in my experience most of the time it is. Not sure if most men my age are aware of this, I would assume not. FWIW

  9. Bridgett says:

    Thank you for sharing; I made the jump under a similar situation.

  10. Gianna says:

    What a great article!! You have so much to be proud of!!! Thank you for sharing your truth and heart with us 🙂

  11. Anna says:

    Thanks you so much for this Carolyn. It is so similar to my situation that for a moment I thought you were writing about me and revealing my truth – felt weird! How are you now ? I do hope you are happy, healthy and free xxx

  12. Candice Atherley says:

    I believe that is one of the most important information for me. And i am happy reading your article. But want to statement on few general things, The web site style is ideal, the articles is in reality nice : D. Just right job, cheers

    • CarolynGilligan says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting so kindly Candice! I am glad my article made you happy.

  13. Danielle says:

    Very well done! Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  14. Carol says:

    I, your saintly mother, had never lost faith in you and your ability to overcome the adversity within yourself. I am so proud of you.

  15. Chris Fici says:

    Carolyn thank you for your vulnerability and courage.
    I hope and pray and bless you in whatever way I can that your honesty towards yourself continues to grow in a very profound direction.

  16. Robyn says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! I'm glad you are able to now eat in a healthy way for the right reasons!

  17. […] got ripped off and it wasn’t fair. My body became my opponent. I fought it with dieting, overexercising and shaming it publicly and privately. I never gave it a break. I couldn’t. I was scared of what would become of me if I […]

  18. […] hurt when I learned of the suffering of people and animals on the planet. I became a strict vegetarian at age 11 and began focusing more of my thoughts and attention on the wellbeing of other people than on […]

  19. maru says:

    This article is amazing, truly, incredible.

  20. judi frisoli says:

    the honesty of your writing is what makes it so good. You are a natural in saying the things others wish they themselves could say. Glad you are doing so well. In sharing there is strength.

  21. yoga bear says:

    Carolyn-thanks for sharing this part of your life so fearlessly.

  22. Stina says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It makes me feel a little less crazy. Altho, I think I’m only starting to realize that I actually became vegetarian because I was orthorexic. Three and a half years has gone and I’ve been “well” or maybe that’s just what you think. It’s now hard to now if your interest in food is purely an interest, a hobby or if it’s got something to do with your old eating disorder. Can you ever get rid of it is what I’m starting to wonder…?

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