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

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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Stina Jun 23, 2012 4:45pm

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…?

yoga bear Jun 23, 2012 5:16am

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

judi frisoli Jun 22, 2012 10:21am

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.

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