I stopped eating meat on January 1st, 1997 (although just to be contrary, I went beagling for the first time that day too) and since then I’ve mostly avoided meat. A girlfriend unwittingly served me lamb stew at university once, I ate a pork sausage on a Eurostar journey to Paris (it was in the breakfast, so I figured the pig was already unconcerned), half a colleague’s salami sandwich by accident, two lots of fish and chips when I was drunk, and all the "vegetarian" pork stuffing my mother served up to me at Christmas after I went vegetarian. And that, roughly, was all the meat I’d eaten since I stopped, so I figure by today I’d done 21 years of no meat.
So of course today, I had a cheeseburger.
It’s about 45 minutes later, and no apparent ill effects; I have a bit of a headache, but I’ve been up since 6:30 am (volunteering at Parkrun, or rather volunteering to ride a bike through the monsoon for half an hour, stand around for an hour and then ride back through the monsoon again) so I’m unsurprised by that. My guts aren’t churning, I’m not terrifying shoppers in the mall by regurgitating burger left right and centre, the experiment seems to have been a success.
I’d forgotten how satisfying the taste of meat is; you can grill a mushroom as much as you like, but the succulent, smoky taste of beef is something else. That said, while it was a pleasant experience, I didn’t have the rapture I was expecting; it was a meal, and at the end of the meal I was full, but I didn’t feel transformed physically or mentally. My worldview wasn’t upturned, it wasn’t some religious experience I demand all others to follow.
It wasn’t a mediocre burger by any stretch: perhaps I was just struggling to recognise it, after so long. I couldn’t figure out if the brown crunchy stuff on the bun was meat or just the charred edge of the bun. The pickle, something I’ve enjoyed on Triple O’s veggie burgers for years, was an unnecessary intrusion, overpowering the taste of the burger. Which was odd, as if built up the taste of a burger to be a world shattering flavour, and when it wasn’t quite that… what was it?
Getting the burger was a bit of a stress, because it took us twenty minutes of scurrying around the Suntec mall before we located the burger joint (Wolf Burger, which must be an instruction, rather than a description, because there was definitely no wolfmeat on the menu). (Google Maps was no help here, directing us to the opposite end of the mall.) I was also livestreaming my burger, because how else do you make a new experience more stressful than by exposing yourself to the planet. I couldn’t see what anyone was saying, though, because I couldn’t see the screen on my phone. I could just hear my wife’s laughter and try to infer some sardonic remark from the other side.
And so, having broken my duck, I don’t really feel massively inclined to eat any more meat. It’s not been horrible, but I don’t feel it’s been something so amazing that I’ll change my lifestyle around it.
Well, I think that. Let’s look back in a year’s time and see if I’ve spent the intervening days consuming 365 more cheeseburgers…