What is Meat Addiction?

Everyone now knows that smoking will kill you. Most people also understand that a lifetime spent eating meat isn't much healthier. Few Americans, however, seem to realize that every year meat-related diseases kill twice as many people as tobacco. And perhaps that's why I've never seen a public service announcement encouraging people to quit meat, or a congressman suggest a meat tax, or a state bring a public health lawsuit against Big Beef. Then again, this apathy towards meat might be explained by a very simple misunderstanding. Perhaps Americans believe that unlike tobacco, meat is not addictive. If so, I'm here to tell you otherwise. My name is Tyler Cole, and I'm a recovering meat addict.

I should first admit, though, that calling meat addictive is ridiculous. Obviously I have no medical proof. My doctor laughed at the idea, and the afternoon I spent on the internet also revealed nothing on the subject. This leaves me with only personal experiences as evidence, and really, these aren't terribly convincing either. All the same, I'd like to offer two. The first is my failure to convince friends to quit meat. The second is my own difficulty in doing the same.

Two years ago I became a vegan, and this seemed like such a fabulously good idea that I immediately set out to convert all my friends. Most were kind enough to at least listen, but during that time, not a single person quit. This was a letdown, but even more discouraging was that many people actually agreed with my arguments. They acknowledged that compelling environmental, health, and moral reasons existed for reducing meat consumption, and a few even agreed they should quit meat entirely. Nonetheless, all continued to eat it anyway, and when pressed for an explanation, they could only offer the following excuse: "Meat tastes to good to quit." And it was then that I first suspected that meat was addictive.

Of course, the idea should have occurred to me long ago. After all, my own first attempt at quitting wrecked me. Three painfully meatless days finally ended with a cheeseburger, and truth be told, that cheeseburger was probably the best meal of my life. Again and again I tried to quit, but for several years breakfast meats in particular continued to get the best of me. Finally in early 1999 I kicked the habit for good, and just this past year I realized that my repeated failures were nothing more than the agony of withdrawal followed by the joy of relapse. And upon recognizing this classic cycle of addiction, I finally knew something for certain. Meat can be just as addictive as any other drug.

I imagine, however, that most readers remain unconvinced. After all, even the USDA recommends two to three servings of meat, poultry, or fish a day, and really, who's to argue with the federal government? The meat industry certainly doesn't. In fact, six of the eleven USDA nutritionists responsible for the famous Food Pyramid actually had documented ties to the meat and dairy industries. And besides, everyone knows that addictive drugs are pushed by poor, dark-skinned criminals and not the smiling, white face of corporate America. If meat really was addictive, surely Big Beef wouldn't lower their prices and use toys, clowns, and playgrounds to push their product on kids. That's something only a criminal would do.

If you still doubt that meat is addictive, I only ask that you try quitting for a week. If during that time you feel no cravings, then I'll concede that I'm wrong. And to tell you the truth, I hope that I am. If we're to have any chance of feeding the growing global population and repairing the environmental and health damage that meat has caused, a whole lot of Americans will have to quit eating meat. And I'd hate to think that addiction might prevent people from taking this step.