My brain was screaming for meat as I continued on the elliptical machine, straining with the pace at the highest setting. I was dripping with sweat, my heart was thudding wildly. I watched the red digital numbers on the screen, my heart rate showing at 158 beats per minute, my ‘Calories Burned’ numbers raising by one every six strides or so, the timer ticking closer toward my goal. I still had ten minutes left.
Before this, I had lifted weights, focusing on chest and triceps, and I looked forward to the muscle burn that would set in. Between the weights and the elevated heart rate, and the fact that this was my third day of hitting the gym in a row with this intensity, my caveman tendencies were kicking in again.
“Meat!” my brain screamed again, and little cartoon images of KFC chicken breasts, turkey sandwiches, and honey-glazed ham began swirling around my brain, all with little smiley faces plastered on them.
“I don’t eat meat,” I reasoned with my brain, but my heart was pounding too swiftly to do much good. I was ravenous for protein, and desperately wanted to sink my teeth into cooked animal flesh.
“Meat!” It screamed at me a third time, and I practically salivated at the idea of an extra-crispy chicken breast, barbecued.
My heart cried back one more time. “No. No, no, no. That is a chicken! Not some food category called chicken, but an actual chicken! It was a walking, clucking creature covered in feathers, and it was probably kept in some terrible cage on some industrial farm somewhere, where they fattened it up without giving it space to walk or even healthy food, and then they cruelly slaughtered it. That is what you’d be eating!”
“Meat! Extra-crispy meat!”
“No!” My heart was outraged. “That extra crispiness? It’s breading that has no nutritional value that they deep fry! And they just roll it over the skin. Actual skin! They pluck the feathers off and fry the skin!”
“Ooh, a cheeseburger!” My brain yelled. “Doesn’t that sound yummy? Ketchup, pickles, onions, cheese, a nice thick bun, and meat!” And I could feel my stomach rumbling in response.
My heart was calm in its response. “And that is the actual muscle lining of an actual cow, another living creature. We can get our protein from other sources, easily.”
“But, meat! Meat! Come on, I know we are usually vegetarian, but we’ve taken breaks before.”
The heart ignored this reasoning. “Only by shutting down our very ethics. There are black beans, whey protein, peanut butter… so many great protein choices that didn’t once have a heartbeat.”
“Pulled pork sandwiches! Sweet and sour chicken! Steak!”
“No, no thank you. We can be patient.”
“Bacon! Bacon, you dumb bitch!”
My stomach made an even louder gurgling, audible to those working out near me, and I gave an embarrassed shrug. I technically still had five minutes left, but perhaps I should stop now and get some food.
I stepped off the machine, heart still thudding, and grabbed my towel to wipe my brow with, then rushed over to the counter to purchase a whey protein bar.
“Meat! Meat! Meat!” my brain screamed at me, but I unwrapped the bar and swiftly devoured its sugary goodness in three giant bites, shoving it down my gullet at an unhealthy level. Barely tasting it, I felt my digestive system give an immediate sigh of relief.
My heart slowed, my head quieted, my stomach relaxed. I sat on a nearby stool and felt hungry still. I needed a meal, something with sustenance. I needed carbs and protein and fat.
I planned out my meal in a hurry, and my heart felt grateful that I was vegetarian.