It appears that for the vast majority of vegetarians, abstaining from meat is only a phase rather than a permanent life choice.
According to Psychology Today, roughly 75% of vegetarians eventually return to eating meat with 9 years being the average length of time of abstinence.
The most common reason former vegetarians cited as the reason they returned to meat was declining health. One vegetarian turned omnivore put it very succinctly:
"I'll take a dead cow over anemia any time."
Other former vegetarians cited persistent physical weakness despite eating a whole foods, PETA recommended diet while others returned to meat at the recommendation of their doctor.
Another big reason that vegetarians returned to meat was due to irresistable cravings. This occurred even among long term vegetarians. Respondents talked about their protein cravings or how the smell of cooking bacon drove them crazy.
One survey participant wrote:
"I just felt hungry all the time and that hunger would not be satisfied unless I ate meat."
Another put it more humorously:
Starving college student + First night back home with the folks + Fifty or so blazin' buffalo wings waiting in the kitchen = Surrender.
Sustainably Raised, Grassfed Meats Prove Enticing to Vegetarians
About half of vegetarians originally gave up meat for ethical reasons. Pictures of confined animals standing on concrete in their own excrement and the stench of factory farms on country roads from 5 miles away is no doubt plenty of reason to turn away from meat. Some former vegetarians, however, have recognized and embraced the grassfed movement back to sustainable and humanely raised, cruelty free meats as a real ethical alternative.
Some of these converts back to meat view buying grassfed beef and other sustainably raised animal foods as a new form of activism similar to their boycott of factory farmed meats when they were vegetarians.
Berlin Reed, a long term vegetarian with the tattoo "vegan" on his neck is one of these. Now known as "the ethical butcher", he believes that promoting customer contact with butchers which has been lost in recent decades with the rise of factory farming is the key to an improved and sustainable meat system.
Omnivores Healthier Than Vegetarians
The article in Psychology Today ended on a baffled note with the author wondering if meat eating could potentially be in our genes?
I submit that the results of this survey are not surprising and are in fact a testament to the research of Dr. Weston A. Price. Dr. Price traveled the world in the 1920′s and 1930′s visiting 14 isolated cultures in the process. During this adventure which he documented in great detail with amazing pictures in his masterpiece Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Dr. Price concluded that while the diets of these natives varied widely, nutrient dense animal foods high in the fat soluble vitamins A, D, and K (also known as Activator X) were the common denominator. Consumption of these animal foods were revered in these communities as they bestowed vibrant health, ease of fertility, healthy children, and high resistance to chronic and infectious disease.
This discovery was a disappointment to Dr. Price who had expected to find the vegetarian cultures to be the healthiest cultures of all. But, the vegetarian cultures he examined displayed more degeneration than the omnivore cultures which surprised him given that these vegetarian cultures did indeed have superior health than the Americans of his day.
However, he could not deny that the health of the indigenous omnivores exceeded that of the vegetarian cultures with those consuming marine seafoods of all kinds exhibiting the most vibrancy of all.
Therefore, in the famous words of Pink Floyd, "Eat yer meat!"
And, while you're at it, make sure it's grassfed because even meat eaters hate factory farms!
Comment: For a good read that goes into detail regarding the health issues of vegetarianism, as well as other issues - the supposed (but nonexistent) advantages in terms of ethics, politics and sustainability - The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith (review and summary) is highly recommended. For another article, there's also SOTT's own Burying The Vegetarian Hypothesis.