NEW YORK – Benjamin Franklin once wrote that he gave up vegetarianism after seeing a small fish removed from a bigger fish's stomach.
"If you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you," Franklin reasoned.
Today, many Americans are coming to similar epiphanies, as former vegetarians re-introduce meat into their diets.
Actress Drew Barrymore is an example of a once adamant vegetarian who's changed her ways. "I still don't eat a ton of meat, and I don't wear a ton of leather, but I just don't put strict restrictions on myself anymore," the Charlie's Angels vixen told the London Daily Star.
Outside Hollywood, ordinary folks who once steered clear of "anything with eyes" for dinner seem to be beefing up their diets as well.
Beth Mertz, 30, recently gave up her all-veggie eating habit after boycotting the U.S. meat industry for five years.
"I don't think it's inherently wrong to eat meat, but I don't like the way it's done in the U.S.," she said, citing mistreatment of animals, hormones and antibiotics as reasons to be a vegetarian. "But I'm back in the habit."
Mertz said she started eating meat again on a trip to Africa, and decided to keep eating it because she was tired of being a buzz-kill at dinner parties and relegated to the limited vegetarian choices at restaurants.
"I have leather shoes," the San Francisco resident added. "I'm hypocritical."
While meatless diets have been on the rise over the last several decades, only 2.5 percent of Americans are strict vegetarians, according to a 2001 report from Mintel Consumer Intelligence.
Like Mertz, many born-again meat eaters go back to being carnivores due to limited menu choices. But for others it comes down to one yummy fact: Meat tastes good.
"I still don't eat red meat, but it's definitely more fun eating chicken and fish," said Peter Center, a 52-year-old dentist in Nyack, N.Y., who was a vegetarian for 10 years to help lower his cholesterol.
"At first I bought recipe books and did interesting things with my diet," he said. "But it deteriorated into eating a lot of cheese and pizza, which is not particularly healthy."
New Yorker Cristina Moracho, 21, said she no could no longer hold out while her friends barbecued.
"In high school, I was against animals being eaten, the way they were bred just to be killed for us to eat," she said. "But then in college I lived in a frat house, and the guys started to barbecue in the backyard. It smelled so good. Soon I was begging for my own hamburger."
According to American Meat Institute Vice President Janet Riley, Mertz and Moracho shouldn't feel guilty about enjoying the occasional Whopper or Big Mac.
"I wish more people knew the truth," Riley said. "There are federal laws regulating slaughter that ensure the animals are not treated inhumanely. As for hormones, the use is strictly regulated. And there are products out there that are hormone-free."
Dieticians also say that meat, in moderation, is healthy.
"I like meat in the diet. It's an important source of iron, magnesium, zinc, B12," said Dr. Ruth Kava, director of nutrition for the American Council on Science and Health. "If you overdo it you can get yourself in a fattened state, but you can do that with anything."
But some vegetarians remain adamant about their diet. Sarah Hellings, 24, a vegan who eats no animal products, said you'll never catch her with blood on her hands.
"I don't want to participate in the suffering of animals," she said. "I feel very strongly about that."