What’s Cookin’, Part Two

Having been vegetarian/vegan/macrobiotic for 22 years, there is one sensitivity I have cultivated that stands out from the rest. If I was to put words to it, this old adage sums it up the best, “To each, his own”.

If you have ever tried a different diet, or declared yourself Veg, then I have no doubt you have run up against the responses that cutting out meat brings up for other people. “If you don’t eat meat, then what DO you eat?” is probably the most innocuous question you get, and the gamut runs pretty wide, from self righteous accusations of how wrong and stupid YOU are, to near ostracization from your family or community for bucking the norm.

When I realized that my last post on the matter created some mixed negative feelings for my blog friends, I felt dismayed and frustrated. Dismayed because the last thing I wanted to do was seem to switch teams back to the finger wagging meat eating crowd. And frustrated because I realized that the main point of the issue for me had gotten buried under the dogma of nutritional camps.

Also, I realized that you don’t all live in my head with me (thank goodness). So that requires a better laid out post, with the addition of some details and some clarification. I partly want to do this for you, but I also want to do it for me…and the pact I made a long time ago with my animal relations.

The core of what I was wanting to communicate with that chicken stock post was this: I have juggled the hot coal of this idea for years, doing everything I could to keep the hot potato jumping. Even just the consideration of eating meat again has required me to take a sledgehammer to what I consider the foundation of my life. Beginning to introduce dead animal products back into my diet turns that experience up about 10 notches. Further, coming forward and telling everyone about it, including my family who has been witness (and at times supportive, at times not) leaves me feeling raw and vulnerable. Maybe I should have titled that last post, This Is a Very Big Deal and I Am Breaking My Own Heart.

So here are some points that I hope will clarify what is going on for me:

1. As an ecopsychologist and environmental activist, I am dedicated to the idea of sustainability, and Doing My Part. As a vegetarian, this brings up some heavy considerations. If I want to eat a diet that is local, whole, not manufactured and something I could provide for myself if I had a two acre farm…I am pretty screwed in the protein department. Besides being indigestible for my system, Soy does not fit into the sustainability category in any way. Sourcing all my protein from beans and grains would be impossible on a small operation, the same goes for nuts, and that’s foregoing the fact that these foods have inherent problems in large doses themselves. If I wanted to take responsibility for feeding myself and my family on a small operation, eggs and dairy are a must, and relying heavily on these foods is also not healthy. But if you add in the option of meat once a week (by having a few chickens or a goat or cow for slaughter), combined with broths and organ (oh dear god please no) foods…it is more than possible to have a low impact, wholesome diet that could feed a small family.

This is what I know and believe, and it still is not enough to convince me to eat meat. Like I said in my last post, it will be a long time, and perhaps never, before I ingest a major portion of animal flesh.

2. Hypoglycemia. Do any of you have it? If you do, then you know the hell of which I speak. Consider this scenario. Upon waking in the morning, I have a small snack. Then at 9am, I have breakfast. By 10:30 I feel ravenous, and if I don’t eat within fifteen minutes, I am a shaking, shuddering, cognitively deficient pile of goo. I don’t want this to happen, so by 11am, I have eaten a second breakfast. At noon, I have lunch. By 1:30pm, it is time for another small meal…and on and on…the need to eat every hour and a half. If I am eating macrobiotic (basically vegan, and based on veggies and grains) I need to eat 10 minutes after I have finished a meal. I’m not exaggerating. I also am so freaking sick of EATING, I can’t even begin to tell you.

When my blood sugar drops, I feel CRAZY. I literally can’t think straight. My arms and legs feel like they are made out of jelly and my entire physicality is in a state of emergency. My body is sending signals to my brain that I am in crisis and in danger of dying. It sucks.

Guess what the recommended dietary resolution for hypoglycemia is? Light carbohydrates (veggies and fruits), with a few complex carbs (whole, soaked grains) and HIGH PROTEIN. Non-meat sources of protein are considered “poor” protein, and also many of them are carbs (beans) so they need to be excluded. I don’t want to eat meat, so what do I do?

Suffer.

3. Fibromyalgia. See number two about understanding the hell of which I speak. Guess what the recommended diet for FMS is? It’s the same as the hypo one. Sigh.

4. When I mentioned in my last post that I was making this change for my daughter, because my diet “could hurt her”, I actually didn’t exclusively mean not eating meat, so forgive me for being unclear.

Growing up, my Mother the Healer put us all on a diet to help with my father’s high blood pressure and cholesterol. It was low sodium (great except for missing out on trace minerals from sea salt), Low red meat (yay!) and low fat (uh-oh). Margarine and vegetable oil was our primary source of fats, with fats from meat, cheese and eggs eaten sparingly. At the time, this was considered a great thing to do. New research coming out now about the deficient properties of veggie oils, as well as the problems with eating too many omega 6s is relegating these faux fats to the pariah place that used to be held by lard. Nowadays, lard and butter are moving on up in the world of nutrition. Good fats = brain health = emotional stability. I had major emotional problems as a kid and young adult…I can’t help but be concerned that this may have been due in part to my weird diet. And also this next bit…

As a child, I might as well have been a guinea pig for anti-biotic testing. I was on them consistently throughout childhood, on up into my teenage years, when they were prescribed for acne. The whole journey around healing from acne is a story for another time. But the result of taking all that penicillin is perhaps the largest culprit in my sense of being unhealthy. Gut flora is of the utmost importance in physical and emotional health. And mine was entirely killed off like someone detonated a nuclear bomb in my belly.

Jeff and I were talking about my digestive issues over the weekend (we sure do know how to party) and he came up with the metaphor of a forest floor. The ecology of a forest floor is complex…uncountable micro-organisms, detritus, compost, funghi, insects, animals…so complex that replicating it from scratch, and getting the right balance, would be near impossible. If my gut was the forest floor, it was scraped clean by antibiotics. Is it any wonder then, that I have not found health by taking probiotic pills or trying to eat the right foods? My gut may never be ok (although with new research in fecal transplants….SO gross…there may be help).

Also, without eating at least a little meat or other traditional (e.g. bones and organs), there are all kinds of trace minerals that we miss out on, especially given that our soils are depleted of these minerals from environmental problems. Supposedly we could get these through vitamins but I want to get my nutrition from real food and vitamins are also not sustainable…as in, they require a lot of resources and manufacturing, plus the costs of shipping, to be available. Plus, I think vitamins are sketchy…even the “food based” ones…bright yellow pee means all that nutrition is literally being pissed away. As well, vitamins are akin to that forest floor metaphor too. To assimilate food properly, our guts need things in right and natural proportion. It’s not possible to trick our bodies into not noticing that amino acids are incomplete, or that our protein source does not contain sulfur.

My daughter’s developing brain and body need a lot. Like most moms, I want to give it all to her. So we eat good fats. Eggs. Soaked grains. Soaked beans. Fermented foods. Broths. Homegrown and farmer’s market veggies and fruits. Very little white flour and sugar. Hardly ever processed. And once a week or so, she has meat or fish. I do not.

As for antibiotics, I have been studying natural health and herbalism for years, and since her birth, have upped the anty. Antibiotics are life savers, and I am grateful for them. But I want them to be a last resort. I think I may be living proof of the consequences of their overconsumption.

5. This is My Journey. As I hope I’ve illustrated with the above points, there are a LOT of factors going into my current dietary shift. Not the least of which is my health history. If my system hadn’t been jacked by antibiotics as a kid or by a lack of good fats, maybe I wouldn’t be facing the issues I have now. Maybe I wouldn’t even have FMS. But I do. After exhausting all my other options, I am faced with the worst, but most promising, one of all. Starting from scratch, cooking from scratch and eating things that…scratch.

I’m pretty sure you got what I was saying in my other post, but I’ll say it again…Learning how to listen to one’s body is key. Our bodies are amazing, wonderful, self-healing machines, given the chance. They will tell us exactly what we are needing, through cravings, images, dreams and that old “gut sense”. Listen to YOURS. I’m listening to mine, and this is where I’m at.

So. Hopefully that was clarifying, or at least interesting. I considered closing comments because backlash really hurts. However, I’m really interested in your personal experience or thoughts. Just please remember that there is a real person on the other side of your keyboard. Also…I am Breaking My Own Heart.

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10 thoughts on “What’s Cookin’, Part Two

  1. I read your previous post and wanted to respond, but had SO MUCH to say, that I just didn’t. I understand exactly what mean about *all* of this. My bod was trying to tell me what was wrong for years before I even started trying to figure it out.

    I’ve got digestive difficulties (acid reflux, as well what seems to me to be IBS) that came to a head at the beginning of April due to major stress; I should thank Steve, I guess. I’d been trying to listen to what my body was saying for years before, but couldn’t figure out why I had such a fucked up digestive system, fatigue, headaches, and low energy. So I laid down on my bed one night and cried through all the physical and emotional pain I felt, then had an ah-ha moment: cut out gluten. Snce the beginning of April, I haven’t had any gluten, and the change is noticeable. I feel much better, physically, as well as emotionally. But that wasn’t really enough; I’m still working out what gluten-free foods I can eat. Meat — which I don’t like eating because I have difficulty digesting it, as well as the issue of morality — is a *maybe* once a month thing, because I sometimes crave it so badly I could eat the whole cow.

    I don’t know… trying to explain this is like tumbling through a labyrinth. It’s been such a long and involved thing, something I began noticing years before I did anything about it, that I just can’t possibly explain it all here.

    But I know how you feel. I’m constantly hungry and eat about five times a day, fruit and vegetables only. If my sugar drops, forget about it. Also, NO dairy. Oh, gosh. Absolutely none. But eggs? Beautiful noms, courtesy of our gals. I can’t do rice often at all, and gluten-free breads have a negative impact on me. I don’t even eat chocolate, because I can’t find any gluten-free varieties… So, really, I guess what it comes down to is this: I eat only fresh fruit and vegetables, beans (that have been soaked and had the shit boiled out of them), and drink lots of water as well as some herbal teas from stuff I’ve picked in the garden or in more wild areas. Oh, and the occasional corn macaroni. I’ve also been experimenting with fermented foods, which is 100% LOVE. So I eat almost a Paleo diet, I guess? And I’m cool with this, because I’m feeling WELL. It’d been years since I felt really and truly healthy. I’ve got energy, a bounce in my step. I feel happier. I’ve been exercising (yoga and biking when I haven’t had a hard day in the garden), so I’ve got all these new muscles that feel so *good*. But then again, there’s a negative. It’s like… I don’t know what normal’s supposed to feel like… am I supposed to be hungry all the time? I guess if I’m eating all these fresh, whole foods, my body’s going to process them quickly… but even after eating a pretty big lunch of tomato, cucumber, and avocado salad, plus a peach and a banana, I was still feeling like I needed something. There’s a pretty steep learning curve…

    All in all, I suppose I feel like my body’s healing, which must mean I’m on the right track.

    I wish I could sit down with you and talk about all this. It would be nice, really and truly.

    (also, I’m confused as to why some folks didn’t respond very well to your previous post… I didn’t think you said anything particularly inflammatory).

    xoxo

      1. you are always welcome to write an essay!

        trying to tell these stories is totally labrynthine…which is why i wanted to do a do-over on mine, to make it more linear.

        i think grains are problematic for me as well, but the hungry all the time thing is a huge deterrent to cutting them out. maybe i could if i wasn’t chasing after fern all day…but i need that energy and getting low bloodsugary with her turns me into a grouchy mama. so you can’t do goat dairy even? that was a life saver for me. cow dairy makes me so nauseas and gassy, but goat is fine. it always comes back to the issue of meat…veggies and fruit plus a little meat sounds like a great diet. but…

        i wish i could sit down with you and talk about this too! i imagine sitting in turkish twilight on a long summer eve and chatting as the stars wink on. sounds good! xo

  2. You know, the main thing i got out of your last post was to listen to your body. Something i wholeheartedly agree with, and am practicing. i think you’re lucky to be so in tune with your needs….I think it’s probably a very essential yet rare way of being. Your post wasn’t attacking or preachy; it just sounded to me like you were sharing your experiences, and quite a complex conundrum. Hypoglycaemia eh….those symptoms sound ALOT like what affects my husband, which is interesting. The man has to eat every two hours on the dot or he gets angry, shaky and either needs to nap or storms about completely antsy. We call it the “Hangar” (hungry anger) – and my daughter seems to be the same. I thought it was just a high metabolic rate. Oh man, eating is just a minefield isn’t it? I try to feed my kids a diet that has the least amount of chemicals in it and as many fresh ingredients as possible, (that i can manage without a whole lot of effort). I fail alot but I succeed a lot too. Hey! I’m s’posed to be folding washing right now, walking the dog, loading up more fucking washing and then paying bills…..so, thanks for the break 🙂 (i hate my piles of washing Mary, sometimes i fantasise that i’m going to throw it out on the street and laugh at it) Phew, deep breath. Glad you didn’t close comments, or I’d be doing washing right now. And Please. if you ever get a fecal transplant, make sure you tell me, because that would be a really gross (yet fantastic and miracle like – we’d all be getting fecal transplants) story, and I like gross stories. Much love. See you soooooon xxxx

    1. i’ve always assumed my low blood sugar was due to high metabolism…and again, it all points back to eating meat, since that’s recommended for folks who burn through their food like it’s sugar water. “hangar” is hilarious! and it does sound like what happens to me.

      maybe when you’re here, we can have a washing party where we throw it all out on the street. xo

  3. Appreciate so much your posts, Mary, and all the responses. I have always been interested in ‘real food’ and ‘whole food’, and was dedicated to ‘Laurel’s Kitchen’ from the time I was 18 as well as being lacto-ovo veg in bursts throughout my twenties. Still, I am one of those hypocrtical types who will eat something i have not killed (though i am thinking about learning to hunt one of these days because of this). I want to add one thing no one else has mentioned, though: the aspect of eating that is part of our cultural heritage.

    I come from an ethnic community that has its own foodways. Although it is not always ‘healthy’ food, I respect it and its history, including its meat consumption. It means someting to me and that meaning has always been more important than concerns about killing animals or environmental preservation, though i make sizeable allowances for these things in other ways. All you say about being able to eat well from small farms/plots is germane. We cannot feed the entire world on 100% plant foods because there is simply not enough whole protein in that diet. There are in fact environmental reasons to eat animal protein. We are evolved to eat some of it – about 20% of the diet. But there are cultural reasons too. We are communities with histories. Heritage animal breeds have been living with their human communities for hundreds or thousands of years. We keep these animals to eat them and that’s the only reason they and their genetic diversity continue in our world. Moreover, eating is not just the stuff we put in our bodies. We are in an odd time, where middle class, educated people like to think of all food as medicine and are obsessed about diet, as if everything they ate (or didn’t) held the keys to saving their lives, the planet, and so on. There’s an odd narcissism in this – Slow Food as practiced by the beautiful people. But eating is community – it is commensality. Foodways keep and determine our religious, our cultures, our families and other social organizations. They mean love, they mean care, they can mean in oroutgrouping, punishment, and be made to mean other things. The sharing of the commemorative meal in Christianity, for only one instance, marks an act of, depending on one’s theology, redemptive sacrifice or community bonding.

    Commensaltiy itself is also sacrifice. When i eat what has been offered to me, rather than make demands on my host for what my current, little dietary corner allows, I broadcast my intent to be generous of spirit and to take what is given without demand. As a cook, I always want to find out in advance what I can and cannot offer a guest. But I do not expect that always and everywhere to be the case. People offer what they can and what is meaningful to them. To accept this gift is an honor. To reject it in the name of attachment to purity is – imo – an ethical breach and a spiritually ungenerous act.

    I understand that we cannot and should not eat a ‘rich western diet’ all the time because the world cannot afford us if we do. I applaud people who choose to be vegetarian or vegan because of ecological benefits that offset developed nation excess, but I have no greater admiration for their personal choices than for someone who eats an omnivorous diet consciously and responsibly. Ideological purity trips can take many forms – some of them quite laudable. Nourishing Traditions and Slow Food types of folks can be just as precious and narcissistic as banner waving vegans. I guess it’s my Buddhist training but also my ethnic background that guides me in a ‘middle-way’ informed by consciousness of projective attachment as well as love and respect for the traditional and commensal foodways of this big, lovely world.

    1. eating culturally is key, and i think it ups the nourishment of what is taken in.

      i think thinking about food as medicine and activism isn’t just narcissistic…it’s a way people feel they can help and contribute to the world and themselves. in a world where everyone is beginning to suspect that we have very little power, especially in regards to governments, food is the natural first point of change…for those who can afford to make that change.

      i love your thinkings jax…i still miss your blog and think that you could whip up smart little posts…the world needs your brain! xo

  4. totally agree with what teeny said…i don’t think you sounded (or ever sound…) preachy at all, you just share your story in heartbreakingly honest terms and i appreciate that. i think people love an excuse to share their own story right back, maybe sometimes that can lead to bloggy land mine fields but also it allows for deepening knowledge of others. i also want to say that i recognize and so appreciate your approach and that the thought of doing something although it breaks one’s own heart is so bittersweet, bold and agonizing, i can only imagine and feel that shift in your heart and i wish you the very best, most peaceful and cleansing of paths through this… hope you are starting to feel a little better sweet mama.

    1. thanks heather. i love it when folks share their story in the comments! less so than the comments on the last post, i actually received a couple of emails (from occasional commenters) that were attacking. i’m fine with someone else having a different experience or opinion, but i got hurt because i felt like i wasn’t seen or heard…thus the rewrite.

      i am grateful for your sweet blessings, and i return with the same wishes for you. i was concerned that i may have upset either you or nicole with the last pots and i thought ‘oh no! we’re on the same team, really!’. but one of the (many) things i appreciate about you, is the way you mirror back the beauty of other people, and i thank you for extending that to me. xo

  5. hey there, i am way behind on blogs these days and almost missed this post entirely. part of me feels like ignoring the whole topic, but i wouldn’t want my silence to be construed as anger or other negative feelings…

    i think you hit the nail on the head as far as veg-heads of any kind having to deal with ongoing comments from those around them–and it had a huge part in my response to the post. i don’t give two shits what other people eat and spend zero time thinking about it, but folks seem to have volumes to say in response to my diet. i didn’t feel your post attacked me or any vegetarian/vegan/macrobiotic folks, but reading the post and then the comments in response pissed me off. there, i said it. i think that rather than reading the post as one thoughtful person’s journey towards health, some readers took it as vindication of their own views and ran with it. [i just erased half of what i typed and will simply say this:] diet is a super personal thing, especially given that most folks stick to the food their family fed them (so telling them their diet is bad is like saying their mom sucks). and while i have diverged from the diet with which i was raised, i am not immune to feeling touchy about the subject. i am sorry if my comment upset you. take care.

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