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?
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.