Saturday, September 4, 2010

The proud flexitarian: how I made my peace with meat

Oh, you people who refuse to learn anything about nutrition and live your lives in a state of blissful food ignorance, eating fast food burgers like champions… you have it so good. Sure, you’re probably consuming unknown levels of chemicals, hormones and possibly enough sugar, sodium and saturated fat to give you numerous health problems or kill you. But you just don’t give a damn, do you? Because stuff tastes good and by God, you’re going to eat that stuff. I’ll never be like you, but believe me, part of me is envious.

I’m also envious of those of you who have committed to either a vegetarian or vegan diet… and actually stick to it. For some reason, people are offended by this type, which is ridiculous because numerous studies have shown that cutting out meat (or cutting back) is extremely good for you. I admire you all, I really do. Even if you don’t like the taste of meat or dairy, it’s in almost everything and requires a real commitment to a lifestyle.

Then there’s me, someone who has spent the last three years falling somewhere in between. I’m blessed and cursed: blessed because I have a real passion for learning about nutrition and health and cursed because I just don’t have the discipline to go all the way. I know about all the horrors of the meat and dairy industry, the grotesque conditions animals are raised in before their diseased remains become our meat, and have read enough information to somewhat agree with the moral opposition to eating animals (don’t jump all over me for the last one, everyone’s body is different and I know some people would literally die without it). I’ve spent the last three years struggling with my personal philosophy on vegetarianism and this summer it became apparent that I was going to have to find a balance between raging carnivore and devout vegan. And yes, I’m aware that healthy isn’t synonymous with veganism and there are healthy meat eaters and unhealthy vegetarians… but for the sake of this post, I’m sticking to one aspect.

Once you learn certain things, you can’t unlearn them. And after I’d done my share of research, I knew I could never eat the way I once did. My balance between veganism (much too strict, I knew I’d cheat) and eating lots of animal products (never again) was a fun little term called the “pescatarian.” I’d have to give up chicken, turkeys, pigs and cows, but I could still eat fish and other seafood. Having been raised on my father’s wild caught Pacific Northwest salmon, I knew I couldn’t give that up. So I was a pescatarian. And then Thanksgiving came along and I ate turkey. Then I was a pescatarian again. Then several months later I went to Vegas and absolutely nothing from Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris would do except their filet mignon. Then I was a pescatarian again until my friend made chicken and I didn’t want to be rude. You get the drift.

I stopped developing a taste for most kinds of meat. When I did eat it, I’d feel sick because my body wasn’t used to it. Yet I never completely kicked it and I felt totally guilty for it. I felt like a gay Catholic… I agreed that it wasn’t right, yet I couldn’t help myself. I kept up the “pescatarian” front until our cross-country road trip this summer. My plan was to go as long as possible without animal flesh. On our first day, we went to my husband’s aunt’s birthday party and the menu consisted of a veggie tray, meatballs, chicken and ribs. I didn’t want to starve or be rude, so I ate two meatballs with my veggies. And I admit, they were good. I made my normal pescatarian choices for much of the road trip, but I also ate my share of meat, especially in the South. By the end of the trip I was thoroughly disgusted with myself, with animal carcass and the whole mental debate. It was time to find a balance.

I am the entire reason the flexitarian diet was created. We’re literally called “the meat eating vegetarians.” A flexitarian is someone who abstains from meat most of the time… but not all of the time. I finally decided to stop fighting my natural urges and just cave in and have meat when I really wanted it. After all, I craved it so rarely that I assumed it meant something when I did want it. Besides, even the most PETA-friendly vegan will admit that just cutting back on the animals we eat is good for our bodies, for the environment and of course, for the animals it saves. Fewer animals in demand means less factory farms and less animal suffering in general. And that was the reason I quit eating the damn things in the first place.

My balance is still eating a mostly vegetarian diet. I limit my dairy to small amounts of cheese and Greek yogurt along with the occasional Ben & Jerry’s binge because I’m human. I eat local, cage free eggs, but not often. I eat lots of the fruits and veggies I do like and avoid the ones I don’t because eating shouldn’t be torture. I eat meat, on average, once a week these days and feel just fine when I do. That’s because I buy the hormone free grass fed stuff instead of the products of animal concentration camps. With very few exceptions (maybe once a year during the worst hangover of all time) I avoid the hell out of pork because I simply know too much. And I can honestly say I’ll never touch another hot dog. Last Thanksgiving, I talked my mom into buying an organic, hormone and antibiotic-free turkey and even my “I don’t care about that crap” family admitted it was the best they’d ever had. Some meat-eaters think I’m an idiot and some vegans think I’m a sellout. I think I finally found a diet I can stick to. And in our obese, food-obsessed, fast food eating, bloated culture, I think that’s pretty great.


Anonymous said...

Hurrah! :)

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