To meat or not to meat? That is the (very personal) question.

I was approximately twelve-years-old and I wanted a snack. I skipped onto the brown carpet of our very 1970’s kitchen and grabbed a piece of fruit from the fridge. There was an unconscious, almost robotic nature to my movements because I was at home doing something that I did almost every day, I barely had to think about it. I turned quickly on my heel to the sink behind me so that I could give my snack a quick rinse before eating it. This time, though, I was stopped in my tracks. There in the steel bins lay several skinned rabbits in a bath of water. I dropped my fruit and ran to my room in tears swearing to myself that I would never eat rabbit again.

Meat and hunting have been a part of my life and my family culture for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a family that was stable, but I know my parents always struggled to make ends meet for our family of six. One of the ways they made that possible was by growing a garden for fruits and vegetables, keeping chickens for eggs, and hunting for meat. While I find hunting for sport/trophies completely despicable, I have a great deal of respect for hunters who make good use of the animal they cull. They obtain their meat in a way that, to me, seems honest and respectful. There is a personal relationship between hunter and prey that is meaningful. I will take hunting any day over the industrial meat complex. I just don’t want to participate in the act, which is one of the reasons why I don’t eat meat.

When I was sixteen-years-old I declared myself vegetarian. I lived in a small community in Colorado with an economy powered by two things: ranching and hunting related tourism. My news was not well-received amongst the locals. My family on the other hand, was much more accepting of my decision. I spent the first couple of years as a vegetarian feeling horrible. I had no idea what I was doing and my body was a mess. Apparently replacing ribs and turkey with snack cakes and cola doesn’t really pan out well for the body. (If you would like to know more about why I became a vegetarian, click here).

In college, I got serious about learning how to be a vegetarian. I learned how to incorporate beans and legumes as well as whole grains and tons of vegetables into my diet. This helped me feel better and stronger than I did at the start of my vegetarian lifestyle. It was empowering to be in control of my diet and I realized that a lot of people thought that it was “cool” that I didn’t eat meat. That was certainly a motivator to keep up the lifestyle!

Unfortunately, while I learned a lot about how to be a healthier vegetarian, I was also making some very unhealthy choices as well. During the first few years that I was veggie, there really weren’t a lot of options for me other than vegetables and junk food. However, the food scientists caught up to me quickly. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by the possibilities made available to me by the amazing technology of products such as “soy grounds” and “chik’n”. I embraced these new food-like products with fervor and cooked with them almost every night.

Slowly, I began to feel sluggish and I often found myself hungry late at night because my dinner didn’t satisfy me. As my husband and I negotiated our way through a hard time in our marriage, we found our way to common ground in a shared love and respect for food. We began the process of slowly eliminating most of the processed food in our home, including the cellulose-filled and incredibly expensive packages of “meat.” It suddenly seemed super gross to me.

Our hens peck the yard with the coop in the background.

Our hens peck the yard with the coop in the background.

We established a robust garden and built and chicken coop. As a family, we moved closer to my childhood roots and it felt amazing! Eliminating these processed foods helped a lot, but not completely. I did manage to get rid of the persistent headache I had for nearly three years that had me convinced I was growing a tumor behind my left eye. We were also able to cure ourselves of the inordinate expenses associated with eating processed vegetarian and vegan foods. Unfortunately, the digestive issues I have had since puberty not only persist, but they seem to be getting worse. As I want you to continue reading I won’t share the gory details with you, but I can certainly say that the situation with my belly is unpleasant at best.

The blessing and curse of the internet is that I have been able to thoroughly research the digestive issues I experience. There are an awful lot of opinions about the exact diet that will save my life and make me my best self ever. I just don’t know if I buy into most of it. However, I have come across some information consistently that tells me that, in order to truly feel well, I might need to start eating meat again. This is a prospect that causes me untold internal conflict.

Many of the symptoms I experience that point to a general lack of wellness in my being have also been tied to protein deficiencies. There are also those who subscribe to the belief that the fact that my blood type is O negative means that I should be a voracious consumer of meat. A lot of science consistently points to the Mediterranean diet, with a fish and vegetable rich base, is the optimal path to whole-body health. I have explored the possibilities that my dietary challenges could be related to dairy or gluten, and I just don’t think that is the case. I cannot detect any distinct pattern between those foods and the digestive mess I find myself in.

At 34-years-old, my metabolism has slowed significantly. I can’t seem to shake the feeling of sluggishness and the heaviness in my mid-section is on display and growing by the day. While I know that dairy and gluten are not likely to be the source of my issues, they are contributing factors. One of the problems with being a vegetarian is that the options available to me are often heavy on those two ingredients. Instead of the flank steak and steamed vegetables, I am offered gourmet macaroni and cheese (a food I love but I realize does not serve me well). This is often the case for a veggie at a restaurant. Our choices are limited and the choices we are given usually rely on dairy and gluten to save the day. I’m over it.

Dinner, anyone?

Dinner, anyone?

After eighteen years of faithful vegetarianism, I find myself questioning my choice. Am I doing this because it is what I deeply and truly believe that it is right for me or am I doing this because it is what I have done for over half my life? I don’t really know. What I do know is that my husband is a hunter and I am not bothered by the meat in our freezer. I know that I make a turkey every year for Thanksgiving that is met with rave reviews and I have never tasted it. I know that industrial farming is disgusting, horrible, and completely misaligned with my values. I know that I wear leather belts and shoes. I know that I want to feel well. I know that I want to have normal bowel movements. I know that I want more options when I go out to eat. I know that I believe in rational thought over passionate dogma. I know that I love animals. I know that the food chain is necessary and powers the world’s ecosystems.

What I know is that I do not know the right thing to do in this situation. Does it make sense for me to let go of two decades worth of intentional practice on the hope that I might feel better. Do I value my own personal wellness over the belief system I have used to structure my life? To meat or not to meat? This is the personal question to which I do not have the answer. What do you think?

~ by vegucationmama on August 7, 2014.

8 Responses to “To meat or not to meat? That is the (very personal) question.”

  1. We are empty nesters now (RB’s parents). Doug doesn’t hunt much now, but will still pursue bunnies on a winter morning if given the opportunity (didn’t mean to traumatize our pre-teen daughter – just salt soaking some fresh meat for a fried rabbit dinner). Anyway, we now try for local meat – grass fed beef and small farm raised pork from a local lady farmer. We know her, we know where the meat came from and we know the animal is slaughtered immediately after leaving the farm in a fast, humane way at a small, locally owned facility. A quarter beef and half pig will serve us pretty well for one year. This year the total cost for that was $1050 – the equivalent of about $20 per week – so it is affordable as well. We may add a lamb next year (another $5 per week). We haven’t figured out fish and chicken yet – but I’m hopeful.

  2. This is such a thought provoking post, RB. One thing that I’ve read is that our bodies absorb protein from meat more efficiently than from plants – assuming that this is true, even small amounts of meat (like, incorporated into 2 meals a week?) will give you a protein boost. It sounds like you already have a source that you trust (via Steve), and you can always go back to being a vegetarian. In terms of ethical eating, the treatment of animals concerns me less than the treatment of the environment and especially of human labor working in all parts of the agricultural-industrial complex, and I really don’t have a good solution for how to eat affordably and ethically while keeping that in mind.

    • I appreciate your perspective, Valentine. Spending time abroad, as you already know, has also helped me to see that refusing meat is a very privileged choice. People in so many parts of the worlds are grateful for the opportunity to have meat at a meal. I think you are right that eating meat a couple of times per week from a trusted source will work out fine for me.

  3. One of the most important things being a vegetarian did for me was taught me to think critically about the food choices I make. In the last year I began eating meat (after a similarly long time of no meat), wanting to explore the possible heath benefits. While there is a lot to say about what I have discovered, mostly I have come to trust that I am making a choice each day, each meal. Letting go of the label of meat eater, vegetarian, vegan etc. and making the most sustainable and healthful choice I can at each opportunity has allowed me to trust myself, keep my values at the forefront and feel healthy. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and knowing you I am certain you will navigate this road thoughtfully!

  4. Some people claim that meat doesn’t get digested properly and “rots” in your colon.What happens when we eat meat, is that it gets broken down by stomach acid and digestive enzymes. Really find this interesting! Great post! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Thank you, Brandy! You are correct, there is a lot of bad information out there about food and how it affects our bodies. Humans have been eating meat for long enough that, with the right quantity and quality, it shouldn’t be a health concern at all.

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