Thursday, June 10, 2010

What to Eat

Remember last September when I decided to be a vegetarian?  I have, with a few exceptions, stuck to it.  I don't crave meat; in fact, I sometimes find the thought of eating meat a little repulsive (which is the reason I started in the first place).

Lately, I've found myself more firmly in the vegetarian camp, identifying more with a vegetarian lifestyle.  I've even been flirting a little with vegan cooking, thanks to a fun cookbook called Veganomicon.  I love the cookbook, and while I have no intentions on being a vegan (no yogurt? no buttermilk? too much smugness?), I think that there are health and environmental benefits to be had from generally consuming fewer animal products, not just eschewing meat.

Just as I'm starting to identify more strongly with the vegetarian lifestyle, I run across a review about a book called The Butcher and the Vegetarian.  Written by Tara Austen Weaver of Tea & Cookies, the book is about how after being told that she should eat meat by her doctors because she struggled with chronic fatigue, she decides to explore the world of meat.  She is scared of giving herself food poisoning, cooking it poorly, or just not knowing what to do with meat because she grew up a vegetarian.  Basically, she moves in the opposite direction of most folks who, like me, become vegetarians after growing up eating meat.

The book was an enjoyable exploration of the moral implications of eating meat: she ends up seeking out farmers who strive to produce meat that comes from an animal that is treated like an animal (and not a product) and is slaughtered humanely.  I found these parts the most interesting because I started eating less meat because of this very issue, and it's one reason I cite if people ask me why I'm a vegetarian.

Weaver also struggles with the guilt she feels about eating meat: she truly enjoys it, especially when she learns about charcuterie (preserved meats) and meets individuals who are passionate (and talented) about cooking meat.  But her mother and vegetarian background play the angel to her meat-enjoying devil, and she spends a good deal of the book wrestling with those issues.  She started trying to eat meat to improve her health, but when research shows that a vegetarian or vegan diet is usually the most healthful, she has to wonder: will eating meat really make her healthier and happier?

Ultimately, she finds that a mostly raw food diet is the cure to her fatigue and illness.  But she still eats small bites of meat here and there and cooked food--she understands that she found the key to what made her healthy and happy within herself.  Food choices often boil down to that: what works for the individual and her own convictions.  Weaver concludes:
How we feed ourselves is an intensely personal act. It brings together all manner of family and cultural traditions, issues of health--both our own and those of the world at large--and the simple fact that we want to be delighted by what we eat; we want to be satisfied and comforted.  Right or wrong, in a world that sometimes has sharp edges, food is often our solace.
We cook our food, we eat for pleasure as well as for sustenance, and this is part of the problem.  Michael Pollan is right: Our food choices present a dilemma.  For us, what to have for dinner will always be complicated.  Do we eat for our palate, for our health, for the planet? Can we have it all?...
We also don't live in a meritocracy.  Those who do a good job conserving resources don't get to advance to the next level while the wastrels get held back.  We're all in this together--vegetarians, vegans, and carnivores.  We're sitting at the same dining table.  The problems we face in regards to health, planet, and increasingly limited resources are ours.  They are ours to fix, or ours to flub.  I'm hoping we can fix them.
 This is what my decision to be a vegetarian boils down to.  I've realized that I'm healthier and happier when I'm eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and a bit of dairy here and there, and I feel bad (and gain weight) when I eat lots of meat, processed foods, sugar, and fat.  My diet works for me and what my body needs.  I don't expect Lance to ever give up meat--nor would I ask him to--and he makes his own choices based on what he enjoys and feels good about eating.  (He ends up eating mostly vegetarian too, but has been known to cook himself a piece of venison or pork when he's in the mood for it).  And sometimes he makes bacon-wrapped tofu:

Eating is an intensely personal choice, which is why some meat-eaters get up in arms about vegetarians and vegans, and why some vegetarians/vegans adopt an attitude of moral superiority and smugness about their dietary choices.  In the end, however, it simply comes down to what you want to eat and what you feel good about eating--and sometimes, it really is okay to eat a butter-filled cupcake or a piece of bacon.


ArkieYogini said...

Sounds like a good book. I'm feeling better after cutting back on meat too. And the strange thing is that I don't miss it as much as I thought I would. I still eat fish and deer. And I'll eat bacon on Christmas morning (I still love bacon). Mmmmmm....bacon.

mherzog said...

Here's a good video on meat:

savorysweetlife said...

Hi Jenn,
I really enjoyed reading your post this morning. After I read Tara's book I couldn't eat meat for weeks. But instead of not eating meat entirely, I chose to eat less meat. I'm also buying more sustainable and ethically raised meat when possible. What I eat is a journey and process I'm still trying to figure out. Glad to hear you've discovered what works for you.