Thursday, September 3, 2009

No Biggie

I've been having some good conversations with friends lately about the whole switch-to-vegan thing. The responses have ranged from support to questioning to dismay. I think this whole issue of how you eat and what you eat is a pretty big deal these days. There is such a spectrum of possibilities, and each position on the spectrum seems to be tied up with so many other issues and identities. Specially for us middle-class white folks.

So, I'm writing this post not in defense of my decision to eat vegan-ish (vegan-like?) but just to explore what led to my decision four years ago to become a vegetarian, and now to go a step even beyond that. As I think about it, the whole thing has a lot less to do with idealism than with pragmatism. You can decide.

The decision to become a vegetarian--smackdab in the middle of my pregnancy with Nolie--was a pretty easy one. Both pregnancies had soured me on eating pork or chicken (I could look at an uncooked chicken breast and totally vomit), except in their very worst forms: I craved McDonald's chicken nuggets and Home Depot hot dogs. In a big way. The smell of both nuggets and hot dogs, to this day, still makes me drool (yum!). And, of course, Eric and I ate plenty of steak. We would get one of those six-pack of Costco flank steaks and just go AFTER it. I grew up in Idaho, yeah? So eating meat there is like breathing air--you just DO it. You don't even think about it.

But I'm pretty health-conscious, too, and I knew that the meats I really enjoyed (chicken nugs, hot dogs, and steak) weren't that good for me, and certainly weren't good to eat very frequently. Actually, most meats aren't that great for you. And, right about that same time, MorningStar came out with a whole bunch of yummy (for once) vegetarian products that could be sauced up and made to taste pretty good. There was still fish and eggs, too, which seemed to offer good health benefits and could be purchased in an environmentally friendly way (maybe).

At the same time, my research was taking me into the field of Environmental Communication and climate change. I knew about the research showing that most meat production and consumption has pretty devastating impacts on our environment. So, even though you can buy organic or free-range meats, it seemed, generally, to be easier to just give up the meat. And, I didn't miss it, so why not give it up? No harm done by not eating it.

It helps, I think, that I haven't been agro about the no-meat thing. If I accidentally order something at a restaurant that has "meat-bits" (like in a soup) or if Eric makes a mostly-veggie recipe but uses a little chicken broth, no biggie. If I forget to tell the host of a dinner party I'm a vegetarian, no big deal. I just eat around this stuff. My kids eat turkey dogs and pepperoni pizza now and then. And I do not give a whit what you put in your pie-hole. I don't think of this as "cheating," maybe because I don't think of vegetarianism as being about "rules." I just want to be practical in a world in which most people around me eat meat.

Basically, what I'm trying to say, is that there was a kind of growing body of evidence to suggest that I would: 1) feel better 2) be trimmer, and 3) not be doing as much environmental harm if I gave up something that I didn't really enjoy that much anyway. And all that turned out to be true. I just trusted my body and my head to figure things out.

The vegan thing happened pretty much the same way. If someone had told me two months ago I was going to give up cheese, I would have snorted cheez-whiz out my nose laughing so hard. But, then, a critical number of factors came into play: 1) I read The China Study, which pretty convincingly argues that there are very negative health affects that stem from consuming animal protein 2) I gained a bunch of weight this summer that I couldn't lose, even when I upped my exercise 3) I discovered the joys of coconut milk and its derivatives (coconut yogurt and the most amazing treat of all, coconut ice cream).

I thought I was allergic to soy--remember the migraines--but I'm going to a new doctor who is fairly convinced my sinuses are to blame. He put me back on a kick-ass allergy pill (and it does kick my ass. Zyrtec is like an insane sleeping pill) and, voila, I'm feeling much better. Still eating soy (and coconut), but no headaches yet.

So. There it is. No big political statement. No judgments about animal cruelty (though I do like animals). I still have the occasional bite of cheese, and I will gladly hold your leather jacket for you while you head into the bathroom to pee. I'm mostly motivated by a hedonistic impulse to want to feel healthy, energetic, trim, and like I'm decreasing my impact on the environment a wee little bit). Eating vegan has helped with all of these things. I don't have my afternoon sleepies anymore, I've lost some fat, and in general, I just feel better.

And here's the shocker: I don't miss the cheese. I don't know how this is possible, but it is.

If you can feel happy and energetic and good eating your turkey leg and philly cheese steak, more power to you. I love your meat-eating self. Maybe we can share some coconut ice cream afterwards :).

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