Wednesday, March 6, 2013

On Learning to Eat Meat

I've been thinking about writing this post for a week now, but I've been resisting.  Part of it is because it deals with personal experience, and I'm not really that kind of blogger.  I mean, I admire those who can write freely about their feelings and experiences, but I'm much more of a "how to" kind of girl.

Part of it, too, is because I'm going to talk about eating meat, and on a sustainability blog, that can be a topic that brings out some intense feelings on both sides.  And I know that the expected path, with a blog like this, is for my journey to start with embracing sustainable living and practicing yoga (which I do), and end with a full commitment to veganism or at least to vegetarianism.  And, indeed, I have been nearly vegetarian -- more, even, than the trendy "flexitarian," -- for at least a quarter of a century.  "Meatless Mondays" are more the norm in my world than the exception -- along with mac-n-cheese Tuesdays, PB&J Wednesdays, and leftover potatoes Thursdays.

But I have decided I need to eat more meat, and the transition is not proving an easy one.  And I thought it might be useful to share that with you.

First, let me lay out some beliefs for you.  I don't typically choose meat because I don't like it.  I don't like the flavors, and I really don't like the texture.  I like a good piece of fish every now and then, and I really like sausage (where the texture has been altered), but the moment I was allowed to start choosing my foods as a young adult, I started omitting meat whenever possible.  I am the cheapest date in the world -- to heck with the surf and turf; I'm happier if you let me order off the side dish menu.

However, I don't really have any philosophical objections to eating meat.  Humans evolved as hunter/gatherers, and our systems are designed to derive nutrition from meat.  I don't have a problem with that.  I do have a problem with large scale CAFO meat production operations where animals are pumped full of GMO corn, hormones, and antibiotics and crammed into cages or stalls to suffer until they are butchered.  But I don't have a problem at all with the concept of hunting a creature in the wild or raising it in relative peace and freedom and then turning it into dinner.  Your mileage may vary.

I figure food is kind of like yoga; you should make the choices your body and soul dictate.  Some days, you crave a vigorous sun salutation, and other days it is all child's pose and savasana.  Some days it is t-bone steak, and other days just the baked potato, thank you very much.

Except I never have those t-bone steak days.  I buy grass-fed, organic, and free range meat and wild-caught fish, and I cook it up, and then generally I turn my nose up at it and eat the side dishes.

However, I have come to the conclusion that my body really isn't getting enough protein.  Part of it is watching via Facebook the experiences of a friend who has elected bariatric surgery; this friend now has a daily dietary protein goal that I'll bet you anything it takes me four days to eat with my standard diet.

Part of it is my recent vacation, on which, quite without thinking, I ate chicken or fish at every major meal, and I felt terrific.  Now, in another post we can sort out all the things that are different about vacation as compared to real life, but certainly the diet for me is one of those differences.

So I've decided to try to have chicken, fish, or sausage at least four to five days a week, just to up my protein intake.  And I am finding it a mighty struggle.

Yes, I know I could eat tofu and beans, but I think I hate those things worse than I do meat.  (I'm a picky eater of Olympic caliber.)  If I don't get some meat in my diet, I will be getting my protein exclusively from peanut butter and cheese, as I have done for 25 years.  I don't feel like that is adequate any more, especially as I expect my body to respond to regular dance lessons, some pretty vigorous gardening efforts, and all the other activities of daily life.

Yet, every time I put meat in my mouth I'm disappointed.  This weekend, I had some awesome mahi-mahi at a local restaurant, but the times I can tell you I really enjoyed my dinner with meat or fish in it are pretty few and far between (vacations notwithstanding).  Generally, I can eat a wonderfully-healthy meal filled with vegetables and chicken or fish, and I get up from the table feeling like I passed time but didn't really consume anything.  And I'm not talking about trying to go low- or no-carb here; I'm just changing the proportions a bit and adding a protein source.

So there you go.  Most of the people I have talked to about my switch back to meat have been very enthusiastic and supportive, which I appreciate, but most of them also have actual meat cravings in their lives.  More than one person has said some version of "Good for you -- I tried to be a vegetarian, but I missed cheeseburgers too much!"  I sympathize, but I also have to tell you that the last time I ate a cheeseburger had to have been sometime during the Carter administration (not kidding; and look it up, kids!), and I haven't missed them a bit.

I'm going to continue along this path because the most important thing about sustainable living is that it creates better health and life for each person and family, and I think my body isn't getting the nutrition it really needs to keep dancing and gardening and writing for another 50 years (God willing).  But getting used to it ain't easy.

Pin It!


  1. You should never feel as if you have to justify your choices for what you do or do not eat. Enjoy your life and good luck with your choices. We are a family of meat eaters who suddenly has a vegan in the family as a weight loss choice of diet. I worry about her protein intake and she humors me occasionally by eating a tiny bit of meat or eggs. We all have to make choices for our own well being.

  2. I completely and wholeheartedly disagree with Angie's comment taking the stance that you don't have to justify your choices you're essentially opting out of responsibility. It also means that you don't tend to investigate the facts of food production and nutrition which is clear by Angie's remark about protein. I'm not a vegetarian or a vegan but know that protein is not exclusive to animal sources.

    This is a thoughtful and interesting post Jennifer and though I don't have your same aversion to meat flavours or textures I do have issues with knowing how conventional supermarket meat is produced. I'm sure you've investigated other sources of protein though (Quinoa, Hemp Protein, etc) and feel for your struggle to incorporate simple animal sources into your diet.