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Archive for February, 2011

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

So here I am, after a year of not-eating-meat. I am thinking about how to proceed with my food-life, how the past year has gone, what I’ve learned, and my goals for the future.

Point #1: Not eating meat is really not particularly difficult or unpleasant

I’ve had cravings, for sure, and a lot of weird dreams where I eat meat and wake up with a guilty, dream hangover, but overall, eating vegetarian is pretty easy given my particular lifestyle. I don’t think I ate any fake-meat products (other than some at my parents’ house which I shared with my vegan younger sister), I learned how to cook a lot of new tasty dishes, and I developed a repertoire of interesting, satisfying, non-meat meals.

As I mentioned in Part Three, if it’s something I CAN do that has a variety of positive impacts, then why not continue to do it?

I worry that if I “give myself permission” to eat meat again, I will just throw it into my diet just because I can. There’s no reason to eat at McDonald’s, but if you are a meat-eater and starving, you might end up with a double cheeseburger (and a stomachache…), but as a vegetarian, you’ll probably hold out until the nearest Subway.

So why mess with a good thing?

Point #2: I am somewhat concerned about my overall nutrition as a vegetarian

I don’t think that a vegetarian diet is an inherently unhealthy diet. I’m sure there is much research proving the opposite, actually. However, I do worry sometimes that my particular vegetarian diet is a little heavy on the carbs, on the sugars, and on the cheese. I probably eat one or two bean-based meals a week, but that’s about all I can stomach – is my diet lacking in lean proteins? I don’t have a weight problem, necessarily, but I am concerned that relying on salty hummus & crackers & cheese all day, every day, is contributing to a few unnecessary pounds. Fruits and veggies and beans are great, but sometimes I struggle to find foods that actually fill me up, which leaves me susceptible to over-snacking.

I am also concerned about those pesky Omega-3’s. I’ve been getting better at eating greens almost every day, and when I have a bowl of cereal or oatmeal I usually throw on a tablespoon of ground flax seed, but I wonder if a little salmon once in awhile might improve my health/quality of life.

I haven’t done much research or analysis of my own nutritional intake, but it’s something I think about from time to time. There isn’t any reason a vegetarian-diet can’t be healthy, but there might be a better choice for my current lifestyle and nutritional needs.

Point #3: I am unsure of how far my morality stretches, and in what directions.

Jonathan Safran Foer did a good job of challenging my own beliefs about the reality of killing animals to put them on my dinner plate. That is for sure.

However, I’m a moderate at heart: I don’t think that meat, as a source of fuel, is an inherently “bad” thing. Like Michael Pollan, I think that the quickest way to turn people off to dietary change is to tell them what not to eat – in the long run, meat is going to be around, so proselytizing against carnivorism is not going to get you or society anywhere. It is better, maybe, to find BETTER sources for meat than CAFOs, and to promote and support those endeavors with your “food dollars.”

I also agree with Barbara Kingsolver that LOCAL is probably much more important than MEAT vs. NOT-MEAT. Meat is really just another vehicle for calories, and in many climates (see: Boston), the weather just doesn’t support eating high-quality, local produce all year-round. In February, I am probably doing more good eating a hamburger from a cow in Vermont than I am filling my basket at Whole Foods with organic lettuce and tomatoes and broccoli shipped up from Argentina.

So I’m not sure how “okay” I am with eating animals. It could be a situation where practicality wins out over theory.

Point #4: I don’t know if my budget will allow me to eat the kind of meat I would like to include in my regular diet

All practicality aside, the thought of returning to eating meat indiscriminately turns my stomach – literally and figuratively.

There’s just too much corruption/danger/bad karma/brutality going on in the general, mass-produced meat industry these days. I go to Qdoba and watch people order a chicken queso burrito: they see tasty chicken pieces for their dinner, I see a pile of who-knows-what from who-knows-where.

I haven’t thought about specifics yet, but I think in an ideal world, I would be okay with eating locally-produced, ethically raised/caught/slaughtered meat dishes from trustworthy vendors.

The good news: I live in Boston. I can find that kind of meat, I can find restaurants that only serve that kind of meat, etc.

The bad news: I live in Boston on a grad student’s budget. I can’t afford to add another 20-30 dollars to my weekly food bill just so I can eat chicken parmesan on Friday nights.

So basically, even if I was like Yeah! Rah! Let’s Eat Meat Again!, I can’t really integrate it into my diet in any sustainable way.

In Conclusion:

I am still thinking about the past year and how to proceed in the future. Until I have time to settle things with myself, I will continue to abstain from eating meat. I can envision some kind of Vegetarian-in-Practice, not-in-Name scenario, where I continue to eat as I have grown accustomed to, but with a few concessions. A slice of turkey or a scoop of sausage gravy on family holidays. A special occasion cheeseburger from a restaurant that sources Good meat. Maybe a Thursday-night salmon dinner if I can find an acceptable/affordable source.

It’s tricky, fluid, and confusing, but I am really glad that I decided to live as a vegetarian for the past year. I’ve never once regretted my decision or how I’m choosing to interpret my task as a Responsible Eater. I’m glad that, because of my choice, I have explored new foods, forced my roommate to eat fancy vegetables she’s never tried, and that my boyfriend is practically vegetarian by default. I don’t know if my health has improved or not, but I did only get sick four times in 2010 (that’s pretty good for someone who is living with a brand-new elementary school teacher), and I haven’t struggled so much with low energy levels.

It’s been a good year. I hope the next 365 days can be just as excellent and full of great food, whether I am herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore.

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Part One

Part Two

A year ago, I decided to stop eating meat.

It wasn’t much of a stretch. Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice medium-rare (maybe more toward the rare) steak, a thick cheeseburger, and you can’t keep me away from seafood…. mmmm…. but on a practical, day-to-day level, I’m very okay with not eating meat.

Sample menu from the Casa de Vegetarian-Jessica:

Breakfast

2 eggs, over easy, fried in a little butter

toast with butter and honey

Morning Snack

Starbucks mocha

Trail mix

Lunch

Sharp cheddar and whole grain crackers

Apple and peanut butter

Afternoon Snack

Hummus and tortilla chips

Dinner

Rice and broccoli casserole

Desssert

Wine 🙂

I felt the heat, occasionally, at restaurants. You’d think that in this day and age, in hippie-Liberal Boston that you’d be able to feed yourself on most every menu… but that is not the case. I often found myself choosing between two undesirable entrees, or ordering things like the Chicken Bacon Ranch Salad, hold the Chicken and the Bacon.

That being said, I started out this dietary change with something in mind and that something is still here, a year later:

It’s more important to me that I cultivate a non-meat-based lifestyle than adhere to any particular LABEL.

So yes, I ate eggs. Lots of eggs. And when I was at the beach with my family at a seafood joint, I ate crab legs. And instead of ordering separate entrees on my anniversary dinner, I went to the Melting Pot and ate 7 kinds of meat. There may have been a surreptitious piece of bacon sometime in the last 365 days. I really can’t confirm or deny that.

So maybe I’m not a real vegetarian. I’m cool with that. Again, it’s not about ascribing to some higher standard of eating, about feeling like an elite-eating-member, about anything except the practical bits of life:

I don’t eat meat 99% of the time, which is better than not eating meat 98% of the time, which is better than not eating meat 1% of the time.

I’ve read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle a few times, and it really resonates with my idea of living harmoniously and healthily with food. For those of you who haven’t read, Kingsolver and her family decided that food was important to their family, so they moved from food-desert Arizona to a homestead in Appalachia. The book is a year in the life of a family eating locally – buying local, growing vegetables, raising (and slaughtering) chickens and turkeys. It’s really inspiring to read not only because it’s delightfully pastoral and… well.. written by Kingsolver, but also because it’s a story of a family that is doing what they can, in their life, within their means, to live in a way that is commensurate with their values.

So while I’m not caught up in labels, not sure what vegetarianism means to me on a personal/moral level, it’s still something I can do. So I might as well do it.

But I told myself I would re-evaluate my stance in a year. So stay tuned for that, tomorrow.

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Read part one here

Michael Pollan’s take on American-ized industrial food is clear: stay away, vote with your food-dollars, don’t eat food your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as edible just because it’s what you grew up on.

Factory-produced meat is part of this problem. But Pollan isn’t anti-meat, at all.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

So why did I decide to cut it out of my diet?

Blame Jonathan Safran Foer.

So I read In Defense of Food. Last January, I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Consider the first book to be an introduction to the food-dissertation that is the second. The first third of Omnivore is an in-depth look at the meat industry in America, which expounds upon the corn conundrum I mentioned earlier and begins to describe the things we just don’t want described – how your meat gets on your plate.

Now, as I said, Pollan isn’t anti-meat at all. I think that’s really smart and wise. Meat, in itself, isn’t bad for your health, bad for the environment, bad for the world. And asking a meat-eating country to change the food industry/national health by giving up on an entire food group (one that is caught up in family and cultural tradition, found in most restaurant meals, and is so tasty), is probably a bad strategy.

But then I read Eating Animals.

Where Pollan is kindly and diplomatic, Foer pushes buttons. Where Pollan looks for the best route for the most people, Foer asks you to reexamine your own choices.

Part memoir, part expose, part manifesto, this book grabbed me and pulled me in. There were lots of shocking descriptions of what goes on inside the meat industry. I know – big news, right? Read about some disgusting animal slaughters and then you can’t look at meat the same way again. Right?

I think that that was partly true. There are passages from Foer’s book that I still remember vividly, that not only revolted me but disturbed me on some kind of primal, human level. But what really bothered me was how hard the meat industry works to keep this a secret. Foer’s book is peppered with anecdotes from vigilante animal rights groups who resort to midnight breaking and entering, just to SEE what is going on in a chicken house.

Nobody WANTS to see how their meat gets to their Big Mac.

Especially the meat companies.

Because if you knew, then it would be difficult to reconcile continuing to purchase their product.

On a personal level, knowing what I then knew about the American food industry, the dangerous and sometimes horrific path “required” to turn animal into food, I was willing to listen to what Pollan so carefully skirted in his books, and what Foer wasn’t afraid to ask me.

Are you morally okay with causing the willful and malicious destruction of another life for the SOLE purpose of pleasing your tastebuds?

The answer was no.

Not a resounding, life-changing, screaming-vegan-from-the-mountaintops NO, but a “I would rather not take part in that process right now,” kind of no.

So I took my future-roommate out to dinner for her 24th birthday – February 19th, 2010 – ordered a cheeseburger with the works, and the next day I stopped eating meat.

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Two Christmas’s ago, I added Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food to my yearly book wish-list. My mother obliged my request, and I read it during the month of January 2009.

This book opened my eyes to a lot of issues with American food production and shed light on my own daily struggle to take the reigns of my own nutrition.

There’s a lot going on in this book.

– How the government is making us fat with regulations, dietary guidelines, and agricultural subsidies.

– How the ideology of “nutritionalism” has robbed Americans of any real connection with nourishment, left us grasping at some nebulous/questionable definition of “good health,” and made feeding oneself difficult and dangerous over the years.

– Simple rules for improving ones relationship with food, helping to support a better food system for all Americans, and – in the process – achieving better health and nutrition.

And so much more…. an awful lot of mind-blowing for 200 or so pages.

When I read this book in 2009, I wanted to put it under my pillow and kiss it before bed. I wanted to re-read it immediately and tattoo his new Food Rules to my forehead.

But there was one particularly interesting section of the book that stuck with me. It was about Omega-3s.

Omega-3 fatty acids, Pollan asserts, are crucial for any diet. You get them from eating plants. Having low levels of Omega-3 acids – or having too many Omega-6 acids (which come from seeds) and not enough Omega-3s – can have the side effects of cardiac disease, neurological issues, mood disorders, and diabetes. And that most Americans probably suffer some of these side effects from this imbalance.

Those side effects? Also current national health issues.

So we eat too many grains and not enough leaves. I get it. But what really threw me for a loop was when Pollan stated that it’s not that Americans are necessarily eating less greens (although this is probably true)… it also has to do with the MEAT that we eat. Back when people still ate meat from small farms, before huge, mega-farms and Confined Animal Feeding Operations came into vogue, people used to get enough Omega-3s from their MEAT: cows and pigs and chickens raised on smaller farms were allowed to graze. They ate grass. The grass was metabolized, the Omega-3s permeated the animals, the Omega-3s then ended up in our bodies through our chicken dinner.

Now, because of a number of factors, the animals we eat no longer eat grass and bugs and whatever other interesting plant matter they can get past their teeth. They eat corn. Lots of it. Corn is not a leaf. Corn has limited nutritional value, therefore, the meat we eat has limited nutritional value.

……

This made me feel very deceived. At the time, I didn’t know what to do with all that information and I still don’t. But a year ago this Saturday, I stopped eating meat, so I’m going to post a little bit this week about why I made that decision, what it means to me and for my life with food, and my plans for the future.

Stay tuned, and read this article if you have a chance.

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1. If your grocery bill is low, that means you will either A) go hungry B) get a lot of take-out.

2. Meal planning is very-important (in looove-makin’), but you have to do more than think of X meals. You have to think of X meals that are ReallyFast to prepare because you know you will come home late and starved on X days of the week, and you’ll have to hurry to make it to trivia on time to get a good table.

Otherwise, you’ll just end up eating take-out and end up with spoiled produce.

3. There is a balance between eating Real Foods (butter, eggs, full-fat dairy, nice chocolate, fruit-spreads, stove top popcorn, whole-wheat breads, etc) and Eating Everything You Damn Please All The Time Even Though You Are Not Hungry.

4. Even if opening your fridge is a bit depressing, if you scrap together a brown-bag lunch, you’ll be happier than if you buy stupid cafeteria lunch.

5. Get the farmshare. Just bite the bullet. It’s good for America.

6. You can make food for your friends, they will like it, even if it’s not Martha Stewart perfect.

7. Dinner should not consist solely of Magners. At least not more than once a week.

8. If you have a Magner’s dinner and want to follow that up with an actual dinner? That requires doing thing such as supreming a grapefruit? Do it. Drunk cooking = kind of fun.

8. If you have eggs, sharp cheddar, and good bread in the house, you will eat egg sandwiches every day. Go with it, or quit buying such delicious breakfast ingredients.

9. You live in Boston. You can get an obscene amount of delectable ethnic food delivered to your apartment for an obscenely small price. Why do you keep driving to pick up? Take advantage before you end up in the burbs again.

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This is Jessica – ye of questionable blogging skillz – back at the helm. I have missed this little place, but with finals+holidays+myonlyvacationoftheyear+school+twojobs+puttingmycatonadiet+snowdays… well… I haven’t been blogging with regularity or cooking anything of any interest.

However, (assuming it stops snowing/sleeting intermittently and canceling school/work) the semester is starting which means a normal schedule (HALLELUJAH!) and I fully intend on returning to TheThingsWeEat and Lindsey-Love and the whole food writing nonsense.

Food things I have to tell you about:

– Kitchen Self-Esteem

– When do you become a “Good Cook?”

– My impending Vegetarianniversary…. and how I ate seven kind of meat last week

– Missing my Farmshare

– How my new lunchbox changed my life

– A cake, a pizza crust, and a soup.

– How Not To Be Fat (I need some pointers)

STAY TUNED!

I would tease you like that for nothing!

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