My friend Ryan (who is quite the carnivore) has given me this title: Recovering Vegetarian. Let me explain what this means to me. November 2006, I visited Gainesville, my old college town. Gainesville is pretty progressive when it comes to a variety of dietary options. The town caters to the "I'm trying to do my own thing" college student who decides to be vegan or vegetarian. Lots of local, independently-owned restaurants, grocers, and fast food joints. Being in North Florida, it's also a great place to visit local farms, farmer's markets, and the like.
I've always been somewhat of a foodie. I have fond memories of watching The Frugal Gourmet on PBS when I stayed home sick from elementary school. I remember how he taught his viewers to curl their fingers under when chopping and how cool his garlic press looked. When I was in middle school, I used to love going over my best friend Alicia's house, looking through her mom's old Betty Crocker cookbooks, shopping for the ingredients for our chosen recipe, and cooking together. Our favorite was beef stroganoff. I used to watch World Class Cuisine on Discovery Channel in the early 90s until my cable company got Food Network. I love all things food - cooking, baking, eating, shopping, watching others cook.
So November 2006, while driving to the pohdunk town of Waldo, FL, Richard and I stopped at a Hardee's. If your not familiar with Hardee's, it's a very low-end, horrible-quality fast food joint. Think Krystal Burger if that is more familiar to you. I ordered the sausage biscuit...and the meat was the texture of canned dog food. It was inedible. I can't even tell you what animal I was consuming. I threw it in the garbage and thought "I don't want an animal to die to create something that is so unappetizing." I decided to try going a few weeks without eating meat... and this was the start of over 4 years as a pescatarian. I strive to eat only wild fish (as often as possible). My thought is that when it is wild, it has a chance to be free. It is not just bred (under poor conditions) to die.
Cooking for my daughter made me think about what kind of diet I want for my family. My husband is a definite omnivore. Basically, he eats everything. I knew that I wanted Lydia to eat real food. At 6 months, I made purees for her. By 8 months, she was eating cut-up grown-up food. At my sister's birthday party (when Lydia was just about 8 months) she ate a big bowl of chopped up rigatoni with peas. I am fortunate to have a child with a diverse palate at a young age...who just likes to eat a lot. Ironically, she's in the 5th percentile now for weight (started out at the 90th percentile when born). I just wonder if it is because I feed her so much healthy food...and she's being compared to kids who eat McD's and hot dogs all the time. Who knows?
Back to my family's diet...I recently realized how important it is for my family to eat meat. I started to learn more and really think about how I felt about my diet. I went to a great lecture last spring about the Weston A Price Foundation. The ideas are a bit extremist for me, but the basic principles are logical -- the healthiest diet is a traditional diet: fresh fruits/veggies, whole grains, animal products, raw dairy, nuts, beans, healthy oils (like olive oil and coconut oil), etc. Basically, remove processed foods from your diet. I definitely can see how that makes logical sense, but it's not realistic to avoid all modern conveniences. From a Darwinian perspective, our teeth are omnivore teeth and our species has survived because we do eat animal products. When you think about limiting your diet to mostly grains, fruits, and veggies, you must also think about all of the land that is taken away from animals to plant all of these things. I try to buy organic, but when you buy conventional (which I often have to do due to budgetary restrictions), you must also consider all of the animals that die due to pesticides. Being a vegetarian does NOT stop you from killing animals. We aren't scavengers picking random berries from a forest.
But the big question is... Was I ready to incorporate meat back into my diet, and if so, how? Most importantly, I needed to do so responsibly. I think meat should be eaten in small quantities. The conditions under which the animals are bred and raised should be close to those created by nature - animals should be free to roam their environment. They should not be overfed or given hormones to make them larger and meatier. They should not be given antibiotics because there are too many confined to a small space and they are all getting sick. And as my husband just added...they should not be butchered production-line style like they are cars.
Last Spring, we visited Crones Cradle Conserve in Citra, FL. It's a small farm in the middle of a forested area. They work with other nearby farms by growing different products on each farm and sharing with one another. One of the employees there was a woman about my age. She talked about how she raised a few pigs at a time, treated them well, fed them well, and when it was time, shot them with a rifle between the eyes and they died instantly. She said her son is getting older now (maybe 4 or 5 years old), and it was hard for him to really understand why he had to lose his pet...but that child will learn to respect and appreciate what he eats so much more than children who think meat comes from a drive-thru window.
While we can't all keep pigs and chickens in our yard (although I would love to one day if possible!), I want my family to remember that we are so lucky that animals give up their lives for us to be healthy. I have actually started to say "thank you" to the animal that is a part of my dinner ("thank you, pig, for allowing us to enjoy this bacon" kinda thing) so that am I reminded not to take this for granted.
Although we are the most intelligent and evolved mammals (take one lap around Walmart and this would be questionable), we cannot separate ourselves from the food chain. We just need to make wise, responsible choices using the logic we are fortunate enough to have.