I haven't eaten red meat since I was 12 years old.
At the time I had all sorts of indignations about the way the world worked. I was just starting middle school, my body was changing, and I didn't like any of it.
Blood was gross. Boobs were gross. Body hair was gross. I was hypersensitive about visceral things. Seeing bones, veins and fat on my plate made me squeamish. Why couldn't we all have been made of sugar and flour instead?
By the time I had entered high school I was beginning to create an identity for myself which included rebelling in subtle ways. I never really liked meat that much, probably because my mom wasn't very good at cooking it. When I found out that there were plenty of people my age who didn't eat any meat at all, I knew what I had to do: I had to become a full vegetarian.
Being a vegetarian was easy. It gave me an excuse to not eat a lot of things that I didn't like, including most of what my parents cooked. But secretly, I craved fish, and on a few occasions I snuck pieces of barbecued chicken from the refrigerator.
Throughout my 20s I have been a moderate "pescatarian," who occasionally eats poultry. But I don't like to use labels any more. I don't think there's anything wrong with eating a little grass-fed beef every now and then. In fact, I think it's rather healthy. But I still haven't brought myself to do it. I resolve to change that this year.
For a variety of reasons my personal eating paradigm has been shifting lately. Part of it is due to my ongoing education in nutrition, and interesting trends in this field of research. But I've also made an empirical observation: At this time in my life, I function better with more animal protein. I feel stronger and more grounded.
There are plenty of other reasons I'll be making a conscious effort to increase the variety of meat in my diet this year. Here are 12 of them:
1) I'm aware that my "natural aversion" to red meat is psychological, and not so different from other disordered eating habits that I had as a teen. These included an obsession with "low fat" products, and discarding the yolks from my eggs.
2) Meat is nutritious. Ruminant animal meat provides absorbable quantities of nutrients that are not easily obtained from plants. All animals contain a different spectrum of nutrients, so variety is always positive. Plus, women who are menstruating need more iron, which is best obtained from red meat.
3) Meat aids in healing the digestive tract, and may even help me overcome my gluten intolerance. You're going to need links to believe this one, I know. (The jury is still out on whether or not this is really possible.)
Many long-time vegetarians actually develop digestive probelms due to a low stomach acid. Regular meat consumption encourages the production of gastric acid and activates the enzyme pepsin, which we need to break down ALL proteins, not just meat.
4) I'm a proponent of culinary diversity. If the only meat I were offered were my mom's steak, I'd still turn it down. But since there are millions are dishes that include meat of all types, prepared in a variety of exciting ways, I can't pass them up any longer. I'll continue to eat vegetables with enthusiasm. But a little meat here and there will add new flavors and textures to my repertoire, and new sensations to my palate. I'm really excited about this.
5) I want to have more options when eating out. I don't do gluten for physiological reasons, which is limiting--and annoying--in restaurants. I can't afford to cut an entire food group out of my menu choices anymore.
6) I hate being a picky eater. A large part of my job is negotiating vegetables into peoples' diets--They come up with all kinds of excuses not to eat them. My dad is a perfect example: When his plate comes within 6 inches of a mushroom or tomato he squirms and makes a puckered face like a 4-year old child.
I don't want to be like that. A grown woman doesn't behave that way, particularly a grown woman who travels to countries where food is food, and if you don't eat what's in front of you, you die. (However, I will continue wince and squirm when I see people "cook" food in the microwave...)
7) I will still eat far less meat than the average American.
8) Buying ethically-raised meat changes the trends in livestock farming practices as a whole.
9) Supporting local cattle farmers is better than supporting international GMO soy.
10) I am a proud member of something called the Food Chain. I know where I stand.
11) Plants are highly evolved beings. Have you ever considered that? Are you conscious of what kind of lives your vegetables lived prior to being ingested? Did they get full sunlight outdoors, or were they gased into fruition in a hothouse? Were they picked before they had blossomed into adulthood? I'm serious about this--What about preserving the dignity of plants?
12) Last but not least, I'm going to South America this year. I want to be able to enjoy a friggen steak.
Have you recovered from vegetarianism? Thinking of making the transition? Your comments are welcome and appreciated!