I’ve posted quite a few recipes on my blog, some vegetarian, some vegan. I thought I’d take a moment to share my thoughts on food, my relationship to it, and my ideology behind what I serve my family.
For starters, and for clarification, here is the breakdown of who eats what in my family:
Me: I’m a full time vegetarian, part time vegan. I’ll explain the vegetarian part later, but as for the vegan, well….something inexplicable happened when I was pregnant with Theodore. Suddenly, milk and milk products gave me terrible stomach cramps that lasted for hours. Even four years later, I am unable to drink milk, eat most brands of ice-cream, or handle heavy cream sauces. I’m ok with cheese, cottage cheese and cultured products in moderation, but I have to be careful.
Theo: A few years ago, Theo was diagnosed as “milk intolerant.” He had a host of truly bizarre symptoms (behavior issues, congestion, constant sickness, stomach/digestive issues, etc) that led us on a scary journey as we tried to figure out the culprit. Some truly terrifying possible diagnoses were mentioned as possibilities, but ultimately, his doctors determined it was a milk intolerance (not an allergy). He was on goat’s milk for the first few years, and now we have him on a special, unhomogenized milk product that he tolerates pretty well. However, I know he has had too much dairy when he starts to get hyper or have a hard time sleeping. It’s bizarre, but true!
Oliver: Will eat anything you put in front of him. Annnnything. He had acid reflux as a baby, but has since outgrown it.
Mike: I have a wonderfully gracious husband. As a meat eater, he has been patient and adventurous as I’ve been on my vegetarian journey. All three of my boys still eat meat, but I only cook it once or twice a week. I’m not completely against other people eating meat, but – especially for my family – it has to be in moderation and of good quality.
I become a vegetarian about 7 or 8 years ago. I had just read Micael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” and watched the documentary “Food Inc.” I was inspired by Pollan’s approach to eat real food, less of it, and to consume a mostly plant based diet. But I was sickened by what I saw in “Food Inc.” In particular, the realization that what we are eating as a culture is no coincidence. That there are people who know just how awful our food is because they’ve made it that way, yet they willfully market it as otherwise. All for the sake of a profit for them and their companies.
I have never been a huge meat eater. Meat has never made me feel well, although I hadn’t ever stopped to ask myself why I was eating they way I was until I started educating myself. I began to understand that this idea of a meat centered diet was actually a relatively new cultural phenomena. I saw how our plate size has literally increased by several inches, while our portion sizes have doubled. I read about the absolute bombardment of additional hormones in our current diet, largely in part due to the added hormones in our meat products. On and on it went before I finally asked myself, “do I really want to be eating this?”
The answer, for me, was no. Like I said, meat already wasn’t my favorite as it made me feel uncomfortable after eating. But after all the reading and research I had done, I also felt like I wasn’t being a good steward of my body. I realized that in order to be able to truly know what I’m putting into my body, by diet had to change. I couldn’t eat things that had unknown additives, or as Pollan says – things your great grandma wouldn’t recognize on a label. I also couldn’t spend money on a product that was literally part of an immoral and unethical system. It’s not just about not eating meat; it’s about the fact that meat is raised, maintained and packaged in a way that has nothing to do with the good of the people consuming the product, and everything to do with a quick and dirty profit.
I’m not naive. I know I can’t limit my buying options to only companies and products that I believe are both ethical and healthful. However, I can do my small part. I can’t turn a blind eye to the things I had discovered through my research. So for me, that led to the decision to become a vegetarian. Here are a few results of my switch:
1. I feel so, so, soooo much better. I can’t emphasize enough the absolute transformation my body went through after becoming a vegetarian. And no, I’m not talking about weight or how I look. I just feel so much better. I literally feel ‘lighter” as a result. I digest my food easily and without any of the stomach cramps and discomfort that meat caused.
2. My food world has been expanded. I’ve discovered new foods, new recipes and new ways of cooking. Vegetarianism has opened up a whole new way of life for me. I’ve discovered ancient grains, fun new legumes, and experimented with exciting new ways of cooking. I’ve enjoyed every second of the change. It’s required work on my part, but work that pays off with every bite of delicious and healthful food I put on the table for me and my family.
3. I cook a lot more. I mean, a lot. Part of this decision means cutting out pre-packaged convenience food because, have you looked at those label? They will have 200 ingredients and only 4 of them will be things I recognize. Becoming a vegetarian isn’t just about cutting out meat, it’s about moving back to real food, less of of it, and mostly plants, as Pollan suggests.
4. I get to splurge on my favorites with less guilt. I love french fries. I mean, I looooooooove french fries. Now, as a vegetarian, even my biggest calories still come from plant sources (even my oils) which means that they tend to be heart healthy, easier to digest, and quicker for your body to turn into energy (as opposed to fat).
I’m not saying that becoming a vegetarian means that junk food is suddenly “safe” or “healthful.” But it does mean that I’m making my calories count. I can eat my fries knowing that I’ve balanced them out with a host of other, healthier eating choices. Also, there is a huge difference between a food like homemade fries that have a high calorie content but are made of nutrient-rich ingredients, to something you buy in the drive through that has a high calorie and fat content and no nutritional value. Big, big difference.
To close, I wanted to share something that I heard Pollan say in a talk I listened to online. He said that “Our biggest problem is our ideology, or the way we we look at food. We rely on “experts” to tell us how to eat.”
You don’t need an expert to tell you how to eat. You don’t need the government labels or a fad diet. If you stick with real food and if you listen to your what your body tells you after you eat that food, you will start to understand instinctively what you should be eating.
Oh, and just because you don’t recognize a food doesn’t always make it a bad thing. Do your research. Educate yourself on what real food is and what it looks like. I saw someone put back an organic cereal once because she didn’t recognize the word “acai.” Acai berries are considered a superfood and are full of antioxidants. The woman’s heart was in the right place, thinking that she didn’t want to eat something she didn’t recognize, but you can’t make intelligent choices if you aren’t informed. What resonated with me the most through my journey was the idea that we can’t wait for others to tell us what is good for us. We can’t sit back and let people produce, package and distribute the food they want us to eat, largely in part because we can’t trust them to have our best interests in mind. Why do we rely on food companies to make the decisions about what is acceptable for our diet? We have to be informed and intelligent consumers. We have to be good stewards of this amazing body we have.
Do your own research, and make the decisions that make your body feel good. For me, that meant becoming a vegetarian. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.