As most of you know, I attended a meditation retreat earlier this year in February. It’s been six months since my retreat and one of the things that made a really profound impact on me was the vegetarian diet we adhered to while on retreat. In general, the more you meditate on the interconnectedness of all living beings, the more likely it is that you’ll become squicked out by eating meat.
Such was the case for me and long after I flew home from Boston, I refrained from eating all land meat. For transitional purposes, I ate fish for a while and was very pleased with my new pescatarian status.
After a month or two, I phased fish out of my diet more or less entirely (I think I ordered it once or twice in restaurants whose only vegetarian option was a salad), and went full vegetarian. In fact, I tried to limit my usage of any animal products as much as possible and fully intended on eventually making the transition to veganism. After all, it’s not just the killing of animals that causes them to suffer. Laying an egg is effectively like giving birth – it’s extremely painful. And it’s not like hens lay eggs every day normally. Without human interference, they’ll lay ten to fifteen eggs a year. As for cows, imagine living your life in a cycle of being perpetually pregnant. Sounds torturous.
I’m not here to make anyone feel bad. I’m sharing these thoughts because these were the motivators pushing me towards as cruelty-free of a life as I could possibly lead. That doesn’t even include the sustainability aspect of a diet high in red meat (aka, the only meat I can eat because I’m allergic to chicken and turkey).
Here’s the problem, though: even when eating red meat almost every day plus taking an iron supplement, I was still borderline anemic. Once I removed meat from my diet, no amount of iron seemed to fill the gap. After a few months of vegetarianism, it was obvious I was anemic again. Constantly freezing, fatigued, oversleeping, weak. My pride kept me from giving in, though. That is, until my husband had a “come to Jesus” moment with me.
See, he’d been dragged along on this ride because I buy all of the groceries and cook all of our meals. He still ate meat when we went out but he was feeling the same way I was – weak and fatigued. It’s more difficult to replace protein than I had really anticipated without making us just eat quinoa every night. Especially considering how few foods really are complete proteins, meaning they replace all the nutrients and amino acids most people find in meat. The fact that I have to limit soy due to my thyroid medication plus that I’m allergic to almost everything fermented or related to fungus added a whole extra layer of difficulty to the process.
So we made a compromise.
Our diet will incorporate meat on the weekends. This should be sufficient in combating the lethargy and weakness that we’ve both been experiencing recently. I went out and bought two big steaks for us to eat on our first meat day. Nick’s was about 2 lbs and he ate the whole damn thing in one sitting. While I still feel immense guilt about this – so, so much shame, it’s really inexpressible – I felt I needed to be honest and transparent about this experience so maybe I can help anyone else going through something similar not feel the copious amounts of shame that I do.
As a woman in America, I’m no stranger to food restriction. Although I tend to lean more towards the side of the spectrum that engages in emotional overeating, I’ve had more than my fair share of periods of calorie counting and dessert denying. And while my core intentions for going vegetarian were altruistic at heart, I know that silently I savored seeing my weight slowly decrease every time I touched a scale. It never felt like I was really depriving myself because I was still eating fruits and vegetables and cheese all of the time (so much cheese), but I’ve learned in adulthood to become wary of any lifestyle that encourages strict rules and restrictions. At the end of the day, what I genuinely want more than anything is to choose a way of life that best balances what’s healthy for me and what’s beneficial for the planet and the other life forms that inhabit it. So as much as I sort of cringe at the title, it seems like flexitarian is the way to go. For now.
Maybe as I become more competent and consistent in preparing high protein plant based meals that actually contain all the amino acids and iron we could need, I’ll phase meat back out. I’m sure the long period of having anxiety so bad that I could barely do more than watch Golden Girls and go for panic walks didn’t help our nutrient deficit. In the meantime, though, I’m reassuring myself with the fact that we’re still reducing the amount of suffering and carbon emissions we’re contributing by a considerable amount versus the lifestyle we engaged in ten years ago. And really, any sort of progress or effort is worth celebrating. With any luck, perhaps this post will encourage others to incorporate at least a Meatless Monday into their routine. Every little bit counts.