Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Musings on My Week as a Vegetarian

I signed a pledge to only eat a vegetarian/vegan diet during Ann Arbor Veg Week, from April 22-28. I regularly eat an omnivorian diet - anything that strikes my fancy, anything that meanders my way, anything that sounds good. Dinner leftovers for breakfast, breakfast for dinner, kugel warm from the oven, samples at the grocery store, dessert first, etc.

So to set limits upon my diet was a newfangled tactic. I'll readily make accommodations for others' religious beliefs and health needs. Pickiness and exclusionary dietary choices can be acknowledged, though admittedly with significant internal complaint and kvetching ... and even occasional swearing, depending upon the number of dictates and their level of pettiness. It is not my place to judge, however I dislike having others impose their own issues upon my food choices. It's one thing if you can't eat something; it's another if you won't.

Therefore, self-imposed restrictions are not normally my m.o. So, how did I do with my new eating regimen???

Frankly, it was fine - no major moral revelations, no sudden increase in energy or vitality, no noticeable hunger or fatigue. I had no significant cravings for a burger, although I tend to have difficulty maintaining iron levels - just ask the Red Cross, which has repeatedly rejected my very poke-able veins because I can't pass their test despite iron-loading before donation appointments. I didn't miss bacon ... I know! Who'da thunk??? But I did find that the usual brain paralysis I endure in trying to decide what to eat - when everything sounds good, everything sounds good! - was exponentially increased because a wide variety of dishes was suddenly off my menu. It felt as though there were constraints, even though I was still able to eat an enormous number of foods and quantity thereof.

I went to dinner one evening last week with my BFF Wendy and with our new friend (who seemed immediately like an old friend) Vicki - both are vegans. I looked through an assortment of menus online to find a restaurant where they would feel comfortable without having to make special requests or settle for side dishes. We chose a place that serves (among other items) four core pizzas, one of which is vegan; toppings can be added for $1 apiece, ranging from cheeses to meats to vegetables. So we ordered three of the vegan pizzas, each with a different assortment of goodies on top (from peppers to pineapple, onions to olives), and shared without any feeling of deprivation. We enjoyed hours of conversation over a hearty, healthy meal.

I must confess that I ate a gorgeous piece of salmon on Sunday night, technically still Veg Week (mea culpa!), because I attended a beautiful gala event celebrating my friend/boss' 25th anniversary as the congregation's rabbi and I'd ordered the fish meal before signing up for the pledge. Since the caterer is a good friend of mine (and an amazing cook!), I wasn't going to inconvenience her in any way by changing my order at the last minute. But I would have happily eaten the stuffed Portobello mushroom that was served as the vegetarian option, had I made the Veg Week pledge sooner.

I signed the pledge because it was an interesting challenge and - I'll admit it - a new schtick for blog posts. But regularly, even without this impetus, I consider the ethics of my choice to eat meat ... and, truth be told, I often feel guilty. Truth also be told, though, I happen to like meat. I don't need to eat it, but I don't want to feel that I can't or as though I'm cheating if I do. I can even resort to Biblical teaching as a basis to defend the practice; if God said it was okay, as long as there are restrictions as to which living creatures and which parts of them are considered kosher, then who am I to quibble?

I especially don't want to be vilified for my personal decision, regardless of any justification I may make combined with my conscience. I don't approve of the unnecessarily inflammatory "compassion over killing" politics that were a part of the Veg Week campaign; I unsubscribed from emails sent by the coordinating group because of their guilt-inducing tone. Just as Morrissey sings "Meat is Murder," he - and many vegetarian/vegan groups - do nothing to educate or to encourage people who don't believe as they do. In fact, they immediately put people on the defensive, causing them to react rather than reflect. This is one reason I so respect and like Vicki, as she nurtures and teaches rather than being strident and vicious. Look up her recipes, and you'll see that she makes lovely things and offers nutritional information; oh, and by the way, the recipes are vegan. Vicki is warm and welcoming as she invites you to consider your diet and your choices.

It's important to evaluate and to think about what we eat, whether deciding on a carnivorous vs. vegetarian diet, whether choosing to eat organic foods or conventional, whether eating seasonally or buying tomatoes in January, whether buying free-range meat or whatever's on sale, whether we cook from scratch or grab a quick meal at a drive-thru window, whether workers' and human rights are respected by food producers, whether fair wages are paid, whether we consider doctors' orders and cholesterol or blood sugar levels when we go shopping, whether we eat dessert regularly or save it for special occasions ... the ethical, economic, and other permutations are almost overwhelming. Each meal, each dish, each ingredient presents a dilemma with many factors weighing upon it.

And it is up to each of us to consider what we want to eat, without indictment or imposition from others.

So, I'll undoubtedly go back to eating meat - I tried a bite of Jeremy's bacon pizza on Monday without any qualms. Might I eat less of it? Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

Changing my diet was a good exercise in discipline and in being conscientious. It wasn't a matter of health - vegetarians can still eat macaroni and cheese and Fritos, after all, rather than brown rice and tofu.

But I think I'll go back to being an omnivore. Frankly, I already have. I eat what I want when I want to, enjoying myself along the way whether I'm eating a salad for lunch or nibbling on trimmings from a batch of brownies.

And my choices may or may not include meat, depending upon my whims. I'm a fairly whimsical girl, after all ... :)


Jenn said...

I keep trying to eat less and less meat, but it's hard when there aren't a lot of veggies I will eat. I would try it for a week though... I mean, I don't NEED meat, I just like it soooo much!!!

Cranberry Morning said...

Actually, I try to eat more meat, not less. I feel better when I have 20 g. protein at each meal. And do those people swat mosquitoes? But I truly do believe in the humane (and even kind) treatment of animals - and enjoy my beef stirfry. What does bug me, however, is seeing more dairy farms moving toward keeping the cows indoors ALL THE TIME - never on pasture, never wading through a stream. That is not animal husbandry; that is cruelty.

Jean | said...

Great post, Mary! I have been vegetarian at various times throughout my life. Last time was for three months during the early years of my marriage. My husband did it too, but he did not thrive. He lost weight (and had none to lose - single digit body fat percentage!), so we had to give it up. I wasn't up to preparing two different meals for us every day. Ideally, I would be vegan. But that's not going to happen. Anyone who reads my blog knows I source everything, especially meat, very carefully. And I like to tell my readers about it - without beating them over the head with it! We're all at a different place, and I just do what I do and don't get all judgmental about people who do something else.

Chris said...

If everyone had your live and let live attitude, this would be a better world. I find that militant activists for any "cause" to be an immediate turn off.

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