Confessions of a Part-Time Vegetarian
I confess. I want to have it all. I want to enjoy the delectable, savory aromas that waft from the kitchen as meat is being cooked, tempting and enticing me to want to eat beef, pork, fish, and chicken. And I don't want to stop at simply enjoying the aromas. I also want to enjoy the delicious and satisfying taste of meat, fish, and poultry.
To me, nothing smells better or tastes as good as meat when it's being cooked and served as part of a meal. Then again, I know about the perils of eating too much animal flesh, and I desperately want to fill my body with high quality and naturally grown food, food that I believe is pure and good and oh, so nourishing and so perfect for my body. I want to feed my body and my soul in ways that say I love me and want only what is best for me. And that means I want to eat food that is low in fat content, with nothing added that might harm my body.
Is that too much to ask? I think not, but no matter what I want, I know there are challenges associated with eating meat, and challenges associated with becoming a vegetarian. As with other aspects of being human and being alive, all diet choices have both pros and cons. With this in mind, I have decided to work hard to benefit from both worlds by being a "part-time" vegetarian. What does that mean? For me, it means choosing to eat, several days a week, a diet that is more consistent with the vegetarian and/or the "vegan" alternatives. I still eat meat, fish and poultry, but not as much, not as often, and not every day of the week. And, I sometimes go days or even weeks without eating a morsel of meat, fish or poultry.
What is Vegetarianism?
The term vegetarianism came into use in the late 1840’s, but the idea of choosing to live on such a diet is actually hundreds of years old. The word diet is derived from Medieval Latin, from the word dieta which means “daily food allowance.” And, dieta is derived from an even earlier Latin word, diaeta, which was transcribed from Classical Greek, meaning "way of living." In the final analysis, what we choose to include or exclude from our diet dictates a lot about our lifestyle, or "way of living."
Vegetarianism is the practice of living on a meatless diet, and, while I realize there are many variations of vegetarianism, I'm only looking at several in this article.
Most people I know (including some family members) who are vegetarian consider all animal flesh as meat, including the flesh of fish and fowl. For these people, it is important to exclude meat from their diet. I know other people who consider themselves to be vegetarian who will still eat butter, cheese, eggs, and milk.
Then, there are people who are what I think of as "extreme vegetarians," and they are called vegans. Vegans eat only food from plant sources, and they exclude from their diets both meat and animal products such as butter, cheese, eggs and milk.
Vegetarians and vegans have many different reasons for making their daily food allowance meat-free, and for choosing a plant-based way of living. Health is probably the most important reason.
Many vegetarians point out that animals raised for meat are subject to diseases, and that eating the meat of diseased animals can make people ill. Many of these people claim that since vegetables, cereal grains, and fruits contain all the elements that the human body needs to maintain health, there is no need for humans to eat the flesh of animals.
Another "pro vegetarianism" argument is that meat is expensive, and that it is more economical to use land for growing agricultural products instead of for the raising of animals.
Still other people are vegetarian in their food consumption based on religious beliefs, or on their own personal moral codes. Many of these people simply believe it is wrong to kill any animal for food.
It's Not Easy Eating "Green"
Although plant-based eating can become very "complicated," I confess that I am somewhat "fed up" with the dangerous unhealthiness of how the meat industry operates. Fed unnatural diets and kept in unsanitary conditions, many (and perhaps, most) animals raised for food are injected with antibiotics to curtail disease, and with hormones to speed up their growth. We're told by the producers of meat that these practices do not pose a threat to humans, but is it naïve of us to accept this as fact? I mean, how many times have we been fed a load of bull by those who stand to profit from selling things to us?
We can opt to purchase certified-organic meat, because it is a healthier option, but it's also expensive and can be hard to find. For these and other reasons, I have given serious thought to the idea of becoming a vegetarian. In fact, I spent at least three weeks this year (2013) trying out the plant-based food lifestyle.
What did I find out? I found out that I had to work much harder, first to plan, and then to shop for every meal. I found out that vegetarians must plan their diets carefully in order to maintain good health. It became more pronounced to me that "fresh" meat can last in the freezer for months, even years, but most "fresh" veggies spoil within a week. I found that fresh cucumbers can last about two, sometimes three weeks, and so will fresh tomatoes if you keep them in a "crisper" type bin, and the fruits and vegetables I found that last longer than a week (sometimes up to a month or even more in the fridge) included onions, oranges, potatoes, carrots, beets, cabbage, lemons, limes, apples, and celery.
When I was first trying out my "part-time vegetarian/vegan" lifestyle, even when I was eating meat, I still tried to "heavy up" on the veggies, fruit, and grains. It's true that vegetables are the source of essential minerals and vitamins that the human body needs, and that cereal grains are among the least expensive and most readily available sources of energy. When I was enjoying longer periods of eating vegetables and fruits, in addition to having to put more time and thought into shopping for my food supply, I also found out that it is possible for diets that include no animal products to lack the amount of protein needed to meet the needs of the human body.
Protein is essential to human growth, and to the repair of human body tissues. Most vegetables, even those that contain protein, are inadequate for supplying all of the protein needs of the human body. In fact, when vegetables are the only source of protein in a child's diet, it is likely they will develop a form of severe malnutrition known as kwashiorkor (kwash-e-OR-kor).
Kwashiorkor is a disease that is common among children throughout the developing world, including parts of Africa, as well as in Central and South America. Caused by a lack of protein in the diet, this disease causes bloated bellies and thin limbs, as well as overall stunted physical and mental development.
The term "kwashiorkor" comes from a word used in Ghana. It refers to what happens to a breast-fed baby/child once the mother gives birth to a new infant. When a new baby arrives, the older child is "deposed" from the breasts so that the new baby can be fed, and the protein source (the mother's breast milk) is no longer available to the older child. And, if there is no sufficient replacement of protein in the child's diet once the protein-rich mother's milk is no longer available, the child will be at risk of developing kwashiorkor.
And while a growing child will face more challenges as a result of a meat-free diet, it's not just growing children who face challenges. It might seem that getting needed amounts of protein would be the biggest challenge for vegetarians, but, for many adults a bigger challenge is how to curb "carb overloading."
Someone I know who has been a vegetarian for a long time told me he has to work hard at keeping his weight down. When I asked why, he told me that he has to watch his intake of refined carbohydrates, such as white flour (which includes bread and pasta), sugar, and rice. Once digested, these foods turn into sugar and can cause spikes in insulin, which can and often does lead to weight gain, inflammation, and digestive problems.
Most vegetarians try to get the proteins they need by eating the seeds of legumes such as beans, peas, and peanuts. These foods are rich in protein. In fact, all vegetables supply some amount of protein, some providing a larger protein percentage and other essential amino acids than others, for the daily requirements of us humans. Variety seems to be the key. Consuming, throughout the day, a mix of vegetables, legumes, grains, beans, seeds, and nuts, will give you all the essential amino acids your body requires for nutrients and for energy.
Having My Cake ...
I think that the solution to my dilemma, at least for the time being, is for me to keep mixing it up. I like trying to "have my cake and eat it too." Living in both the meat-eaters and vegetarian worlds is fairly easy for me, because I'm single. I live alone and I only have to consider what I want to cook, and what I want to eat. And, I've decided that meat will be served in my home, but most days, for one meal only. There will be other days within the same 7-day period when I will have "veggie days," and won't prepare or eat meat at all. On those days, I will take care in making sure I get required amounts of proteins and other nutrients, but I'll get them from vegetables and fruits. Some of the non-meat foods I eat that contain good amounts of protein include: red and green lentils, beans, potatoes (surprise, potatoes have protein!), peanuts and almonds, dark-green, leafy veggies (such as kale, collards, mustards, etc.), and eggs and milk (when I’m doing vegetarian, as opposed to vegan).
I haven’t tried it, but my niece (a long-time vegan) told me that quinoa, a grain, is packed with a high-protein content. It is a complete protein, and it has about eight grams of protein per cup.
Living in both the meat and vegetarian/vegan worlds, I believe, is helping me to make sure my body is getting all the nutrients it needs, and I'm cutting way down on calories by consuming less meat/animal fat. By consuming smaller quantities of meat, I can afford to buy better quality, and the bottom line is, I'm still enjoying food I love, and I'm not excluding anything from my diet that I really want to eat and enjoy.
© 2013 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD