Pitch the diet, toss the labels


I was vegetarian for nearly 25 years – I avoided meat for humanitarian and health reasons and I felt very comfortable with my choices. I don’t think that I was strident – I didn’t impose my diet on others and I was fine with meat being served in my home. Yet, I got a lot of flack from omnivores over the years. I always thought it was strange, as I didn’t criticize their eating choices, but somehow it seemed ok for meat eaters to ask a vegetarian to justify protein sources and explain why I made this choice. I always wondered why meat eaters didn’t have to justify eating factory farmed meat, but I didn’t say anything. Really, the dude eating kraft dinner for lunch and a hot dog for supper doesn’t have to explain his choice, but if I have falafels for dinner, I have to give a treatise on it? Come on.

I know that it wasn’t their aim, but comments from omnivores and vegetarians also made me feel hemmed in, as if I couldn’t eat one little piece of meat even if I wanted to, ever. Then I began struggling with low iron, and started thinking about changing my diet, but part of me felt that I couldn’t start adding meat protein – that I would get no end of hassle for it, from both sides of the debate. Seven years ago, I began running half marathons and I found that I really needed some animal protein in my diet to sustain my energy (I know this isn’t everyone’s situation, that there are some very successful vegan ultra marathoners etc.) but for me, it definitely was the case. So I added grass-fed organic chicken to my diet, and I felt immediately better, had more energy, and wasn’t hungry all the time. Hurrah! Over time, I started including more organic local meat in my diet, and now I eat a balance of whatever foods are good for my specific needs. I still consume a primarily vegetarian diet, with lots of organic plants, seeds, nuts, some local grass fed meat, and I feel great.

There is a lot out there about healthy eating these days: Veganism, vegetarianism, paleo, gluten free, mediterranean… It can all get a bit confusing and overwhelming. It’s fine to experiment with various ways of eating and seeing what works best for your particular needs, but it’s just as important to make sure that these choices don’t become a rigid box you can’t work your way out of. Some high profile raw vegan bloggers recently received death threats (I kid you not) for blogging about their decision to start eating local humanely raised meat. Imagine the courage it took for them to “come out” as no longer vegan! And on the other side, large food corporations are trying to brainwash us into thinking that their new super-refined “gluten free” breads are healthy. What a zoo! How confusing!

Nutritionist Meghan Telpner recently posted a great video discussion about this called “How do I ditch the guilt over changing my diet?”

The challenge, Meghan says, is figuring out what is right for you at this particular time in your life, getting rid of labels altogether and being willing to adjust and revise your choices along the way. Check out her great videoblog about this by clicking here.


10 Responses to Pitch the diet, toss the labels

  1. Françoise says:

    You are right Adriane, I meant free-range, last time I checked, chickens aren’t ruminants, my mistake. 🙂

  2. Adriane says:

    I meant to say grass-fed is INaccurately applied to chicken. Incidentally, it should not be applied to pork, either. Grass-fed is specific to ruminants such as beef, bison, and elk.

  3. Adriane says:

    I too am constantly questioned about my choice not to eat meat but I find many of the people who ask have contemplated adopting a vegetarian diet and wonder about its viability in “real life.” While I don’t know that I will maintain it forever, I would be very particular about the type of meat that I could consume in good conscience. Knowing that most of my family members and friends happily consume factory-farmed meat means that I will never be comfortable eating meat they serve to me. How could I say that I eat meet just not the kind of meat that you are serving me? To avoid hurting people’s feelings, I would have to be a closeted meat-eater. Also, just a small, picky observation – chickens don’t subsist on grass, so grass-fed is accurately applied to chicken. Perhaps you are referring to free-range chicken?

  4. I am giggling as I read these posts because it is all so true!! I like the way vegan author Kathy Freston suggests “leaning in” to diet changes and determine what is best for your own health. It is so personal and it never has to be all or nothing. I am a newbie vegetarian of about 2 years and find people are mostly respectful. The protein question is so curious because when I did my research, I easily found so many protein sources for a vegetarian diet. I love having the opportunity to educate others if they are interested and don’t mind keeping my mouth shut if they are not. Thank you for the support and information!! Off now to make a vegetarian dinner for my meat-eating husband!

  5. Françoise says:

    I really appreciate your comment, Vanessa, as well as the comments from Leslie, Jess and Tara. What a great discussion. I am glad we are talking about this!

  6. Françoise says:

    I think that there are a lot of “bacon vegetarians” and “salami vegetarians” out there 🙂 Thanks Tara!

  7. Tara says:

    I can so relate to this blog post. I have been a vegetarian for 18 years and recently started eating fish for health reasons, much like some of the comments above. Once in a while I also have a small taste of bacon… as much as I cannot stomach the thought of eating meat, I have a soft spot for the occasional bacon. I get so much ribbing for it, you would have thought that I had broken some federal law. Live and let live. I don’t judge my omnivore friends for eating tofu. Its a lesson in how much judgement gets passed on the most mundane of topics.

  8. Vanessa Downing says:

    I really identify with what you’ve written. I became a vegetarian in 2003 mostly because I was turned off by the taste, texture, and smell of meat throughout my life and wanted to see what I could come up with to replace it. Very quickly, I found it was difficult for me to see meat as anything other than a piece of muscle, and that image just made my stomach turn! So it took zero willpower to avoid eating it. But after a few years, at the recommendation of my endocrinologist, I added some fish into my diet and found the mental imagery associated with fish was less distressing to me. Throughout this process, my mantra has been “deciding what to put in one’s mouth is among the most personal decisions one makes.” I never judged others for eating meat, and even cooked it for them. But I was consistently asked to explain my reasons for not eating meat (even to newly introduced strangers), and it felt as though some meat-eaters were attempting to goad me into telling them I secretly thought they were animal murderers. Meanwhile, my veg friends didn’t totally approve of my decison to add fish. So much judgment! Thanks for this post that encourages a balanced approach to evolving eating and attitudes about individual choices.

  9. Leslie Ross says:

    Yes! What a concept to be free to choose and not worry about your diet leading to dis-ease. Stress about what you eat can be just as worrisome as other life stressors.
    Feeling free to choose!

  10. jess says:

    so true! It IS a zoo out there! and so much guilt and confusion. Find what’s right for you and adapt as needed. Paying attention to your body is important… how you feel, how you function. It’s all related. Thanks for the post!

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