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.