Friday, February 6, 2009 by Daniel

Vegetarian no more

A bit of history: when I was five, my mom became a vegetarian. When I asked her why, she explained (in relatively kid-friendly terms, I assume) what a factory farm was. I was horrified. So I became a vegetarian, too. She was afraid that I would grow up stunted without protein (ironic, in retrospect), so mandated that I choose one form of meat to keep eating. I chose fish, but (since I was still a kid) what this really meant was that I chose tuna fish sandwiches and sweet-and-sour prawns. I didn't really like other fish. I remember being annoyed and a little disturbed by all the bones.

This continued until I was 13, when, on a layover in Hong Kong after 18 hours on a plane, I ordered the only thing on the hotel menu that looked at all familiar (steamed prawns). They were alive when I ordered them, and didn't look much different when the waiter set them down in front of me. Covered in feet and feelers and beady little black eyes, they were a far cry from the impersonal little fried-dough-ball shape I was accustomed to prawns taking. Feeling sick, I passed the untouched plate to my dad, and never ate fish again.

Until today.

For weeks, now, I've been teetering on the edge of my vegetarian resolve. Despite going through four dozen eggs, a large tub of cottage cheese, three gallons of milk and countless nuts a week, I am constantly hungry. And it's not a normal kind of hunger. I've caught myself lingering by the tuna at Trader Joe's, checking protein labels. Gazing with envy at the meat entrees at restaurants. Making unflavored-whey shakes (not what you'd call tasty) after the really hard workouts. I've been pushing hard with my training, and my body is trying to keep up, but I've been refusing it the building blocks it craves: animal protein.

After 25 years, an eating pattern is more than a diet. It's an identity. Being a vegetarian has been, for me, simply like being tall or being male: it's just who I am. So while rationally I could present all the arguments that I do believe -- humans are omnivores; I'm doing more harm than help to my body by not eating meat; I eat fish oil every day, how is that different? -- I still couldn't bring myself to take the final step.

This afternoon, I bought a can of tuna fish for $1.49 at Trader Joe's. It felt like the time in high school when I drove to the convenience store the next town over and bought a porn mag. I felt ashamed and guilty, and embarrassed that I felt that way. Buying it was actually harder than eating it, oddly enough. I mixed it with some mayo and pickles, and put it between two toasted slices of Ezekiel whole wheat bread.

It was really good. And it tasted exactly like I remembered it, making me feel like I was 12 again. I ate the whole thing. The vegetarian community is full of horror stories of people getting very ill after eating meat, but I'm not too concerned: it's not like I haven't been eating animal protein in the form of milk and eggs in massive quantities lately. I guess we'll see if my body rebels or not. But for now, I'm not hungry anymore.

So that's it. My plan is to stick to seafood for now, and see where things go - that may be the limit of my tolerance for eating animals. But I've always been of the mindset that a vegetarian who eats fish (or chicken, or only occasionally steak) is not really a vegetarian, and "pescetarian" is just too fussy, difficult to spell and tedious to explain. I like to keep it binary: you either are or you aren't.

And I am not.

3 comments:

Bill said...

Congrats, Daniel! In my case, several years of Marcobiotics following many years of poor eating habits really set me back. Some months of paleo eating and Crossfit and I never feel at a loss in my nutrition. Protein (and fat!) works. All hail Robb Wolf! :)

Jenn said...

Hopefully you'll be able to enjoy more meats, especially since this first step obviously made you feel better. I've often wondered how very active people, especially young men, could get enough calories on a vegetarian diet. Looks like, for you at least, the answer is "you couldn't."

Rebecca said...

<3 you.

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