I love meat. Seriously. It wasn’t always that way, but over the years I have come to enjoy it far more than I should, at the encouragement of the American (and Southern) culture. Case in point last 4th of July at my parents’ house in TN:
While the photo my mom took with her phone is incredibly blurry, you can see how I am proudly (at the time) gnawing on a leg of venison fresh off the smoker. Meat-eating always felt like sort of a sport to me in my family, and my dad could smoke it with the best of them. Now I am embarrassed by that photo, chowing down on that deer with reckless abandon.
There was a time in my life that I didn’t like meat all that much, especially chicken and steak. Too fatty, to greasy, to tough, too bloody… none of it satisfied me, no matter how well prepared. But I lived in a house where you eat what was prepared or don’t eat (which I’m thankful for in many ways), and more convincingly, everyone kept exclaiming how great meat is! Something was obviously wrong with me, in my mind, since I didn’t like meat, so I kept eating it until I loved it. I’m not sure when that transition took place. But now meat seems to be an inextricable part of my life.
Fast forward to today. My mom and dad have become mostly vegetarian throughout the week and most weekends will smoke a chicken for them and my two nephews that live with them. This has been going on for about the past year. I thought it an odd change of pace for them, but they’re getting older, have less time and energy, and I figured it was that, combined with budget constraints that had them cutting back on meat. But last weekend, my mom informed me that my dad has become vegan. Vegan! My dad, who loves all things meat and egg and dairy… has become a vegan!? What in the world kind of hippie notion has come over him!?
My mom explained, without going into any detail at all, that he did it for health reasons after reading “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell and Colin M. Campbell. Health reasons made sense to some extent, but what was so bad about meat? I promptly checked out the e book from my local library and began reading, very skeptically, on my week long trip to Denver.
I won’t get into nitty gritty details, but the scientific evidence presented in this and other studies had slowly started changing my opinion of my diet-god, Meat. It subtly changed my mind enough by the end of the week (only about 20% of the way through the book, at that) that I was compelled to mention it to my meat-disliking best friend as she was complaining that she doesn’t really like meat, eggs, or cheese, but she eats it anyway because she needs protein. She chalked The China Study up to a bunch of BS research skewed to reflect the views of the author, and just another fad diet. When I got home, I shared some of what I had learned with my husband, who was also concerned that it was another fad diet. After some intense discussion, a little reading, and watching Forks Over Knives on Netflix, he finally understood why I had changed my way of thinking. He’s not ready to give up meat with me, but he can see the merits of a vegan diet and has agreed to try whatever I make to eat. I’ve told him that this doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t eat meat occasionally; it just means that I recognize that I need to cut as much meat from my diet as I can.
Now where do I start? I like vegetables, but don’t know how best to prepare them. I realized the other day that I don’t even know how to prepare dried beans or rice. Vegetables are expensive, and our CSA is over until March or April. What do I take to work to eat? How long will beans keep in the fridge once cooked? Salad doesn’t fill me up. But CHEESE! I love cheese about as much as I love meat. No pizza, because CHEESE. No favorite local restaurant because it’s a pizza place. Salad still doesn’t fill me up. I have no idea how to eat like a hippie!
I like stir fry. Thai peanut sauce that I make is delightful. I could eat Thai all the time. There we go. That sounds feasible (not) But still, what about lunch at work? I know I need variety in my veggies, so taking a bag of carrots to snack on may be great, but what if that’s all I eat there? What about drinks? No soda?! (Yes, I know soda can be vefan, but I’m doing this for health reasons, remember? No toxic sludge. Just like no Oreos and whatever other junk food is vegan.)
This was the ridiculous back and forth I experienced once I decided this is what I need to do. I realized just how addicted to junk I was, to the point that I didn’t know how to live without it. I was letting my not knowing how to switch over hold me back. Until yesterday.
Yesterday I came back to work after being off since Christmas. My boss kindly bought lunch for us from Arby’s. (Pretty sure he buys me lunch just so I’ll go get it and he doesn’t have to, ha!) Because I wanted to be “kind” and cost him less money, I used a coupon. Free small curly fries and diet drink with a reuben sandwich. It was fine, because I hadn’t started a diet yet, right? I was still trying to get it figured out, right? Arby’s was the swift kick in the pants I needed. 30 minutes after eating, I was miserable. Headache, tired, shaky. Just overall felt awful. Didn’t start to improve until 3 glasses of herbal tea-infused water (oh look! There IS something I like to drink besides soda or food coloring-laden mixes!) 5 hours later. My husband had leftover frozen pizza sitting out for me when I got home (he always leaves me a slice and I get so excited! See how addicted I am to junk??) and I knew I’d start feeling crappy again if I ate it. I had him wrap it up and save it for another day and I made brown rice spaghetti for supper. I don’t normally use sauce, but I add lots of butter, garlic, and parmesan cheese instead. Knowing butter was out, as was parmesan, I decided to saute some fresh garlic in coconut oil and add some mushrooms and salt. I used that to lightly coat the rice spaghetti, along with some garlic salt… and it was way better than butter and parmesan! While I cooked dinner for us, I also boiled a pot of black beans that my husband had soaked for me during the day. They turned out just fine, albeit a little bland. I can cook beans. I can drink tea infused water. I can figure this out. I can be a hippie.