Thursday, February 9, 2012

a vegetarian's dilemma

This kindred spirit wrote a thoughtful post on her blog sometime ago about vegetarianism, veganism, raw food-ism, and other diets/lifestyles/"-isms".

It made me look back and think about my gradual transition to my current vegetarian diet, which for me personally means no animal flesh or by-products that require killing the animal (like broth or gelatin), but occasional dairy and eggs, organic and/or from a local farm whenever possible. Now one  can debate on what does and does not constitute vegetarianism, however this is only my personal journey on how I've adopted the practice. And so, my transition:

around age 23: started giving up beef and pork. (Goodbye, pork adobo {the quintessential Filipino dish})

around age 24: started giving up chicken. (So long, chicken adobo... thinking, darn, my sister-in-law makes it really good...)

around age 26: 
- Started giving up fish. (Hello, spinach adobo.)
- Thinking that a flesh-free diet was "kinder" to our environmental resources due to the waste products from factory farming.
- Had to explain myself a number of times to relatives during social gatherings, that unfortunately, I'd love to try your chicken pasta salad but can't just move the chicken aside and eat only the pasta. Or, sorry, I'll go for the pasta with creamy Alfredo sauce (ironic, I know) so I won't have to move the shrimp aside to eat my way through your shrimp, noodle, and vegetable stir-fry.
- Hoped I was not offending anybody at said social gatherings, given the food-centric, omnivore culture I was raised in, but at the same time felt good about my choice to be vegetarian for all these reasons.
- Viewed food choices as black-and-white: people place themselves in categories, in these "-isms". Made me think that perhaps I should as well.

around age 27: 
- Experimented with a dairy-free and egg-free diet. I gave up dairy and eggs for a while, but did not adopt an allover vegan philosophy/lifestyle - meaning I still consumed honey, and used my existing leather shoes/purse, wool socks and coat, and silk scarves. I figured I'd rather keep them and use them rather than throw them into a landfill for the sake of calling myself "vegan."
- Ate more beans, lentils, nuts & nut butters, seeds, and whole grains as protein sources.
- Ate more soy.
- Got scared about the possible dangers of too much soy.
- Every now and then I missed raw fish sushi, due to the lack of creative options for vegetarian sushi beyond the ubiquitous, sad california veggie roll. (Raw fish sushi was so much a part of my childhood memories back home, as it was popular in the Philippines and in my family.)
- Started juicing fruits and vegetables.

around age 27, 2 months later: 
- Went back to my occasional dairy and eggs for additional protein (was training for a race)
- Dessert was just too good for me to pass up (hence the dairy and eggs). Creme brulee is just not the same with silken tofu, and - rum pound cake was just SO much better with real, organic butter compared to Earth Balance "butter" and real eggs from the farmer's market compared to the egg substitute. Revelatory, I know.

around age 28: 
- Read The World Peace Diet* and learned about (and read through parts of) The Omnivore's Dilemma*.
- Started questioning the "-isms". Felt somewhat inspired by The World Peace Diet, but I must have not fully understood its premise, as I was more confused than anything. In all honesty I wasn't sold on it -- believing that there are many other ways to peace than our food choices. Kudos to all those who tread lightly on the earth by adopting a plant-based, peaceful diet/lifestyle (and I say this with all sincerity - not trying to patronize here). But at the same time, I surmised that there could very likely be a peace-loving, compassionate omnivore raising animals humanely** just as much as there could be a belligerent non-flesh-eating person. And what about the rural farmer who makes a living and supports his family, supports his children's education/vocation through their sustainable animal farm?
- Viewed food choices as less black-and-white. Definitely more shades of gray.
- Liked Michael Pollan's mantra: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Liked the non-label, common-sense approach of this lifestyle choice. Still could not go back to being an omnivore though.


- Still experimenting with eating minimal dairy and eggs; no animal flesh/broth whatsoever. Still eating mostly legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains as protein sources.
- Tried a few meat substitutes (e.g., packaged frozen veggie burgers) out of curiosity, and did not like most of them, especially the ones that claim to taste like beef. Tried seitan, and it was just...ok.
- Realized that I'd rather not have overly processed, "manufactured", and packaged meat substitutes as a part of my daily diet.

around age 28, 29, 30: 
- Relied on my mainstay protein sources: legumes, nuts, seeds, grains. Soy in moderation: only miso, tofu, and soy milk.
- Did not miss meat.
- Still experimented with dairy-free and egg-free phases (short ones), but never completely "vegan".
- Feeling ok with my choices and health overall.
- Read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle* and felt inspired to source food locally whenever possible (since I can't quite pack up and start a farm at this point). Reinforced my belief in that there are many ways to peace and sustainability (however that's defined - raising animals ethically**, smaller carbon footprint, supporting and contributing to your own local economy, etc etc etc).


- Tried to buy more organic food at "Whole Paycheck," despite the higher price tag (I figured, I wasn't paying for other luxuries, such as cable TV  - I could spend a bit more on my daily nourishment).
- Still a little confused about this whole "organic" vs "local" debate, as illustrated below:


- This time though, I think people stopped asking about my choices and I stopped explaining. Of all my family members' questions though, my nephew's question is without a doubt the best one.

around age 31, 32: 
- Started questioning my other lifestyle choices. Had these internal debates about my food choices vs other product choices - for example, choosing not to eat meat because I claim to dislike the idea of factory farming. But at the same time, I tend to buy clothes that are inexpensive but very likely made in less than ideal conditions in a sweatshop in a developing country - quite possibly the human equivalent of factory farming in agriculture. Who knows.
- Wondered, while I am fortunate to be in a situation in which I can make better food choices, why can't I make better choices with other products? I do try to support more "artisan" made products like those being sold on Etsy, but by and large it's the small price tag that draws me to the inexpensive (possibly sweatshop-produced) shirt vs the "fair trade" item or the homemade, but more expensive item.
- Then I remind myself (or try to convince myself) that it's not all or nothing - that every choice counts.
- And so I turn a blind eye...

{since you made it this far...}

age: a little shy of 33: 
- I ate fish. Yes, you read that right. I. ATE. FISH. I went to Whole Paycheck yesterday and bought a 3-ounce piece of wild atlantic sockeye salmon***, which I baked simply in white wine, salt, and pepper.  All in an effort to boost my possibly-deficient vitamin D levels.
- Pushed guilty thoughts aside, and decided to be thankful for this meal. Silently expressed gratitude for what I doubt hope trust to be a truly wild, beautiful, naturally salmon-pink piece of salmon that swam its way upstream, ate what was naturally available on the food chain, and had all sorts of adventures (or perhaps I should say misadventures) before landing on my plate, to be eaten along with a big pile of French green beans (haricot vert if you want to be fancy) sauteed in olive oil, garlic, and lemon.
- Started thinking that it was, in fact, a heck of a good meal... though I disliked the lingering, fishy aftertaste of my lunch afterwards. Or was it the aftertaste of guilt I disliked more?
- Brushed my teeth, perhaps also in an effort to metaphorically brush away any remaining guilt.
- And this is not too long after I did an online search on vegetarian vitamin D supplements (no bovine gelatin). Ah, the irony of it all...

What's a girl to do?

Do I hold fast to the "-ism" that I've defined for myself, or do I let it go, listen to my body, and fuel it with what I intuitively think it needs for my overall well-being?

Am I doing my body good, or taking the easy way out?

I don't know. Maybe I'm overthinking. I do know though (for now) that I'm not ready for fish to be an everyday staple.

Interestingly, here is an article on former vegetarians now eating (sustainably-farmed/ethically raised**) meat:

Why Vegetarians Are Eating Meat

And, another piece that can quite possibly be a response to the above article:

When Did Vegetarianism Become Passe?

Is this what we can now call a vegetarian's dilemma?


*I'm not attempting to do reviews or critiques of these books by any means... just my personal thoughts on the matter.

**One might argue that there's no such thing as an ethical process of raising animals for food, with the premise that the very act of killing them for food is unethical... but this topic is beyond what I'm writing about right now. Once again... this is just my personal journey.

*** 3 ounces of salmon did not actually cost my whole paycheck. :)

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Jen said...

I'm impressed (but not surprised!) that you remember these stages of your eating life so well. This is such a complex issue for me, too, and it's definitely uncomfortable to think about the other less-than-fantastic industries I am supporting in other areas of my life (like your example of buying clothes). I often wonder how much we would shop if our clothes came with the story of how they came to be made. My own solution for that particular situation is to buy clothes in second-hand stores as often as possible (at least I'm saving them from landfills), and to shop when I truly feel a need for something specific.

The comic you included reminds me of a Saturday afternoon a few summers ago when I was absolutely paralyzed as I was thinking about where I should buy food for the upcoming week ... should I go the the farmer's market and buy conventionally grown local produce, or should I go to a supermarket chain and buy trucked-in organic produce from a mega-farm? It's important to be informed and thoughtful about choices, but sometimes we just have to go with what works for us in the moment.

I'll be curious to hear how you continue to feel about eating fish. And, I'm particularly interested in your research about vegetarian supplements. I know I'm probably missing some important vitamins but haven't taken time to research.

Mia said...

Hi Jen! Thanks for commenting. That is an interesting point about knowing the story of how the particular item is made. Definitely opting for used/second-hand is a less wasteful way - as is taking stock of what we already do have (which I'm still learning as I watch the clutter build up in my home... ugh).

That is exactly the dilemma though - conventionally grown local vs trucked-in organic... though it seems that many local farmers will attest to not using chemicals but are not actually "certified" organic due to the cost of that process. You're absolutely right though in that we can't always make the most perfect decisions and so we go with what works for us and our conscience (assuming we have, as you said, put some thought into our choices).

I'm curious to know how this pescetarian-ism (I know, another "ism") turns out. I don't have a particular craving for it now so it might have been temporary; or it might just be a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence. I don't know. I guess I'll just listen to my body.

As for supplements... I actually do take them, because realistically I know I don't eat in an ideal way on an everyday basis. I've been taking Rainbow Light prenatal (and NO I'm not expecting!!!), which is vegetarian. My doc recommended that since I do take supplements anyway to take a prenatal multivitamin even when I'm not actually expecting yet (but planning to in the future). It makes sense for me to do so for the folic acid (prevents spina bifida in babies.) But anyway, Rainbow Light also has a women's multi and many other products depending on your needs ( My vitamin only has 400 IUs of Vitamin D though, and my doctor is recommending more than that. I read that B12 is also important for vegetarians. But I’m certainly no expert – this is only from reading websites. I sometimes wish I could go to a nutritionist, just out of curiosity…
By the way I also appreciate Rainbow Light's sustainable and charitable practices - which you'll see from the website.

PS: I do have a good food memory, don't I? :)

cyberlaundry said...

...Syempre ang bottom line thought ko ay, "In the end, you have to be kind to your body."

While thinking "Me or the fishies" and choosing fishies might sound "selfish" and make you feel toothbrush-guilty, eh hindi naman puwedeng ikaw ang mahimatay at mamutla, diba?

I cyber-salute you for eating and living so well, and being kind to earth and fish and fowl, pero syempre I got worried for you. Be kind to you, too! Hugs!

(Disclaimer: Wala akong alam sa lahat ng mga -ism ng pagkain.)

Mia said...

cyberlaundry: MISMO! That's my dilemma - what is more hurtful in the end, eating fish or not taking care of myself? Thinking about this whole concept of "ahimsa" (hmmm probably another blog post later).

Re. "isms" - nakakalito! I think it satisfies the human need to put ourselves in categories. :)

Thanks dear. Hugs back.

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