jonathan safran foer

eating meat again

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Disclaimer: I make no assumption about what is good and right for you or anyone else to consume regarding animal products. I make no claims regarding the consequences or benefit of consuming animal products. I only state what I am choosing and a brief cause for why. Please consult reputable research and data to form your own opinions.

It came to me as a matter of intuition. I began joking with friends, “You know how people go on cleanses where they cut out eating this and that for a week to see how they feel?” I’d been on over a dozen cleanses by then. I had a very “clean” diet by so many standards, but I didn’t feel all that great. I felt extremely limited and wholly unsatisfied and created shame around certain ways of eating and indulging.  And I started having extreme physical discomfort after eating beans, legumes, and most grains – which appear to be the power basis of a vegetarian diet. My protein sources limited, my energy and morale low, I suggested, “What if I added meat back in for a week, just to see what happens?!” Folks laughed at me: the nut always shaking up her diet. I wasn’t sure if I’d actually go through with it at first, but as soon as I gave myself permission and stopped making animal foods the enemy, the primal cravings quickly surfaced.

It’s been nearly two and a half months since I had that first bite of chicken in seven years. I survived on a low-protein diet for most of that time, so I wasn’t initially compelled to add meat to every meal. When I do have it, my portions are typically half-size and more like a condiment. For example, I’ll chop a bit to go in with pepitas and carrot shreds in a salad. Though it is true that I entertained adding meat back in for sufficient protein, I do not think a vegan or vegetarian diet lacks in protein.  My VATA imbalance no longer allows my body to support those kinds of plant-based proteins, and I was at a loss.  Subsisting off fruits and vegetables and nuts may sound like a primate’s dream, but I was getting a bit bored, and I often felt malnourished and ravenous.  Overall, adding meat and animal protein back into my diet has made me better able to stay satiated on a legume-free, low-grain diet.

More than simply changing my way of eating, I have changed my tune.  For a long time I was under the presumption that we had to find our one true way and stick to it.  I wanted to be labeled VEGAN so that no one had to guess and I had a set of rules to follow.   But my foodie nature suffered, as it mostly meant lame garden salads and faux-meat substances, and things were still highly processed and full of preservatives. I longed for a simpler way of eating without restriction.  Lately, I’ve offered my wandering heart more forgiveness.  Through studying Ayurveda, I have come to realize that we are constantly seeking a state of balance, and we may flow this way and that, day by day, year by year.  If I can understand my needs and how to work toward balance no matter where I’m at, then I can break free of any rigid systems and do what’s best for me in the moment.  I believe my scrubbed diet (among other things) tipped me into a VATA imbalance over the last seven years and I am in recovery.

Going vegetarian taught me how to cook. It taught me how to love vegetables and get creative when I wanted a “better” version of something. Recently, that fire started to dampen, and when I opened up the possibility of incorporating meat back into my meals, I began to see a future of delicious creativity ahead. I still think of myself as plant-based, because meat isn’t the main thing I eat, or even my favorite thing to eat. But it has been a good friend to me through this trying time.

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THINGS WORTH NOTING:

Ethics: I seek out the most ethically produced meat I know how. There are many ways to research this, many medias to guide your way. I urge you to make these choices for yourself. I want pastured chickens and wild fish. Local when possible. I’m not yet eating red meat or pork (never quite had a taste for them anyway), but if I did, I’d start with buffalo meat, lamb, goat, etc as they don’t tend to be factory farmed like cattle.

Prevalence: I try to only add one animal protein per meal. I may toss a boiled egg into my salad, spread cheese on a cracker, or stir-fry chicken and vegetables – all for separate meals / snacks.  I prefer goats’ milk cheese and sheeps’ yogurt to avoid factory-farmed dairy and lactase. I never desire to drink a glass of milk or anything like that. I prefer ghee or clarified butter with the milk solids (casein) removed, but do eat butter when that is what is available.  To keep within budget, I alternate when I buy certain products. I don’t keep them stocked all at once.

Mainstays: If I want milk for something like cereal or baking, I use a nutmilk or coconut milk. I find them cheaper and more delicious. I do watch out for fillers like gums and preservatives and “natural flavors” so I never buy shelf-stable boxed milk. I have found a canned coconut milk with only two ingredients: coconut and water. Nut milks you’ll likely need to blend yourself at home, but there are decent options in the refrigerator section with minimal ingredients in a pinch.  I avoid whey products (protein powders, bars, etc) as they do not support my personal health.   

More ethics: I’m still wrestling with how to eat animals. I have a tendency, with everything I do, to think through the chain of impact with a level of depth that makes it hard to get through the day without being on the verge of tears a dozen times. I make few decisions lightly. This one feels right for me for now.

Additional Reading:  You must do the work yourself.  You must be interested in order to form opinions.  You must research well in order to form grounded opinions.  You must believe for yourself in order to form strong opinions.  My journey has been long; nearly a decade.  These are some sources that have guided my way.
Avoiding Factory Farmed Foods: An Eater’s Guide by HuffPost
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan or any of his other books
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Any memoir about farming, homesteading, eating ethics, food politics, etc.
SOME carefully chosen documentaries: Food, Inc and other factory-farm docus.  Important to distinguish between the investigative ones uncovering injustice versus those trying to shame you into veganism.

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she cites her influences as

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Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimal Health by Jo Robinson

Maybe we know about vegetables and how we should be eating more of them. We know it matters where our food comes from and the impact genetically modified agriculture has had on global welfare. However, unless we personally know all the best farmers and constantly read seed catalogs, we may not know the difference between varieties of a particular plant, what to look for, or how modern agriculture has altered edibles into the familiar foods we know now. Robinson takes us into the farmers’ market, and even into the grocery store aisles, to pick the produce with the highest nutritional profile; and even offers tips on how to best cook it to preserve all those nutrients we’ve heard so much about. This book was so powerful for me that I even put together a grocery store guide based on Robinson’s recommendations. I think I still have it saved somewhere… I learned orange carrots are not original, cauliflower also comes in a rainbow of colors, and that red apples are sweeter than green (which I never thought about before!).  At the very least, some of the things constantly at the tip of my brain when shopping for produce are because of the ideas in this book.

More details: Robinson focuses on individual plants like apples, oranges, potatoes, greens, etc and explains their nutritional profile, how they were eaten by our ancestors, how they appear in the wild, how we mostly see them now, and how to source the most nutritious of the bunch to which we currently have access.

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The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz

When we were handed this book in our Culinary Nutrition course, they apologized to the vegetarians for the meat-centric photo on the front cover. I had no idea the impact this book would have on my thoughts about food, and how much it would break down almost everything I had been taught before. You will feel duped by popular science and the American government, wish for parts of your childhood back that you spent eating fat-free yogurt and drinking skim milk, and ache for your friends who haven’t quite crossed over yet. Not to mention that most of the country still operates under incredibly misleading half-truths and flat-out lies about fats and carbohydrates; you will likely struggle to see the world the same way again. But you will relax a bit about your primal cravings and know that you can add something to your list of things to rebel against. Fat is in; carbs are out.

More details: Teicholz debunks the “science” that flung the low-fat, high-carb lifestyle onto medical and government nutritional recommendations by dissecting the original and subsequent studies that got them there.  She makes the case for animal-based eating and animal fats by studying cultures not yet tarnished by Western imperialism.  She makes a caveat at the end of the book to acknowledge that ethics and meat-eating would require an entire additional manuscript, and thus the book does not enter that realm.

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Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

I have spent my entire adult life not eating animals. I completely overhauled my diet within two months of starting college and haven’t looked back. Still, my diet has continued to shift constantly from extreme (and extremely processed) veganism to allowing my refried beans to be cooked in lard to eating turkey on Christmas. But I’ve never fully embraced the return of meat to my diet, largely for the things I still feel strongly about after reading Foer’s expose. I don’t think eating meat is the devil, though I think there are incredibly unsustainable and unethical ways to do it. I don’t think not eating meat is freakish or crunchy or just trying to get attention. There are unhealthy ways to be a vegan, too. What I loved about Foer’s prose is that he connects a more scientific approach to assessing the effects of the meat industry to the personal and moral qualms that many of us can hardly stomach. He doesn’t make a solely data-based argument, nor is it highly emotional or philosophical. It begs us all to lay down good reason why we make the choices we make, once we finally realize our impact on the whole thing, and to move forward from there. Foer didn’t start out as a vegan with a mission to evangelize; he was a card-carrying meat-eater who did the research and came out the other end, as we all do, a different man.

More details: Foer tackles factory farming, cultural considerations, why we eat some animals and not others, red meat, white meat, fish meat, environmental impact, political corruption, and a philosophical digestion of morality.