locavore

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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unicorn me, captain

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At the risk of this small space becoming a place where I eschew mainstream nutrition practices (oh wait, this is a kitchen for the bad kids after all…), let’s bring up another topic that I haven’t quite wrapped my head around.

On trendy food, let me be clear: I came to the dark side of avocado toast lovers frighteningly quick. I use gobs of coconut oil and make my own staple foods, and one year I ate so many bananas I literally developed a food sensitivity. I own a Vitamix, and convinced my mom she needed one, too. I’ve tried countless superfoods and techniques to make one food look like another and made things from scratch I didn’t know I was capable of (like ghee and salt). There’s a lot I’ve done to jump on the bandwagon, and sometimes the wagon is headed to a field of wildflowers. But there’s plenty I haven’t tried. If I lived in New York or even sunny LA, I might have encountered this new movement in person. Alas, I’ve only seen it floating around the insta-sphere.

Unicorn food.

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When it comes to health foods, buzz words like “whole foods”, “plant-based”, “gluten-free”, “seasonal”, “organic”, “non-GMO”, “superfoods” are oft used to describe a diet wrapped in a wholesome rainbow of wellness. I drool over well-arranged plates of colorful and bountiful harvest: plump and round tomatoes, rustic string beans, gleaming watermelon, whole-roasted carrots, fluffy red lettuce. As a home cook I often stress myself out over not being creative enough with my weeknight meals, but the truth is that I prefer easy preparation where the foods are mostly in their original form.

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That idealistic dinner table is what is known in my town as “too healthy.” But there’s another picture: elite superfoods that still come pre-packaged, which means they are sold at a higher cost and at a disconnect from the grower / producer. Think about the theory behind teaching kids to garden, which is that if they can understand what makes a carrot, they’re more likely to eat it. That’s lost with packaged superfoods. We don’t readily understand maca or moringa or chaga or even collagen. I argue that unless you’re already stretching your SAB (standard american budget) because you prioritize, or – let’s face it – are prone to grocery shopping sprees, you are not likely to purchase a $15 eight ounce bag of this unidentifiable food you’ve never heard of just to try it. We health foodie nutritionists do that because it is our passion, and because likely we’ve read research studies about and can apply the health benefits of these foods. But someone shopping the market who isn’t constantly researching how the body works (and not in a gimicky, Dr. Oz, new fangled fad sort of way) isn’t likely to enter that world unaccompanied. Thus, making it elite. Which is not to say it’s bad. I participate in this world. I love my elixirs and I do my food research and I keep up with the trends enough that things aren’t as new to me as they are to others.

If you haven’t seen the unicorn food movement, this is my take on the very basics:

  • Somewhat exotic superfoods which provide dazzlingly unfoodlike pastel coloration to a dish
  • Complex structuring of a dish with layered coloring, such as a parfait or rainbow toast
  • A moment sprinkled in magical energy

Unicorn health food vs. just plain unicorn food

  • Many a take on unicorn food showcases the vibrant (or decidedly not-so-vibrant pastel) colors found in nature. Things like beet or raspberry powder, spirulina or chlorella, and any combination thereof, bring to life a regular, black-and-white chia pudding parfait and provide a canvas for other cheerful foods like blueberries and kiwi. You won’t find additives or even dairy or gluten in any of Hippie Lane’s recipes.
  • Other interpretations have included the processed colorations of sprinkles and food coloring and more sprinkles wrapped up in chemical-laden dairy products and unidentifiable forms of sugar. And no one has capitalized on this more than Starbucks.

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I understand that not everyone is in support of a plant-based lifestyle. Some have a steady intake of dairy and even cane sugar, and just as I have looked at them sideways for not buying into the research that questions those elements as a standard in our diet, so too have I been given the side eye for losing my tastebuds to the bird food movement.

It is also true that not everyone believes in the same type of magic. For some, it’s an electrical current through our very woke, very alive nervous system. For others, maybe it’s a quieter moment of just being in control. It’s not an even playing field. There’s no rule book for the good life – no bible or scroll or stoner movie script can honestly encompass the best life for all of humankind, as perhaps our best humanity is found in our inherent individuality. It is – though, truthfully, it should not have to be so – a consequential luxury to boil in our own self-awareness and self-care until we are refined to the core of who we are, so as to add a burst of flavor to the melting pot of life. Those who live to survive; those who live at the mercy of others; those who do not know of the thrill of knowing one’s true self and serving one’s true self – they may not have an opportunity to access the earth-bound afterlife.

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That’s what I think of as “thriving”; that you can go beyond the beyond, because you have achieved earthly satisfaction. When your physical and social worlds are well-massaged and oiled up, your mental and emotional worlds can soar. And I see health as a key part of that. But it’s not the only part. The perfect foods won’t solve all our problems, but they will solve many of them, like depression and anxiety and autoimmune issues and ADHD and autism and obesity. They make healthier bodies and subsequently healthier brains and then individuals and families and communities and maybe, if we didn’t have a Big Mac-loving toupee for president, the world wouldn’t need so many bombs or seats around the news desk. But that’s another story.

Trendy superfoods are not the enemy, though.  Unicorn food: not the enemy.  Starbucks is the enemy.   Freshly-grown food – however that may be encapsulated in your diet – is the cornerstone of good health.  First, we must put these OG foods on our plates, ideally through a home-cooked meal using package-free ingredients.  Then we can worry about our superfood intake.  Superfoods are not the measure of health; they are the beyond.  We can strive toward them, but we must first ensure our access to local, seasonal foods.  Like every movement, it must start at home; in the body; in the self; and then – only then – move beyond.

eat responsibly for all mankind

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Prepping for breakfast/dessert

My philosophy around food and eating has probably changed as many times as I’ve been asked the question.  I really think that is okay.  We are constantly learning and educating ourselves, testing out our theories, finding out what is practical and sustainable, and what we are willing to make sacrifices for.  Below is what I submitted in an assignment for the Academy.  It’s an overarching theme rather than a strict yes-this no-that.  What also follows is my current interpretation of my own food philosophy.  I hope you will let me know your thoughts, what your food philosophy looks like, what you eat or don’t and why.  I am so curious!

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The components of a typical meal

Eat responsibly for all mankind.
Honor your privilege of choice. Choose foods with a positive impact on the planet and humanity; it is an ethical imperative. If you aren’t growing your food, someone in the world is. Make sure that someone is compensated fairly so they can afford their share of the crop.   Make sure your food practices do not compromise vulnerable communities around the world. Source, production, packaging, shipping, distribution, and price all have an affect on the overall health of the world and humanity. When in doubt, stay local and small and purposeful.

Eat foods found in their most natural form. 
Eat like a hunter/gatherer: from the earth, hand-processed, nutrient-dense, seasonal, wild and naturally grown, homemade, grateful and without waste. Know the source.

Eat intuitively. Look to the planet for healing.
Eat to fuel your body and brain. Eat what feels and tastes good, makes you groove and laugh and find your creative niche. Don’t be fooled by tricks and trends. Eat what you would make for yourself. Don’t eat the same thing every day. Eat sweet and savory and succulent and smart. Above all else, let the earth be your healer and guide. Nature already has what you need to survive.

Eat for best health.
Eat the right foods for your body so that you feel good in your skin. Eat because you get to, not because you have to. Keep an open mind and try various styles of eating to find what works best for you. When you fuel your body with the proper nutrients, you gain a certain zest for life, and in turn make yourself a better companion for your loved ones. You don’t have to be the grumpy one whose mind is always “elsewhere.” You can be present in your life and full of vibrancy.

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I was baking.  No refined sugar or flour in sight!

I wish we could talk about our diets in terms of what we DO eat, not just what we don’t.  But that doesn’t always give the whole picture, as you might tell from my philosophy.  Although I’d love to give the long list of wonderful, healing, and delicious foods I eat, it’s probably more clear if I note foods I avoid.  I’ll do a bit of both just for clarification.

Nay

  • Meat, fish
  • Dairy (all animal milk and byproducts, including sheep/goat cheese, etc)
  • White sugar and flours, gluten
  • Processed food: things with refined sugar, refined carbohydrates, vegetable/canola/corn oils and other modified oils.  To me, processed foods generally include anything that itself is not an ingredient  (granola bars, cereal, munchies, beverages, veggie burgers, yogurts, ice creams, etc) and also includes doctored-up almond milks, canned soups, chocolate, protein powders, etc.  All this because they almost always include preservatives, food colorings, MSG, other chemicals, GMO derived products (soy, corn), and cane sugar in all its various forms.  I am definitely one of those people that reads every. single. label. and almost never purchase packaged foods.

Maybe

If I’m dining out, it’s a bit of a different story.  I mean, at the end of the day, I’m a FOODIE, and I have needs. 😉  Because I don’t do it often (read: once every couple months), I stretch the limits and basically just avoid meat.

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We made frittata!

YAY!

  • I eat what I call “backyard eggs,” which means I get them from people I know who live in town, have small flocks of birds and let them run free in their yards, feed them vegetables, and hand pick the eggs themselves.
  • I am loving ghee, which is clarified butter with all the milk solids and lactase removed (it is not a dairy product and is a healing food; can be used like butter and other cooking fats).
  • I also love honey and it is my preferred sweetener of choice because the raw, unfiltered kind is packed with health benefits that many alternative, plant-based sweeteners are lacking.
  • I love fats (even saturated) and eat fairly low-carb.  I definitely could get more protein in my diet, and I’m working on that with things like sea vegetables and seeds and the like.
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Local honey sets us back a pretty penny, but it is SO incredibly worth it