The Accidental Vegan







Remember this post? The one where I proclaimed that my omnivorous ways did not make me a bad person? How times have changed. Turns out I’m a very fickle woman.

Eating meat worked well for me during the winter months. A nice stew of vegetables and grass-fed beef on a cold day warmed my bones and blood. But at the time I was sharing most of my meals with a friend. It was easier to prepare one meal, and even if I’d wanted to I knew I didn’t have the discipline to say “no” to bacon on a Sunday morning. So I was an omnivore. And I loved it. What I noticed, however, was that when I was on my own the foods I craved were foods that hadn’t been born. They didn’t have a face and they didn’t have a mother. They were grown from the earth.

When spring arrived our schedules changed and my friend and I had to say goodbye to the beautiful tradition of breaking bread together. I miss sitting down at a table and sharing a meal. It’s a ritual good for the soul. I miss the conversation and the laughter and I even miss cleaning away the dishes.

But I don’t miss the meat. Or the eggs. Or the dairy…except for the feta cheese I used to add to my kale salad.

I remember attempting a vegan diet about six years ago. I don’t think I lasted two weeks.

But I’m a different person now, and being a vegan wasn’t really something I thought I was moving towards. It just sort of snuck up on me. First I let go of the meat. The eggs came next – that was easy. The goat milk was more difficult because I love it warmed with honey before bed and I love milk in my coffee. But I did it. Last was the feta cheese.

So here I am. My favorite meal these days is a bowl of steamed veg with a spicy tahini sauce. Go figure.

How long will this last? Who knows. That’s the thing. I’m not really putting any pressure on myself to eat any one way or be any one thing.

I have to say, though, that this time it feels different. My first challenge arrived yesterday when the staff and teachers of Samyama had a dim sum celebration with owner John Berg at Ming’s. I passed the challenge. The next big test will be in two weeks when I fly home to Pennsylvania for my mother’s 80th birthday. I don’t know how to break it to her that I really don’t want pork chops fried in butter and mock seafood salad in mayonnaise.

I think sometimes you have to choose your battles. Besides, you just can’t argue with an eighty-year-old woman with a cigar in one hand and a slab of raw pig hanging from a fork in the other. Sigh.

Wish me luck.

I Eat Meat. I am Not a Bad Person.

Public domain photograph of various meats. (Be...

This afternoon I had an early dinner with friends. The main course was a perfectly roasted, medium-rare prime rib. It was delicious.

Yes, I’m a yoga teacher who eats meat.

Before you imagine Mimm Flintstone drooling over a giant Brontosaurus burger, allow me to explain. Michael Pollan is right – it is a dilemma being an omnivore. But sometimes it’s who I am. It’s who I need to be.

Over the past year a friend and I carried out a nutritional experiment. Our goal was for each of us to find a balanced meal plan that supported optimal health.

We began with an organic, vegetarian diet that teetered on the precipice of veganism. Eight weeks later, after not seeing the results we hoped for, caution was thrown to the wind and we ate whatever landed on the dinner plate. That was not the best move. We quickly regrouped and tried again by introducing meat back into the diet. At the same time we reduced grains. Our morphed version of the trendy Paleo diet. Three months later and I have to tell you:

I feel great.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to sell my vegan friends on the benefits of eating meat. Because I don’t believe everyone functions at their best on a meat-based diet. Some folks thrive on a plant-based diet. Others need to add a bit of dairy to their greens. Me? I like a side of skinless chicken breast with my arugula salad.

The real reason I’m telling you this story is to inspire. It took work to find the foods that help me thrive. It was frustrating. Sometimes we took two steps forward and three steps back. But we kept at it. My friend and I continued to peel back the layers. Paring our list of foods down to their most basic, simple forms. We now maintain a mostly gluten-free diet that includes meat, eggs, dairy, fruit and vegetables. We keep as organic as possible, which means we are also, as much as possible, GMO free.

This is not a sugar-free, fat-free diet. It’s a good, wholesome, meal plan that lets a potato be a potato instead of a french fry. Besides tinned tomatoes, there’s not much in my kitchen that comes out of a can or a box.

Yes, choosing to eat meat was a struggle. Throughout my life I have spent short periods – sometimes a few months, sometimes a few years – playing and ultimately failing at being vegetarian. The movie Food, Inc. was a turning point, but not in the way you might think. The film taught me that meat eaters had choices. I had choices. My friend and I both decided it was worth the extra money to source our animal protein from farms that reared their livestock humanely. We look for labels that say ‘organic’, ‘grass-fed’, ‘cage-free’, ‘pasture raised’. I’m a big fan of the number system Whole Food’s uses at their meat counter to educate the consumer.

If our meat is organic, then it goes without saying that our produce is organic and, when possible, local. Milk is from grass-fed cows. We also drink goat milk. Warmed goat milk with honey and turmeric is a wonderful bedtime treat.

Mornings begin with freshly juiced organic apples, carrots, ginger and beetroot. I dilute my juice 50/50 with filtered water.

Breakfast might be boiled eggs with wild salmon or porridge made with Rice n’ Shine. Lunch is usually the largest meal of the day – a one-pot meat and vegetable stir-fry. Dinner could be leftovers but sometimes a simple bowl of yogurt and fruit.

While my new food choices are bringing results, the meal plan has its challenges. I wasn’t accustomed to planning three meals each day. It’s been a bit of a learning curve but mastering the Crock Pot has helped. So has preparing and then freezing large batches of home-made soup.

Food shopping, in the beginning, can be a bit like an episode of Portlandia. Changing habits takes patience and requires some knowledge. Remembering to read labels and then knowing how to translate what those labels mean, in the beginning, was frustrating. It left my friend and I agonizing for thirty minutes over which honey to choose on more than one occasion.

Fortunately, we’re fast learners.

Do I feel deprived? Overwhelmed with all the planning and cooking? Do I miss spending my lunch hour circling the hot bar at Whole Foods?

Not one bit.

I’ve gained more than good health from my new food choices. I’ve become more mindful and more thankful. More grateful. I can see the farmers hands in the mud I wash from my orange carrots. I can feel the power of the soil and the sun as I slice through deep crimson orbs of beetroot. This can’t happen when we’re eating pre-formed food from a styrofoam box.

The truth is, good health from good food is a wonderful gift. So much has to happen to bring that food to my plate. Pausing to give thanks for all the work and lives that contributed to the food that nourishes my body makes that gift even better.

ps…and despite spending more to choose organic, cage free, humanely reared food I’ve discovered I’m actually spending less on food because I know longer use Whole Foods as a refrigerator.  I’ve stopped buying one (sometimes TWO) meals per day from the hot bar!