The first time I gave more than a passing thought to what was actually behind the plastic wrap and on the Styrofoam trays in the meat section of the grocery store, I was a thirty-something mother, recently returned to college to complete my bachelor’s degree. I had lucked out and gotten into a history class with the best professor I had ever encountered, and his classes consisted of him strolling in, jotting some notes on the board, and then talking off the cuff (it seemed to me) for 50 minutes while I struggled to write down every word that fell from his lips. Dr. Hunt was brilliant.
During one of these encounters, he used a video clip in class (and this was in the days before YouTube, before the advent, really, of the internet as a far-reaching influence) and as he popped the VHS cassette into the VCR, I continued my frantic scribbling.
I stopped, though, when I realized what was taking place on the screen – it was a video about chickens, and the only thing I remember about it was the conveyor belt they were on, the little chicks, and the fact that part of their beaks were being snipped off for “safety” reasons. I thought to myself that they would likely be much safer if they were outside, doing whatever chickens did, rather than being transported via conveyor belt to whatever unpleasant experience awaited them. I was horrified to further learn that the male chicks were killed, since they could never lay eggs or produce anything.
This clip had a profound effect on me, and so began my journey into attempting to eat in a way that was in step with what I felt was right. I had never thought about food or eating in moral terms, other than the typical, “I shouldn’t eat this because it will make me fat.” That’s a considerably different moral stance from “I shouldn’t eat this because it used to have a face.”
My kids refused to follow me down the path of the meat-free existence I was trying to forge for myself and my family; I think it had more to do with fear of tofu than anything else. I was not a courageous cook, and so I bought a lot of Boca burgers and beans. I slipped TVP into the chili I made and didn’t tell the kids – I still occasionally gloat about that to this day. A vegetarian meal without complaining from the kids: a win for me, and blessed, blessed silence with freedom from having to justify my choices for just one meal.
Once the kids were moved out, I attempted to return to a vegetarian lifestyle a few times, ultimately with poor results. Much of my lifestyle was unhealthy, and the decisions I was making regularly in other areas of my life could not be offset just by eating a few salads.
A slow approach seems to be what worked for me, in that I began probably 6 years ago to move towards a more Paleo approach to eating. I managed to taper off the really unhealthy foods, and junk food of the non-vegetarian as well as vegetarian sort began making fewer appearances in my daily life. I watched a few more movies relating to healthy eating, and bought the diet book written by the fireman – Engine 2 – and watched his film as well. My husband and I ate a largely vegetarian/vegan diet, but I still was not losing the weight I wanted, nor was I feeling as healthy as I thought I “should” because of my virtuous eating.
Around this time I also attempted to create smoothies for myself and my family, with one memorable attempt being at the beach during a vacation, when I failed most epically to create something even close to palatable. My mother’s pained expression upon trying a bit of my concoction haunts me to this day.
I went from Paleo, to vegetarian, and then discovered a nearly fully meat based diet, which was low carb and introduced the concept of ketosis to me – those of you who lived through the Atkins craze(s) know how seductive the thinking can be. Ultimately, the keto diet I followed allowed me to finally break free from my attachment to white flour and sugar. I still found myself binging on doughnuts, cake, and cookies during particularly stressful times in my life, but I was largely ok.
Until I wasn’t.
One day, after listening to a podcast by Rich Roll, an endurance athlete who advocates for and follows a plant-based lifestyle, I suggested a meat-free day to my husband. He was enthusiastic, and so we ate a largely plant based diet that day. The next day, when we got up and discussed breakfast, we decided to do it again. Then again. I’m not sure when that was, to be honest, so I can’t say “I went to a plant-based diet on X date,” because it was so…well, understated.
And it felt really natural, and positive, and most importantly, like how I was supposed to be living. I have become much more courageous when it comes to food and cooking now (I know how to make kale chips!) although I still regularly encounter things in the beautiful produce sections of the grocery store that I simply cannot fathom how one would use in a recipe.
Now I feel much more balanced – the food choices I make to fuel my body are in step with the morals I have for the rest of my life, and I am rejoicing my return to all things green.
Green is everywhere in my world now, and I love it. My life during my years in Texas (those long and frustrating meat-filled years) was brown, drab, hot, and awful. In contrast, my life now is vibrant, green, and feels right. There is no conflict in what I think is the right way to consume and the choices I make in the kitchen.
I can see my smoothie as more than just a pumped up milkshake: it’s fuel for me, and it bears no resemblance to the smoothies I made years ago. It’s green, for one thing, and it’s actually healthy, rather than just masquerading as healthy. I feel closer to the world around me, as I run on the trails near my house with Straxi – the plants growing around the path might represent food, but the animals I encounter most definitely do not. I am brave enough to put kale AND jalopenos in my smoothie at breakfast, and I love it.