The gluten-free, non-GMO, lacto-ovo-vegetarian’s dilemma
This is what I’m eating now. Grass fed, hormone-free, of course. I’m not sure how I feel about it.
Eleven years ago I gave up meat. My vegetarianism didn’t start from some sort of moral or ethical urging. In fact, it happened unexpectedly. I was at a work lunch when our waitress asked if we wanted to hear the specials. She told us about the fish of the day, and then told us about the tri-tip. What’s that, I asked. She explained that it was “three different types of muscle.” The muscle? I looked down at my forearm. I looked back at her. Then, in one of those moments where you suddenly realize the most obvious thing in the world, it donned on me that meat was muscle. Ew. The thought of chewing on my own flesh sounded disgusting. And that was it.
Shortly after I stopped eating meat, I found yoga. I practiced religiously. Shortly after that I found the dogma of yoga. And while my dietary restrictions weren’t originally born out of ethical deferment, I quickly co-opted ahimsa as a way to justify my preferences. I scoffed at people who innocently made me food cooked with bacon grease. I tried to convince my then-boyfriend’s dad that his colon cancer was the result of eating meat. (The irony about practicing “ahimsa” is that it can unwittingly manifest in really douchey ways.) Anyway, my friends, family, and boyfriend bored of me and my blowhard demands.
Over the years my feelings about food and eating have morphed.
My beliefs about what ahimsa means have changed. My thoughts about yoga have shifted. It started to make more sense to me to eat what my body craves, even if what it craves is salmon, as it did three years ago. (And not a moment too soon — I live in Los Angeles where not eating sushi is one of the few sins still recognized in this godless town.) Still, I felt conflicted.
The thing about being a vegetarian is that people remember that about you. Everyone you work with learns to make special accommodations. It’s a conversation starter at social events. (This makes it both a bane and a boon for a borderline social awkward like me.) There’s an identity in being vegetarian.
And the thing about being a vegetarian is that you end up really thinking about sentient creatures. You think about things like breathing and being born. And you think that you probably wouldn’t like to be served on a platter with some lemon juice and a lovely béarnaise sauce for dinner.
But the craving for salmon remained.
And when I really thought about my aversion to eating it – was it the concern for eating something that had a mother, or was it that I liked my identity – I realized that what mattered more to me was the identity. So I ate salmon. And I haven’t looked back.
Along the way, I told myself that if I ever craved any other kind of meat, I’d eat it. Secretly I delighted in the knowledge that nothing else appealed to me. And then three months ago it happened. I craved red meat. I mean really craved it. Like I just wanted to go to Umami and bite into one of their Hatch chile burgers. If you’ve been to Umami, then you know that their burgers are about as big an actual cow. This was no subtle call.
Which was inconvenient. On the rungs of notable eating habits, pescetarian has its vaulted position, wedged somewhere between the lacto-ovo-vegetarians and the gluten-free camp.
I knew I couldn’t ignore the craving with any shred of self-awareness. I was hanging on to an idea, which I couldn’t defend. So I ate it. And I liked it. I’ve eaten it probably six or seven times since that first day. There remains a part of me that wishes that I still found meat gross. (That’s actually the same part of me that sometimes wishes that I still wanted to teach yoga.)
But at least I have some quirks left. Save for that matter of international diplomacy in the Arctic Circle last summer, I don’t eat fowl or swine or anything cute. I’m no monster, people.