The gluten-free, non-GMO, lacto-ovo-vegetarian’s dilemma

Published on July 25, 2011 by      Print
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By Vanessa Fiola

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.

About Vanessa Fiola

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  1. Julie says:

    I love this article! I have disliked meat since I was a kid and I sometimes wish that I liked it – life would be so much easier! My family might consider me normal (I wonder what THAT would be like!)

  2. matthew says:

    Very nice. As a life-long sort-of vegetarian, I feel ya. When My kid asked if she could go vegetarian (“So I’ll be healthier, daddy”) I realized that I had been on food-cruise-control for years.

    • vanessafiola says:

      This really resonated with me. Maybe because of my own experiences? Maybe because I picture your daughter (whom I’ve never met, but can imagine) saying it? Anyway, I hope she knows that nachos are at the top of the food chain.

      • matthew says:

        Our food pyramid is actually a food tortilla chip. My kid makes me a better person. I hope I can do the same for her.

  3. Jenifer says:

    I find food to be such a personal journey.

    In 1999, I went vegan. It largely came from wanting to go vegan for a long time. I didn’t see it as ahimsic (yes, I was already practicing yoga and well versed), and of course, Iyengar says that practicing vegetarianism doesn’t mean one is practicing ahimsa. It can mean that, but it doesn’t automatically. It’s in light on yoga. Seriously. Like, no one ever reads that part. He actually says it’s more like a saucha practice than an ahimsa one. So, when people asked, I said it was saucha.

    But it wasn’t really about purification either. I mean, vegetarianism can be. But I wasn’t doing it for that reason either. I was just doing it because I wanted to. I didn’t find meat to be “yucky” or “immoral.” I just felt “called” to it. I have no other explanation.

    5 years later, my health plummeted. Yes, I was doing veganism “right.” I was soy free, wheat free due to reactivity to these foods. I was eating all whole foods. I was eating a lot of raw foods. I was enjoying the learning process — and the food — but I was not enjoying the side effects from dangerously low cholesterol.

    I then decided to add in eggs and dairy. I added in raw, organic milk from a biodynamic farm. I added in pasture raised, organic chicken eggs. I even knew the chickens. I also knew these farms created meat — from chickens, cows, etc. Because my husband was eating that meat. He was what I call a “conscientious omnivore.”

    5 years after that, I get pregnant. And I get Hungry.

    I can’t describe it any other way than — hungry. Specific cravings. Steak. Certain Kinds of Fish. Chicken. More Steak. Yes, Please and Thank You. I never got sick. And I ate meat about once a month. Hungry. I mean, my husband thought one steak was too rare, so he took it back from me to put it in the pan. I just ate it straight out of the pan. HUNGRY.

    Then we moved to NZ. I went back to my ovo-lacto ways. It’s wet here. I got damp. In the TCM method of damp, btw, where you swell up and get skin conditions. Nice. My acupuncturist recommends giving up dairy. My naturopath says to give up grains. And now i’m Hungry again.

    So I eat meat. Free range, organic when I can, meat. It’s ok. I’m not hungry. I’m possibly not ahimsic (if i was anyway) and i’m probably not sauchic either (if I was anyway). But, I’m happy with my diet.

    A friend of mine — a vegan who recently de-friended me from facebook for my answer — said “How can you teach ahimsa and not be vegan!?” and I said “well, because according to Iyengar here, and the tradition and history there, and some other information from Georg Fuerstein, and some other information over here, it turns out that ahimsa and vegetarianism aren’t always related. They can be, but they aren’t always. And people need to find their own way. They need to form their own opinions about what ahimsa is and how to practice it in their life. Personally, I like to teach vegetarianism under sauchic practices — where there’s a lot of literature on sattvic foods and such. So, you know, I just don’t worry about what people are eating, I just provide information on the history and context, and let them decide for themselves.”

    Bummer I got de-friended. I really liked her.

    • vanessafiola says:

      Hi Jenifer,

      Thank you for your comment. It sucks that your friend de-friended you over the ahimsa/vegan debate. It sucks when people don’t allow others choice.

      You’re right — food IS “such a personal journey.” I neglected to mention my bouts with raw foodism and the umpteen cleanses I’ve done in the name of saucha. (Mostly because I’ve considered the topic for a whole ‘nother post.) It’s an interesting argument, and I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Here are my scribbles:

      Years ago I read a quote from Michelle Pfeiffer in which she said that given the choice, she’d rather sit with the smokers, even though she doesn’t smoke. This reminds me of how I’ve come to feel about vegans/raw foodists. They’re just so goddamned serious. (Do I know exceptions? Absolutely. Hi Lauren! Hi Tim!)

      With due respect to Iyengar*, I’ve often experienced a heaviness (ironically) that follows the pursuit of “cleanliness.” Like maybe the colonics also strip away the humor? Again, this is not all, but just enough to where I’d still rather go to a dinner party filled with meat & potatoes folk. It just sounds more fun is all. (Except for you. You sound rad.)

      *I’ve given Light on Yoga as a gift more than once. Some people like to give gift cards. Me? Yoga texts.

      • Jenifer says:

        yay! i’m rad!

        i think it has to do with seriousness and striving. i think that sometimes we just try too hard, and that becomes heavy.

        and when we try too hard — for ourselves, whether that’s trying too hard to be nonviolent, or clean, or whatever of those yama and niyama, we kinda miss the whole point — which is to really live and be alive, rather than being worried about whether we are fulfilling rules or meeting our optimal potential of optimal-ness.

        it’s like goldilocks and the three bears, though. this one too hot. that one too cold, that one just right. Well, the just right one was just right for goldilocks, and for the little bear, but it turns out that dad likes his hot, and mom likes her’s cold — and well, we are all different. Daddy bear needs a firm bed. Mama bear needs a soft one. It’s just right for them.

        So maybe we don’t try so hard. And maybe we don’t judge mama bear and daddy bear and baby bear for likeing hot, cold, and luke-warm, you know?

        Maybe we just ease up.

  4. lisa says:

    Great article! It’s good to know where your food comes from and okay to be a little sad and grateful for the life given- meat or plants. I think hunter gatherers had something when they mourned and thanked what they had just successfully hunted and then wasted not.
    Even Buddha was grateful and ate meat when it was given to him and early Buddhists had their servants kill their animals for them so they wouldn’t directly be “responsible”.
    I dunno, when I buy an “organic” protein/meal shake with 25 ingredients that were shipped from all over the world to be blended mechanically then shipped to my local health food store where I go to buy it I know exactly how I feel about that- kinda of bad.
    Thanks for sharing your story!

    • vanessafiola says:

      Well said, Lisa. Well said. Not to be a total dork, but one of my favorite things to do is to go to the farmers market on Sundays and only make my meals for the day from what I pick up at the market (including spices).

  5. kiwi says:

    let me begin by saying that I really love this website, and I never comment except when it come to animals (yes I am one of those people). Self awareness should be added to your “words we hate” list. Having a craving for meat and “listening”to your body, does not make you self aware. I have a craving for Reese’ s Peanut Butter cups every day, it does not mean my body needs it. As you can probably guess I am a vegetarian/vegan(in restaurants) and I don’t wear leather or fur etc… and people think I’m weird and eccentric, and it is part of my identity and that is fine with me. I truly don’t “preach” about my crazy vegetarian ways to anybody(except I kinda feel thats what I’m doing here) but I will answer peoples questions and yes I do hope that it makes them think twice about eating meat. AS gross and disturbing as it might be I think anyone who choose to eat meat should have to watch a video of a slaughter house, then if your body still craves it, I guess I’ll have to shut my mouth. I’m not sure what the point of my comment is but I guess if I really tap into my self awareness I hope to draw you back to your vegetarian identity.

    • Jenifer says:

      i think the bottom line is to realize that what works for you isn’t going to work for everyone else, and just because someone comes to different conclusions on what is right for them doesn’t mean that they are not self aware.

      to me, it goes back to goldilocks. i take two things away from the story when i read it (and i read it often! 3 yr olds!):

      1. as i wrote above, ease up — what is right for one person isn’t right for another.

      2. goldilocks is experimenting. she is seeing for herself what the truth is.

      the buddha is quoted as saying that we shouldn’t do or believe something because someone wise said it, or because it’s in a rule book, or whatever. we should do it because we experimented and we know it to be true.

      goldilocks does this. She tries each bed. She tries each porridge. She tries the different chairs (and in some versions, shoes, books, etc). She picks the one that is “just right” for her — but doesn’t become so myopic as to believe that it is therefore “just right” for everyone, or the only way that someone should live.

      i did this. i was vegan. i was vegetarian. now i’m omnivorous. i’m quite aware a lot of information on nutrition and animal welfare/rights and everything else. i’m aware of arguments for and against vegetarianism. and moreover, i am aware of my body and it’s needs.

      i am sure that my diet — as it does each year — will fine-tune itself. this year, we are moving back to organics (finally found a good, affordable source!) and moving toward seasonal foods. i’m also growing more. I eat two vegetarian meals a day, and one omnivorous at this point. It works well for me. but, i’m always experimenting.

      and i’m blond, too, so goldilocks and I have a lot in common.

      except that i don’t just walk into people’s houses and try out their things while they are out. that is kinda weird.

    • vanessafiola says:

      I’m willing to consider that “self-aware” is a worthy entry for the Words We Loathe page. Do you have a less obnoxious alternative?

      Anyway, there’s a subtle distinction to be made. I make no claims to *being* self-aware. I was simply referring to that thing that you do when you check your motivation behind the choices you’ve made. If I really thought I was actually “self-aware,” I’d be putting that shit on my resume.

      Also, guys, I actually would eat a Reese’s every day if I wanted it. I’d probably be eating before/after/during my kale sesame salad and strawberry kombucha. Mostly ’cause I’m generally happier when I eat what I want. If a Reese’s every day doesn’t work for you, that’s cool too.

  6. jessica says:

    so, only in los angeles would the gluten-free camp be considered members of a vaunted cause. from over here on the east coast, not eating gluten seems kinda sad- comparable to a diabetic steering clear of sugar. necessary, maybe, but certainly not an entree into a particularly high sphere of humanity. ;)

    gotta say, tho, kiwi…. as a former lacto-ovo of 12 years, i’ve seen all of those slaughterhouse videos, and feel pretty happy about eating locally raised, grass fed beef. there are so many ways to eat more humane beef (and other meat) these days, that to me, the factory-farm slaughterhouse argument just doesn’t stand up anymore. if you’re asking me to think about whether i could be the person hunting, killing, dressing, and breaking down my meat, well, that seems like a pretty good question. i think that’s a fair request of those of us who eat meat to mull over. i’m hoping that the widening awareness of where our meat products comes from helps more people consider those ideas, and come to the conclusions that feel best to them.

    to me, that’s a pretty clear path to a bit more self awareness.

    also- reese’s are *really* good, and i hope you eat one every once in a while. (fully agree with every day being too frequent to indulge.)

    • Jenifer says:

      gluten free is good if you are reactive to it. you should have seen us with the damp. horrifying! :D we are actually all-grain free, but it’s not a cause. it’s just like, what keeps us healthy. :)

      i go one step further. i have been to the various slaughter houses, on the farms where the animals are raised, and so on. i have been hunting (but don’t know how to hunt myself — i would like to learn), and i’m learning to fish. i’ve never liked seafood, but now that we can collect it ourselves (since we live at the beach), i figured i’d give it a go. so, we are getting there!

      i really like food. i love to converse about it. :D i wonder if RY would be interested in “to recover from yoga” recipes. LOL

      • Jenifer says:

        and i have no clue how people can eat peanut butter and chocolate together. what is wrong with you all? seriously!!!!

        it’s just wrong. ;)

  7. david mink says:

    It is a cute article and the author has a sense of humor about themselves, always engaging. It is also full of BS, or given the author’s eating habits, maybe VS. Colon cancer is not caused by meat. It’s caused by not eating enough fiber. And while veggies have a lot of that, they also don’t have B-12. a vitamin you can only get in meat. Well, sure you can take it in pill form, but as we all know, pills are nowhere as good as food for delivering the goods. Still, it’s a cute read, and as long as a whole bunch of people don’t jump on the band wagon and decide they too never liked eating their own muscles (wow, where did that come from, are you Hannibal Lechter?) and also realize that being a vegetarian means getting serious about cooking and not just eating spuds and chips, no harm done, I guess. But one of my friends, who WAS a vegetarian, was always chomping on carrot sticks, slices of bell pepper, radishes, and I mean always. Why? Because it wasn’t satisfying. So what good did it do to keep shoving all those raw veggies down her throat? She never felt like she had eaten anything. Have a hot dog for God’s sake. Just one. With the works. Bet you won’t be stuffing yourself with that other crap all the time. Oh, by the way. She finally came to her senses and eats meat, on a moderate basis. Veggies too.

    • vanessafiola says:

      Hi David,

      Uh oh. Sounds like you may have confused me or my article for someone who gives a shit about what other people eat. I don’t. While I haven’t always been like that, it’s how I am now and have been for 6 or 7 years. (Lone exception: I probably judge people who like onions.)

      So, I’m not suggesting that anyone should be vegetarian or that anyone should be a carnivore. All I set out to look at was how I acted about food choices under the guise of certain lenses, e.g., ahimsa, yoga.


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