Since I began school at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, I’ve thought a lot about bio individuality — the idea that no one diet is ideal for everyone. I just wrote an article for Girls Gone Sporty that talks more about it – check it out here! – and realized that although it’s pretty evident that I’m a vegetarian by reading my blog, I’ve never really discussed why I eat the way that I do. This is a post I’ve hesitated to write, but today I’m talking about it!
Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved animals and felt compassion for them. When I see bacon festivals publicizing their events with pictures of cute, happy looking pigs, I cringe. Pigs are intelligent animals, smarter than dogs research has shown, yet we keep dogs as pets and kill pigs so that we can top everything from omelets and burgers to ice cream and donuts with bacon.
Even as a young kid, I could never separate the meat on my plate from the animals I would see alive and well. The concept of an animal walking around breathing the air on this earth, then me eating a piece of its flesh for dinner the next week just never made sense to me. That’s why in a family full of meat eaters, I became a vegetarian at age 10 and have never gone back.
cows grazing nearby on a recent hike
Truth be told, I love being a vegetarian. As a teenager, I do remember having times where I felt like the odd girl out for not eating a hamburger at BBQs or chicken nuggets from fast food joints, but once I grew up and realized that it doesn’t bother me if I’m different than the norm, it has felt nothing but right to me to live this way. The more research I’ve done, books I’ve read, and films I’ve watched on the meat industry and the environmental implications of eating meat, the more confident and steadfast I feel in my way of life being the healthiest and smartest choice for me.
So, exactly what foods do I eat often?
I go heavy on the whole foods (fruits & veggies, beans & legumes for protein), whole grains (rice, wraps, pasta, etc.), and also eat a good amount of dairy, mostly in the form of Greek yogurt, cheese, and whey protein (although I’m still unsure if dairy affects my allergies — I’ve been considering going vegan for a bit to see, so that’s to be determined!). I love sweet foods and eat fruit like it’s nobody’s business, and I tend to have to make more of a concerted effort to fit a lot of veggies into my diet. A pretty high ratio of the food I take in comes from good-for-you carbs. I love my healthy fats, and eat nut butters, avocado, olive oil, and nuts all the time in small portions. Eating this way makes me feel energetic, strong and healthy. Though I love me some dessert or a bowl of pasta sometimes, if I eat a lot of heavy foods and/or too many sweets, I feel lethargic, tired and bloated.
Thinking back, perhaps I should have called myself a picky foodie. I really do love food. The joke is that I’ll try it just as long as it’s not anything that had a face!
I typically don’t at all feel limited by my vegetarianism in terms of variety in foods that I eat — unless I’m a restaurant or sporting event with nothing but carnivorous options, which happens once in a blue moon. I usually plan accordingly and have a protein bar in my purse or have eaten beforehand. There really are a ton of vegetarian foods to eat, it was just a matter of getting familiar with them and broadening my horizons as I became an adult.
In one of my lectures, the founder of IIN said something that stuck with me. He made the statement that diet isn’t religion, that it’s just food and it doesn’t need to be taken so seriously. On some level, I agree with this — I think that people have the right to eat whatever way they want, and who knows, my diet might change later in life.
But on the other hand, vegetarianism is more than just a way of eating. It’s more of a lifestyle. On a personal level, it’s saying that I don’t need to eat dead animals to be healthy, alive, and strong. It’s taking a stance against the meat industry, where so much abuse, neglect, and plain old nastiness takes place that consumers will mostly never know about, or care to know about because they like their meat and would rather stay in the dark. Like Paul McCartney said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.”
I won’t get too much in depth into this, but the most frequent negative response I get to being a vegetarian is people saying, “Humans are meant to eat meat.” But my question is, are we “meant” to eat meat just because the start of humankind ate meat because they had no other alternative? Is it right to do things just because they’ve always been done, especially if this way of life is harming our planet and our health?
Yes, human beings at the beginning of time ate meat, but have we forgotten about all of the time they spent and energy and effort they expended to hunt that meat, instead of picking it up at the local Acme or getting a burger from McDonald’s? Let’s just say that I agree that humans are meant to incorporate meat into their diets on some level. Even if that was that case, I don’t believe we were meant to pump our animals full of hormones and antibiotics, feed them diets that aren’t natural to them, then put that flesh into our own bodies all the damn time. Thankfully the organic and local meat production movement has grown in recent times, but it’s still a small percentage of the meat that people consume.
In all honesty, I’ve felt sort of torn, because I love and respect the idea of bio-individuality and think that it is extremely important to figure out what diet works best for you and your body. But on the other hand, I have qualms with the way the meat industry operates and agree with the above James Cameron quote. Even if the meat industry did run under more acceptable conditions, I still feel strongly that people rely too heavily on meat.
Because I do believe in the power of bio-individuality and know that finding a healthy diet that works for people as unique individual can do wonders in improving lives, I can respect that people can love their chicken, enjoy their steak, and be obsessed with bacon. Personally I just can’t relate, but I can respect that that’s their prerogative, whether I believe it to be healthful or not.
I suppose that in my perfect world, everyone would care more about where their food was coming from and how it got on their plate. Meat eaters would eat their meat in small portions instead of double bacon cheeseburgers. I’m all about the fair treatment of the animals whose lives are being sacrificed for people’s meals, which is why organic, local, ethically raised and slaughtered meat is the humane way to go if you do eat meat.
“I am in favour of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being.” – Abraham Lincoln
Question: Thoughts? What does your bio-individuality look like? What foods do you eat often?