Veg-head learns moderation through meat-eating

By Caroline Young |

I looked up at my boyfriend’s face and then back down into my bowl where the dead bird was floating. It was day one of seven in my omnivorous experimentation after being a vegetarian since I was 12-years-old.

My first meal was organic chicken and dumplings. My boyfriend, who is a proud meat-eater and believes we are made to eat flesh, decided to order tofu. I am not sure if he was actually in the mood for the soy meat substitute that usually serves as one of my main sources of protein, or if this was some sick joke. Nonetheless, I had committed to eating this chicken, so I took my first bite.

Fully expecting to leave the table to vomit, I was surprised by my notoriously sensitive stomach’s reaction. I got through the entire portion of chicken and dumplings without hurling or feeling any discomfort. I laid in bed that night waiting for my stomach to start freaking out, but it didn’t.

The only slightly unusual reactions were 100 percent mental. I had weird “meat mares” of bugs crawling inside of me that night, as I thought about the chicken digesting into my system. But after that nonsense, it was smooth sailing.

Tuesday was Boar’s Head turkey in a wrap, which was probably the tastiest of them all. Wednesday was Italian Sausage, which excited my taste buds beyond belief, though the afterthoughts of how it was actually made caused some queasiness. Again, it was 100 percent mental.

Thursday was chicken again and Friday was pork. The weekend was intense for me- I consumed two steak tacos, some alligator and a roast beef sandwich. If someone had told me a couple of weeks ago I would be eating any of those three in the near future, I would have said, “absolutely no freaking way.”

But I got to thinking. I was 12 the last time I ate meat. I have done various papers and research on why being a vegetarian is healthier. But I had lost sight of why exactly I am committed to this lifestyle.

As a person who is considered by some to be a “health nut,” I care about what nutrients go into my body and what they do for me. As an avid runner and person with dedication to physical fitness, it is even more important for me to be conscious of how healthy my diet really is.

Am I recieving neccessary nutrients?

First of all, I had anemia in high school, which is caused by an iron deficiency. Although I am not anemic anymore, I constantly wonder if my body’s iron level is high enough. When it is, I know it’s near the minimum requirement for women, which is 18 mg a day, according to the National Institutes of Health.

When vegetarians eat dairy products in place of meat products, they run the risk of getting an insufficent amount of iron in their systems. Although there are other foods with high iron content, such as legumes, nuts and seeds, red meat is the most complete and sufficient source.

These all seem like good reasons for me to start eating red meat. However, I would have to make sure any cow I eat has been grass-fed, opposed to grain-fed. There is less of a chance that grass-fed beef has E. coli or other bacteria that usually comes from cows raised in non-organic feedlots, as reported by Mad cow disease is also incredibly rare with organically-raised animals.

Second, I want to have babies one day. Apparently, too many soy products can lead to problems with fertility, according to researchers from King’s College in London. They say a compound in all soy products called “genistein” destroys sperm as it swims toward the egg.

And a third concern for me personally is my intake of Vitamin B12. Animal products are a reliable source of B12 but plant foods are not according to the North American Vegetarian Society. This can also promote anemia, as well as nerve damage and gastrointestinal problems. Apparently, a B12 deficiency can also lead to mood swings and depression, too.

But then, of course there is a plethora of problems that eating too much meat can cause, like Alzheimer’s disease, bowel cancer and breast cancer. A Harvard Medical School studied revealed women who consume more than 100 grams of red meat per day double their risk of developing breast cancer, especially if they have yet to go through menopause. To me, it is obvious that too much of anything, whether it is common in vegetarians’ diets or carnivores’ diets, can lead to something destructive.

On the last day of my experiment, I ate a roast beef sandwich from Panera Bread. After comparing the nutrients from that meal to my usual mozzarella and tomato Panini, I realized each choice had its pro’s and con’s. The roast beef actually has 30 less calories, less sugar and one fat gram less than the Panini. However, the beef had less fiber, as well as more cholesterol and saturated fat. But it had 9 more grams of protein.

And out of curiosity, I calculated my nutrient intake on one meatless day and one day with meat during my experiment. I ended up with more overall fat and saturated fat when I ate meat but less protein and iron when I was without it. I consumed more carbohydrates during my veggie day but ended up with more fiber in my diet.

I could go on and on with comparisons. But when it comes down to it, moderation is key. Of course I will get less of one nutrient and more of another when I am meat-free, and vice-versa. Figuring out a way to balance all essential nutrients through a variety of foods seems to be the answer. And honestly, I started to feel a bit more energetic during my week of meat-eating. I was shocked at my body’s positive response to the animal flesh and my minimal emotional freak-outs.

Where does my food come from?

However, I had my mental roadblocks. For one, I could not order a gyro because all I could think about was a little white lamb, and it just was not going to be sitting in my stomach. Then I got to thinking about my true ethical beliefs as far as eating animals goes. I realized I never had made a solid conclusion on how I felt.

In my opinion, it makes sense for humans to eat meat. After all, that is how our ancestors survived. But now we take for granted the pretty little packages animal products come in at the grocery store. How many of us are willing to go out and skin the animals we put into our bodies? I know I’m not.

So, I think we need to be fully conscious of where these animals are coming from and what kinds of lives they had before they were put on the shelves and baked in our ovens. To me, an animal living a healthy life for some time and being able to roam freely is better than having a life of squalor living in it’s own feces. This is why I think it is so important to stick to organically raised and free-range meats.

Otherwise, the flesh comes from animals that were abused and loaded up with growth hormones and other artificial garbage that goes into our bodies. Animals raised organically can’t be fed things like antibiotics and can’t be genetically modified, reported by the Organic Trade Association.

Organically raised animals have much better living conditions than animals that are raised on commercial farms and feedlots, according to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The animals in the latter conditions are treated like economic commodities and suffer the entire time they’re alive. Most of them barely move more than a few feet during their existence. And birds are often “debeaked” on factory farms, in order to reduce pecking and cannibalism, common in overcrowded and stressed turkeys, chickens and ducks.

The final verdict

People will never stop eating animals. To me, the real ethical concern here is how the animals killed on our farms are raised. What kind of life did they live? Are they roaming freely or are they mistreated? Are they grass-fed or grain-fed? Are they pumped full of growth hormones or are they healthy?

So after 10 years, I have decided to cross over. In order for my body to be as healthy and nutritionally balanced as possible, I will begin to introduce only lean meats, such as turkey and chicken, but always free-range and organic. As far as red meat goes, I will consume it sparingly, every other month or so, for the extra iron boost I know my body needs.

I realized it is equally important to be conscious of my body receiving balanced nutrients, as it is to stay mindful of where it’s all coming from. And I found that certain diets are a lot like religions — being an extremist on either end of the meat-eating spectrum is not healthy. Like anything else in life, finding some kind of middle ground is the ultimate solution.

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