When I was 17, I became a vegetarian. In the strictest sense of the term, I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian. I ate dairy products and I ate eggs. I did not eat seafood, and I did not consume any stocks (i.e. chicken stock) or derivatives from animals like beans with pork fat.
I started being a vegetarian after learning about industrial meat, egg, and dairy operations a.k.a. factory farming (for a quick overview, watch The Meatrix for an entertaining [yet tilted] view or read a more official view). My reasons were purely unselfish. I no longer wanted to contribute to this system, no matter what the cost. Unfortunately, I think it did have some minor health costs. Thankfully I eventually got my act together.
I did it “badly” at first, which caused me the most health issues, I think. I didn’t know how to cook very well and my family refused to change any of our dinners for me, so that meant that I was on my own from them on. I was usually very tired when I came home from soccer practice, so I would make pasta. I made pasta almost every day. I ate lots of bread. I ate lots and lots of fake meats so that I could get my protein. I ate an incredible amount of peanuts that boggles my mind to this day when I think about it.
Some strange things started to happen to my body, which I think I only am starting to understand even if I never understand them fully. I broke out in terrible acne which I had never before experienced. I started getting frequent and periodic abdominal pain that was completely debilitating followed by terrible diarrhea. Put yourselves in the shoes of a self-conscious high school girl for a moment…this was not good. It was terrible, in fact.I gained some weight, even though I was incredibly active.
I knew that I needed to change something. However, I was unwilling to give up my diet. My main motivator was the weight. I wanted to keep thin and stay attractive–I was in high school, and this was all the more important. I started to eat lots of vegetables (and discovered many of the ones I still love today) and upped my protein intake, coming more from eggs. I cut back on the peanuts. The abdominal pain and episodes went away. That was good enough for me. The ethics were there to stay.
I could complain about the difficulty finding restaurants, the teasing, or the unwillingness of my family to accommodate. None of that mattered. To me I made a decision based on my heart and that took precedence.
Fast forward years later and I discovered through experience and research that not all meat comes from these “factory farms.” My perspective expanded and is still evolving. After learning about grass-finished meats, realizing I had no real issue with wild game, pastured poultry, pastured pork, or other ethical meats, it took me about a year to get the guts up to eat it again. In fact, when I worked next to grass-finished meat grower at a farmers market one summer, the worker would ask me about my vegetarianism and I didn’t know what to say to him. I knew what to say to others, sure, with fast food habits or a love for mass grocery-packed meats, but the sausage sizzling in his sample pan had me confused. We developed a friendship–my eating habits the butt of the jokes. He would laugh with a knowing smile and tell me he was a vegetarian and a vegan for about ten years.
I had become so accustomed to resisting it, it was actually quite difficult to switch back to being an omnivore. This goes without saying–I still do not feel comfortable eating some meats, and I would rather be part-time vegetarian than to contribute to the dollar value demand of some of them. What I do now is put a strong emphasis on buying the meat I do eat (and I eat a fair amount now) from my farmers who I meet face to face and whose practices I feel right about supporting; whose community (our community) I want to help economically. I enjoy indulging in the different cuts of meat knowing that the animals were treated with love and respect. That’s how it is currently and if my conscience changes in future days this could change, as long as I eat with a light heart. My resulting intersection with evolutionary eating came because it fit my ethical standards primarily and was secondarily healthy. I feel that for many it is the opposite–the primary reason for adhering to evolutionary standards is personal weight loss or health, the secondary is the ethical benefit that comes with it.
This is merely an observation and an inclination but vegetarians, I believe, usually have different reasons than evolutionary eaters for getting started with their diet of choice. I feel as if more often than not, it is for the “we”–reducing impact on the environment, voting with the fork, and animal welfare. Sometimes it is the “me”–people will do it to lose weight (harder than it seems, though).
In many Paleo/Primal/Evolutionary Fitness circles I wonder how much of an emphasis ethical eating actually has as a primary focus. I read from many of these blogs that we should be eating grass-fed beef or wild game, but it seems to me that the primary reasoning for this decision is personal health. I was reading one prominent Paleo blogger that in his “What I eat” post talked about what supplements he took when he ate McDonald’s. What about the larger factors? What about our community, what about the planet? Isn’t advocacy of this movement primarily for personal gain i.e. vanity and personal health? What is this really about? These are all good questions, I believe to find the root of when choosing any diet for oneself.
Vegetarianism, for me, was about the “we.” I’m sure it’s the same for many others. It is frequently about conscience, and I find this admirable and I respect it. However, vegetarianism, I believe, should be done carefully so that the health damage possibilities are minimized. The Paleo/Primal/Evolutionary circles are sometimes too much about the “me.” It’s great to see results, but what good are these if people around us are sick? By no means, however, is this everyone. Nor is it necessarily wrong. It’s just not something that I can identify with–I come from a different philosophical leaning.
The bottom line and my only true call for action is I hope for more folks to be open minded about different diet and lifestyle choices, and to put less of an emphasis on dogma and more of an emphasis on our community of the human race–whether vegetarian, vegan, raw, or paleo. May it be so.