As many of you know, I’ve been a vegetarian for quite some time. It all started when I was about 13 years old, looked at a hamburger and decided it wasn’t for me anymore. I eliminated all other meat and seafood from my diet the first year of college, which wasn’t hard considering the quality of college cafeteria food.
A lot of people assume vegetarianism is a healthier lifestyle, which it most certainly can be. But there is so much to learn! You can’t survive off of ramen and bagels—trust me; I tried. I lost a ton of weight, dropped down to a size double-zero and scared the bejesus out of my parents. I spent my first summer home from school having blood work done to figure out why I was so tired all of the time—it turned out I was anemic and wasn’t getting enough protein. Still, I was determined to keep up the lifestyle, so I studied up on the diet and learned what I needed to eat in order to get healthier. God bless my parents for sticking it out with me.
Eventually I figured it out and for the past 8 years I’ve been completely meat-free. It was relatively easy because Richmond is such a trendy city that you can always find vegetarian items on menus and in stores. Mike was raised in a family that loves different types of food so he is always willing to try new recipes and isn’t scared of tofu (we always joke that we’ve never set foot in an Applebee’s or Chili’s.) I was ready to go meatless for the rest of my life, until the health gods decided to toss me another curveball.
In 2007 I started getting pretty intense head and stomachaches and was referred to an allergist, who tested me for food allergies. It turned out that I was suddenly allergic to many things I ate on a daily basis and needed to start eliminating them from my diet. The biggest culprit? Wheat.
Have you ever actually thought about what is made of wheat? Bread, cereal, chips, cookies, BEER. It is overwhelming. There are even secret culprits like soy sauce and Twizzlers. What’s worse is that virtually every vegetarian meat substitute is made of wheat, so I was lost. I relied on a lot of those products for my meals! I tried to ignore the allergy and just eat past it, but oh my; was that a mistake. A migraine is not worth one beer, no matter how much you get teased when you tell your friends “No thanks; I’m allergic.”
I gave in and learned how to eat on a wheat-free diet, thanking the heavens once again that I live in a city with a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, both of which carry wheat-free products. I also thank the heavens that I have such understanding family and friends who tolerate me when I come over or when we go out to eat and I have to ask embarrassing questions about the food.
But the inevitable weight loss started again, all the specialty food was getting pricey and I was getting tired of eating the same three meals for dinner. Earlier this year I started to wrestle with the idea of adding seafood back into my diet. My reasoning for not eating meat has never been about animal cruelty; I just didn’t like the taste. But after living with Mike and being surrounded by his delicious cooking, I decided to give seafood a chance. It was a smart choice because I was soon enjoying food I hadn’t had in years with flavors that vegetables just can’t offer. And everyone knows fish don’t have feelings.
A few days ago, I started thinking about adding chicken back into my diet. This is a big move for me. Fish was a baby step; chicken is a giant leap. My biggest fear is eating something that has been fed hormones and other unmentionables. I have control over beans and fruit; I can’t control chickens. I also feel like I’m giving up on something I’ve dedicated myself to for 8 years. I feel like a failure!
On the other hand, I know it’s better for me. I am already so limited on what I can eat that I need to allow myself other meal options and chicken would give me that. Mike assures me that we can buy the hormone-free chickens, which makes me feel better. I’m excited to (let Mike) cook meals we can both eat. No more peanut butter sandwiches for me every day!
Right now, I think this is a smart move for me. I could be regretting it in a week. Either way, I’ll be sure to share the results of my first meal back as a carnivore :)