Vegetarianism – Part 3

To open this part, I have to admit defeat, and I have to confess that my vegetarianism was giving me problems even as I wrote part 2.

I didn’t fail because I gave in to eating meat, though as I am sure many vegetarians do I did eat meat products several times by accident to my knowledge. I’ll explain that later. I failed, because I didn’t provide my body with what it needed.

As I wrote before, and as you know, humans store energy as fat, and we have a gene that makes us want to store as much fat as possible. It is the underlying biological mechanism with obesity, in fact. Another less known part of our biology is that our bodies also store a lot of minerals and nutrients in our bones. It is part of being omnivores, and red-blooded I suppose. Our biological development was one of scarcity and surplus, so we evolved to be able to go for long periods with little food, and/or poor quality food. This storage capacity is hard to monitor and can run out, though.

I still have plenty of fat stores, to be be clear, but my nutrient reserves are gone, and I have become very sensitive to my immediate diet. I made it through the holiday season simply avoiding meat and eating everything else because of these mineral reserves. But, I didn’t make it through the last couple of months of travels and events very well, though.

On a week-long trip last month, I did well to eat healthy and maintained a vegetarian diet, but I didn’t have access to what I normally eat at home, like Tempeh, Tofu, Ezekiel bread, and most importantly, my fortified breakfast cereal. Travel is already draining, so when I started getting a little more tired than usual I didn’t notice. And when I got sick to my stomach two days after getting back, I figured it was food poisoning, or a bug I caught. Both of these seemed plausible, since I was exposed to some sort of stomach bug, and I did eat a piece of questionable pizza, but what caused it isn’t the important part. What should have been a day or two of discomfort was a week of battling off sickness.

Anemia is a dangerous thing. I got lucky and figured it out before it spiraled out of control. Iron is a tricky and complex agent in our bodies, as I learned, because it is used in the digestive system along with every other major system. When I didn’t have enough, it cause a digestive impairment that made it hard to uptake the iron I was missing, hence the potential for a dangerous spiral.

What made all the pieces fall in to place was a trusty vegetarian beet salad. Beets have a wonderful side effect of showing me clearly (or maybe that is not clearly) whether I’m getting enough iron or not. Called Beeturia, (I kid you not) the condition color codes a certain bodily function, and makes it easy to know what’s going in my digestive tract. Once I realized the problem, and could eat properly at home, I recovered. But, it took a while, and it was pretty bad for a couple of days.

That was a failure. Under normal conditions I shouldn’t have been so sick, nor lost all those days. And, it wasn’t isolated. I just got back from another trip of only four days, and I have still needed to recover even if I haven’t been sick. On this trip I caused a lot of trouble trying to eat properly, but apparently still didn’t get it right. My host graciously cooked up some amazing vegetarian food (grilled nopales being the most memorable among them,) also stirring up some resentment and complaints from the natives, so-to-speak. Upon my return, I felt the need to stock up on certain foods again. It is discouraging that it took so little to drain me.

Obviously, limiting choice of diet is a struggle, and eating while traveling always puts a strain on my body, whether it is eating too much junk, just over eating, or simply stressing about what and where to eat. My recent trips were short and easy, though. Everyone (host-wise anyway) accepted my decisions about food and was very gracious. On future trips I can’t and shouldn’t count on good graces. I will have defeated many of the social reasons for being a vegetarian, if I become hard nosed, and truly start behaving as if I am different and better than everyone else (even if I am thinking it!).

Much of why I ultimately became a vegetarian revolves around that fact that I eat out of the house a lot. When I go out I have very little control over the quality and kind of food I eat, but being a vegetarian actually takes a lot of that back psychologically and socially. If I set hard lines about what I am going to eat based on my beliefs, it actually becomes easier to make choices while at restaurants or on trips. It is the same sort of effect that a diet (in the “Atkins diet” sense) has. If the choice is already made, I don’t have to be as strong willed with the menu in front of me. Convoluted and weak minded, yes, but it can work.

When I stock up my fridge and pantry at home I can do it with local, organic, food, or I can buy properly raised animal products from places where I have a direct line to the producers. This lets me just eat, and enjoy it, which is a very important part of who I am as a person. Food is as much about social connections and intellectual structures as it is about nutrients and biological sustenance. So, in that sense, my home is very food-peaceful. Out of the house is a whole different story, strewn with many of the problems I brought up in the other parts (1 and 2), and as such, requires careful decisions and thought, often involving conflicting motivations and politics. That eats into my enjoyment, and I like food and eating too much to play those games. But, low and behold, vegetarianism brought up a whole other more direct set of issues to deal with.

I recognize that becoming a vegetarian when I enjoy eating so much is a strange decision that may even seem self-deprecating, but it is consistent with my beliefs. Ultimately eating is a circular act. It is an ingestive private phenomena that also projects my beliefs out into society, and it is a momentary occurrence within life-long habits and traditions. I can’t isolate one side of the equation from the other for the sake of ease. Eating is about how I am living my life; not just in my mind, or just in my body, but in its totality. Knowing thine-self is no easy task, and never ebbs. I change, and how I know myself changes, so too must my eating. That is my point in all this.

My decision to not eat meat wasn’t a life long commitment. I am not, and don’t expect to be married to any one source of nutrition. Adapting tot eh local foods is how my ancestors lived, and so shall I. I don’t know when or where I will make the choice to eat meat again, but it will come eventually. As my life goes on, I am going to make decisions that are personal, emotional, and reasoned about what I eat, and I will enjoy that process. I find it absolutely amazing and exhilarating that I can get so much pleasure and satisfaction out of something I do several times a day, and every single day. Why would I give up any of that to a “strict” diet? Vegetarianism is just another way of exploring more foods and responses to foods. It is a way of satisfying my tastes and pleasures in food.

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