Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Month of Meat

Well... it's been about a month since I decided to start incorporating some meat back into my diet, so I thought I'd give y'all an update.

My first observation is that it all felt really, Really, REALLY weird. I've eaten very little meat throughout my adult life, and what meat I did eat, I didn't prepare myself. Even when I was on the fence as a vegetarian, my meat consumption was mainly at restaurants or buying pre-cooked rotisserie chicken or other pre-cooked meat. So let's just say I've been a tad bit out of my element.

As a first step, I decided I would just venture into the meat section of the grocery store and see how it felt. OK... well, first I actually had to figure out where the meat section was! Seriously, I've lived in this neighborhood for 16 years now and I had NEVER been to the meat aisle at my local store!

I've gotta say... it was a little bit creepy. I couldn't escape that feeling that I was wandering through some sort of morgue, or morbid movie scene with dead bodies lying around right and left.

Nevertheless, I gingerly proceeded.

So I'm tip-toeing through the meat aisle, and there's some butcher dude stocking things. I swear he was looking at me like I was from Mars. In truth, he probably was just trying to decide if he should ask me if I needed help or not, but I totally felt like he, along with the whole rest of the world, knew that I wasn't supposed to be there.

Right about then the Hollywood section of my brain started to take over... I could almost hear the crackle of a police radio... a voice comes across the scanner...

"HQ, do you copy? We've got a code 42 in progress here... Vegetarian in the meat aisle. Requesting instructions..."
"Roger that... vegetarian in the meat aisle... Is it frothing at the mouth or making any erratic movements?"
"Uh... Negative. Actually it looks a bit dazed and confused. Should I engage?"
"Negative! Do not engage, repeat, do NOT engage! Lie low, we're sending in backup."

Anyhow... once I got over the shock of actually purchasing raw meat, I was faced with the stark realization that I had no earthly idea how to prepare it.

Furthermore, on Rachel's recommendation, and in an attempt to be "greener" and less wasteful, I bought a whole chicken. Let's just say that cutting it up was... um... interesting.

The worst part was that I was so freaked and clueless the first week or so, that I never prepared more than one meal's worth of food at a time. Now, my general strategy in life is to cook large quantities and then either freeze or refrigerate the leftovers so that cooking can remain an enjoyable fun activity, rather than drudgery that must be done every day. So after a few weeks of cooking every single day, I had just about driven myself mad.

Actually, it wasn't really all that bad. And I feel like I'm sort of getting the hang of it, so life is slowly returning to its usual dull roar.

And although I still feel a tad bit "qualmy" about the whole idea of eating animals, I've gotta say that the results in terms of health and general well being have been nothing short of spectacular.

Seriously, I've got energy again, I no longer feel like I'm gonna pass out every time I stand up, my digestive "issues" have all but disappeared, I'm able to get out of bed before noon, and without really trying I've lost 6.5 pounds! In some odd sort of way, I feel a bit like I've been given a get out of jail free card.

I'm not sure what it all means, and it's certainly made me re-think my entire concept of compassion. If being compassionate toward other creatures means being detrimental to myself... is that really compassion? I dunno. I'm probably over thinking this whole thing, but it's really making me re-examine many of my self-imposed prison sentences.

Connie Orlando sent me a wonderful link to a blog post from a woman named Tasha who struggled with many of the same issues I did, and finally gave up veganism. It's a very lengthy post, but well worth the read. There's one line in there that I've been repeating to myself over and over:

 I will never feel shame or guilt for eating what my body wants and needs to be healthy.  

I'm not saying that everybody should give up vegetarianism, but I think that all bodies are different, and I've finally come to the conclusion that this is what my body needs.

I've still got a LOT to learn, and I'm sure I'll progress as I figure out better and healthier ways to purchase and prepare meat. But for the moment, I'm very happy with my decision.


  1. Oh my Goodness! I just stumbled onto VoraciousEats the other day and I thought of you. She really does a great job explaining her journey. I'm so glad that Connie sent it to you, because I didn't even think of doing that. Brilliant, aren't I?

    Your post totally cracked me up. I'm beyond impressed that you tackled a full chicken! That is not an easy thing. The idea of doing it in your position made me cringe thinking about it.

    Last, but most certainly, NOT least, I am so happy to hear that you are feeling better!! That is wonderful news.

  2. Barefeet - Yes, the whole chicken was indeed an adventure. What made it even more interesting was the fact that all 4 cats were swarming around my feet waiting for me to mess up and drop something. You know, I've always wondered what people fed their cats in the days before commercial cat food... suddenly it started to become clear...

  3. Oh no! Sorry I made it harder for you! Um, did you cook it first and cut it up afterwards? That's a lot less gruesome than the other way round (they are sold ready to cook where you live, aren't they? If you had to take the giblets out I feel massively guilty for giving you that advice. Though if you're interested... giblets can be boiled to make an excellent stock, especially if you throw an onion and a bay leaf in too.)

    I'm so glad to hear about the effect this has had on your health - that's really quite dramatic and a total vindication of your decision to eat meat. We mustn't forget that however much we strive to live by higher ideals, we are still animals.

  4. Why the heck aren't you doing standup? You are too funny. Most of the comedians out there now are just lame. You could bring back The Funny.

    Sorry, but even when I cooked/ate meat I wouldn't tackle cutting up an entire chicken. Me - knives - not a good thing, Martha. I prefer to stay attached to my fingers.

    True carnivores - our cats - can smell meat, even while sleeping. Many years ago, I left a package of pork chops on the counter to defrost. When I returned to the kitchen, the package and chops were on the floor with sweet Chester gnawing on half frozen pork chops. Be prepared for a predator attack!

  5. I'm glad to hear you're feeling better! The ick factor was a big part of why I stopped eating meat. I had a lot of nosebleeds as a child and once I made the connection between the smell of my own blood and the meat aisle, that was pretty much the beginning of the end. Good to hear you've been able to get over that for the sake of your body. I agree that compassion for animals should include your own body!

  6. Rachel - No worries, I didn't make the whole chicken decision based solely on your advice... it was also half the price per pound of the pre-cut stuff. Plus I wanted to try making stock... which I did quite successfully. I did do the cutting up part raw, and there's no escaping the reality that you're eating an animal that way, but I sort of felt like I needed to face it. It wasn't really that bad.

    Fonda - Wow! Thanks for all of the reading materials! I haven't been able to find organic chicken yet, but the beef I had was organic and grass fed... Is it just me, or does it taste a bit, um, gamy? Anyhow, I doubt I'll be going primal any time soon, but I do believe that my guts are generally much happier with fewer grains & less cheese.

    Connie - Ah... you are too kind. I am glad that you find my lunatic ravings funny though. And thanks for the tip on defrosting preparedness! Chester's story reminds me of the time my mother was cutting a chunk off of one of those 10 pound logs of cheese, whilst my brother was trying out his new policeman toys, which included a set of plastic handcuffs, which he had used to attach my mother to the handle of the drawer, which gave Tippy, the dog, a unique opportunity. Seriously, I think dogs are smarter than we give them credit for... as soon as Tippy saw that the cheese had been left unguarded she jumped up, grabbed the 10 pound log and high tailed it to the back yard for a feast. Meanwhile, my mother, still handcuffed to the drawer handle had some choice words for my brother...

    NotEasy - I too suffered from terrible nosebleeds as a child, I never made the smell connection before but I think you've nailed it. Do you still get nosebleeds? Sometime in my 20's I realized that mine were all stress induced. I fear I'm one of those people whose blood pressure sky-rockets when under distress. Come to think of it, learning to control the panic probably helped much more than just the nosebleeds.

  7. hey! sounds like you're doing the right thing for your body. Might have been, um, a bit bittersweet, but we are after all, omnivores, and don't have the digestive tracks to take full advantage of vegs...
    I agree about the taste of grass fed beef. It tasted like "grass" to me. I doubt that sticking with grass fed is actually the best for anything: environment, cow, human if you think it through. You can certainly get humanely cared for beef without the "grassiness" ;-))

  8. Dude, if you lived near me, I would cook the shit out of some chicken for you. But anyway...

    I think we often forget that bodies are different and what works for one wouldn't work for another. I was a vegetarian back in the day (never vegan) and I was sick as can be. My mama (a nurse practitioner) finally made me eat some meat. Instant better. Yet my mama wants to hurl any time she eats meat these days. We be different!

    So happy you're feeling better. I will shut up now.

  9. Hi again, I replied to you back on my own blog, but I'm over here again, because I didn't want you to miss it. I understood (and agreed with) your point completely.

  10. Jay - I think I'll be doing some more research on beef. To tell the truth, I've never really liked the taste of it, grass fed or not, but I figured that for the sake of iron and some particular B vitamins I ought to include some. Maybe the taste was due to the fact that I got the 95% lean variety, or maybe that what beef is supposed to taste like. Everything I've read suggests that grain fed beef is "molto baddo" for both the cow and for human consumption, but clearly, I need to do more research. I found some 85% lean organic beef that I'm gonna try... not sure if it's grass fed or not. I'll let you know how it tastes.

    Demandra - I would love any chicken cooking tips you can provide. I be sans clue... And yes, it is very nice to feel better!

    Barefeet - No worries - I think it's just part of my "persecuted minority" complex! :)

  11. The Beef issue:
    guess I am recalling farms I had been around growing up, AND on my perception of the definition of "grass-fed". Lots of cows are pastured, but have their diets supplemented with hay, etc., since these "beasts" are notoriously tough on the earth. If the contrast to grass fed are cows sequestered in a muddy pen pumped full of antibiotics, that's something different (I picture Japan's Kobe beef). To be exclusively grass fed, you'd have to have a LOT of dedicated acreage, and keep your fingers crossed as to the cows' nutrition. Guess it's all in the definition. ANYHOW... yeah, good source of accessible iron and protein.

    'course I always said if I had to raise and "prep" my own meat, I'd be a vegetarian in a heartbeat and one of my kids cannot bring himself to handling any raw chicken except the boneless/skinless breasts since only those are unidentifiable. Sigh.

  12. Jay - Those are very interesting points regarding the cows. I admit I know precious little about how cows are raised. I think it's clear that some research is in order!

  13. Easiest way I cook a whole chicken, which also provides great chicken stock--boil the sucker. Stick the whole thing in a pot with some carrots, onion and celery (rough chop--big pieces) and a bay leaf or three. Bring to a boil and then move to a simmer. When it starts to fall off the bone, it's done. Let it cool and then shred it. I pack two handfuls into separate containers and freeze them and then add to casseroles, salads, bbq burgers, etc. The texture really requires that you use it in stuff as opposed to just sitting down and having a piece of breast, but it's a super handy way to really stretch the meat out. I jar and freeze the stock. If I were really industrious, I would take the bones and make a 2nd batch of stock, but I'm usually too lazy.

    Otherwise I roast it--roasting pan is best. Start on its back, covered, move to its chest and uncover. Makes it yummy juicy. Tons of info out there on roasting dead birds.

    Cutting it up isn't that difficult either, but does take awhile to figure out. (America's Test Kitchen gives a good tutorial.) Then just roast, fry, bake, whatever the individual pieces. My favorite recipe for cut up bird: salsa chicken. 2 jars salsa plus 1-2 Tbsp. brown sugar. Toss in a frying pan, throw in bird pieces. Simmer until meat is no longer pink. Sauce will reduce to a delish delight. I usually serve with mashed taters and some kind of veg. Super fast, easy and tasty.

  14. Demandra - Wow! Thanks for the chicken cooking advice! I fear both celery and pre-made jars of salsa (think cilantro) would send me to the emergency room, but I think I could find adequate substitutions. I think I may have to go get a roasting pan... actually, I'm not entirely sure what a roasting pan is. Perhaps some Googling is in order...

  15. I'm a big fan of baking the entire whole chicken. The flavor stays, the fat can be reused for something else (frying eggs for example), bones can be used for stock and so forth. I make a giant mess when trying to cut up a whole chicken so I've just given up. I read about how popular desire to only eat white breast meat is causing all sorts of problems in conventional poultry farming which is one reason I switched to buying whole chicken - besides the economics of it.

    I really enjoyed Tasha's post you linked to. A friend of mine who is an omnivore stated the same things (that many vegans are secretly not) which I found surprising.

    Unlike anyone I know, I went vegan to check it out. I was curious on whether my skin would become any more glow-y or whether any more amazing things would happen to me. For me the crypto-carnivorism was and still is a huge turn off. When I eat a veggie, I want to eat a veggie - not something shaped like a meat product to remind me what I'm not eating. I also enjoyed exploring veganism as I learned great deal on how to creatively create non-meat based dishes. Besides, I noticed no extra glow-y ness or anything of that nature. But I did learn how to make a variety of nut based cheeses and a low of raw deserts along with the long list of rules so I understand vegans and their cohorts a little better. But yeah, the judginess exhibited by many vegan really pisses me off. I'm a fan of the "all things in moderation" approach - including what one consumes as part of their diet. No extremism please!

  16. Sam - I think I'll try baking or roasting the thing whole next time I get an entire bird. To tell the truth, I'm not a big fan of the white meat, the only reason I considered going that route was for lack of bones and to be "healthier" but I think that I'll stick with whole chickens or leg quarters from now on.

    I am so with you on the extremism thing... I totally love your approach to veganism.

  17. Wanted to add this that I found on the Niman Ranch website:
    "Contemplating grass fed beef might conjure up pastoral images, but in fact much of the cattle marketed today as "grass fed" spend their time in feedlots or feed yards being fed large amounts of hay, rice bran, almond hulls, and other assorted feeds that the USDA allows to be called "grass." Our cattle are raised on pasture, spending an entire grazing season with their mothers. We finish our beef cattle on grain because doing so produces the best quality, which is always our objective. Niman Ranch cattle go to slaughter in peak condition, when they have stored the maximum amount of intramuscular fat that results in superbly flavorful and tender beef."
    i know that was a long copy & paste and slightly graphic, but interesting I think.
    BTW, if you can find Niman Ranch beef locally, its consistently great!

  18. Jay - It is so disheartening how phrases like "grass fed" that were meant to be informative turn into nothing more than meaningless marketing gobbledygook. It's like everybody's always trying to game the system.

    Truth is I do a great deal of my shopping at the "salvage" grocery store. Great deals on stuff that has damaged packaging, is slightly beyond its sell by date etc. I found some great organic beef there... no clue what "brand" it was, but it sure tasted better than the grass fed stuff I bought at "Whole Paycheck"!

  19. This is certainly interesting food for thought. I have recently switched back to a very well balanced vegetarian diet (lotsa beans, lotsa hummus etc etc) after several years of eating meat and fish in moderation. I know that it works for me as I feel better when I do not eat meat and I have never had health issues as a result of not eating meat. I cannot however give up my omega 3, 6, 9 supplement which is partly derived from fish oil. Algae oil is way too expensive for my pocket at present and I need my omegas to treat chronic PMT. Health for me takes priority over diet or ethics any day. If algae oil gets cheaper I will make the switch. My husband just cannot do a vegetarian diet-the bloating for him from beans just never goes away and he really craves meat. I think it is very important to eat what is right for your body and your metabolism. Veganism and vegetarianism is not for every body type. I was a raw vegan once about 15 years ago for about 9 months. I felt hungry and dizzy all the time-it wasn't for me. I am very keen on avoiding dairy but I couldn't give up eggs. I'll probably just stick to my diet as it is now.

  20. Hey ZWL - I think that for many people a vegetarian diet can be very healthy. And if I could eat nuts and seeds and didn't have to restrict virtually every vegetarian source of protein, I think the story would be very different.

  21. Thanks for stopping by my blog and linking to these posts - it's great to see how other people have dealt with the switch from vegetarianism to meat-eating.

    It's funny, I was also completely clueless when it came to how to cook meat. I also started freaking out about hygiene and the raw meat touching other things (something I'd never had to worry about before). I also craved meat like crazy and wanted to eat it for every meal - something that has settled down over time.

    I roasted a whole chicken and it was great - I especially loved making broth from the bones.

    1. I'm with you in terms of the raw meat thing... it's been over a year now and I'm still not fond of touching it. I've discovered that it helps to fill a big bowl with hot soapy water whenever I'm preparing meat so that it's easy to wash my hands & utensils as I go.

      I've also become a HUGE fan of roasting! This may be because it's really easy to just put it in the oven without having to cut it up first. But also, when you roast the meat you then get all the good drippings to use for soups & sauces. Isn't bone broth wonderful?

      Good luck on your journey... it's always an adventure!


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