sex, money, and miscellany: talking about what matters


In Uncategorized on March 24, 2010 at 7:14 am

My acupuncturist has been after me to eat meat.

I was a vegetarian for 15 years. The year I turned 30 was the third year of intense cravings for a raw, pink fish that I had identified as salmon. I would get images of it even before I knew what it was; I knew what it would taste like, feel like in my mouth, and I knew it would satisfy some kind of deep nutritional need. I tried everything else: flaxseed for omega-3’s, eggs for protein, more food, less food, better quality food. Portland, Oregon was a good place to exhaust my options, and exhaust them I did. At last it was over. There was nothing left to try, and my body was very clear about what it needed. I added fish back into my diet–starting with sushi and sashimi–mindful and grateful for the lives that had been sacrificed so that I might eat. I thought about the lives of the animals, big, powerful, complex, and the gift they made to me…and I ate with pleasure. I took the time to feel the texture, taste the tastes, to appreciate everything thoroughly.

I have a strange idea about ethical eating–or at least, complex. I think vegetables and animals are different. I’m happy to buy the best-quality produce I can, as local and as uncontaminated as is humanly possible. I am learning to garden, and only wince a little when I thin the seedlings.

About animals I feel somewhat differently, and I’m conflicted because thus far I cannot live up to my own highest standard. In my version of an ideal world meat (including fish) would be wild, and everyone who ate it would be willing and able to go find it and kill it, and would use everything the animal offered. I think being in touch with the full chain of consequences for one’s actions is especially important when one’s actions require an animal’s death. So unlike an awful lot of people who eat the way I do, I don’t have any problem with hunters who hunt for food. If that deer lived a wild life and you went out to find it, killed it as cleanly as possible, brought it home and ate it (or gave part of it away as so many people do)? There’s no ethical problem there, especially if the field for comparison includes factory farmed beef. People spend extra for free-range chicken; this is free-range venison.

My conflict is that I don’t have it in me to do that, not even for fish. Maybe someday I will, but right now I can’t bear to kill things. When I was on vacation there was a storm offshore that washed seaweed and huge starfish, brilliant orange and red fans of color eight and ten inches across, up on the beach. I spent a chunk of the day walking them back out to deeper water.

And now my acupuncturist, who understands all this, wants me to eat meat. In frustrated tears over my body’s stubborn refusal to heal, I asked her how important it was that I have the chicken and beef and meat broth she keeps mentioning. She said, “I’m not saying you have to do it.” I said, “I understand that. But how important is it?” She said, “Your body needs meat. There are people for whom that isn’t true. You aren’t one of them.”

Acupuncture is something you have to be committed to. Like all holistic medical care, it relies on everything at once to be most effective. Diet matters. Exercise matters. Consistency matters. It is exactly the opposite of “take two and call me in the morning.” It is instead, “we’ll tweak this, adjust that, change what you eat for breakfast, alter your exercise, look at the color of your tongue, get you started on these herbs to give your system a boost in the right direction, and oh yeah, stick some needles in you.” It’s not something you can do halfway, but when you do it all the way it can heal things that seem utterly intractable.

And I was a vegetarian for fifteen years, and then I ate fish. And the world didn’t end. But I cannot bear to kill the animals I’m eating.

I’ll be 35 in May. That’s 20 years of voluntarily restricted eating. And yesterday was awful. I could not feel nourished; I tried everything. It’s a problem I’ve had more and more often, and one that frequently leads to my eating lots of wrong things in search of the right thing to ease the hunger. I have tried everything, nutritionally speaking, and nothing seems to work. I believe it has contributed to my overconsumption. It certainly hasn’t helped.

So last night I had a little bit of steak. I don’t know if I’ll do it again, but I probably will. It was what I think of collectively as “happy food” — raised ethically and locally and organically. It was harder to chew than I expected. I ate it the way I eat fish: with attentiveness; with awareness. I did not drown it in ketchup or try to pretend I wasn’t doing it. I tasted it; I smelled it. It tasted good. And I was still sad that I felt like I had to do it.

Over the next few days I’ll be watching my body closely to see what happens. I will want to know what changes; already I’m paying attention. I felt satisfied last night–full in a new and different way. I wanted less food by volume, which makes a lot of sense given what I know about meat and nutrition. I felt more alert this morning, and less anxious. I slept very soundly but still woke early. On the other hand I’m dizzy, and my eyes are watering, but I’m not congested–in fact, I’m less stuffy than I’ve been in many years.

Commitments can run their course; perhaps this one has for me. I don’t know yet. One can always make the choice again. But eating unmindfully would feel wrong. So for now, I’m making a new commitment to myself: I’m going to try to put only good-quality stuff in there. As Michael Pollan says, “…food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Because my first commitment is to myself. We have to commit to ourselves, I think, before we can truly commit to anything or anyone else. We need to understand our own power and claim it–the power to be in the world as a force for good, as a support, as a contributor and not as a liability. When we are healthy and supporting our own health; when we are practicing good self-care; when we are in good shape, we have a lot to offer. If eating meat moderately can decrease my cosmic drag, do I not have a responsibility to try?

And so, as I preached on Sunday, what I believe and what I do are once again in dialogue. My commitment to the world is more complicated than I thought. But this is a living faith, and so I continue to live.

  1. That’s a lot of how I feel about eating meat.

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