Intolerants Rant: Going, Going…Gone. A Vegetarian-Vegan Transition
The end of the last year was a riot in terms of health and food. What, with all the immune response retaliating, weight fluctuation misery and digestive roller coaster riding, I was dejected by the time January rolled around. I could not understand how it was possible to feel so miserable after eating organic, local, non-GMO, dairy-free, grass-fed and homemade fare at least 80% of the time. It was infuriating to be bedridden for a few days because my stomach was off. It was a pain in the ass to find creative ways to hide patches of skin that had angrily broken out in a rash.
Heading to Ecuador early in the year for a week of yoga and raw food was a choice made, in part, to see if I could rectify my digestive woes. Fed up with with being poked like a pin cushion by countless medical doctors, I did not want to endure any more prodding, bloodletting or x-ray-magnetic-ultrasound imaging. It was time for an all round break. A real break from the city where I could try to avoid thinking of something other than food-related woes. I wanted to practice yoga and breathe in forest air. I wanted to have someone else deal with what food I would eat for seven days. That’s how fed up I had become.
And so imagine my surprise when after a week of raw food I returned to NYC lighter, clearer and feeling 2,169 times better. Admittedly, I had been underfed for the better part of a week (as part of the retreat programme, not by request I’ll have you know) but that aside, I loved how I felt and could not help but think, there must be something to this plant-based lifestyle.
To provide some background: I’m the sort of person who will try anything once, and I often do. When I was in my teens I embraced the junk-food way of eating (find me a teen who doesn’t and I’ll cough up five bucks) until moving on to other types of regimes when the freshman-10 became a reality instead of just an urban myth. I was vegetarian for a short while and then got into eating fruit round the clock. When I found that too restrictive I followed the food pyramid to a T, and 24 months after that I gave up pork for five years. My reasoning for avoiding bacon were that pigs are a fleshy pink hue and had curly tails. My 23-year old self (heaven knows what I was thinking) did not want any of that.
I returned to pork at the time that I gave up dairy, as finding out I was lactose-intolerant wound up being the first big turning point in my so-called “food-centric life.” Since that diagnosis eight years ago I’ve fiddled about with finding what nourishment works best for my body, and I can say: it’s been quite the trip. I went the way of sugar free and have been gluten free off-and-on for the last seven years. I’ve tried paleo for three months until I became so starved I nearly ate a whole lamb leg in one sitting and tried out pescatarian before going back to red and white meats. I went raw twice, both horrific disasters in the long-term, and also only drank juice for 14 days, which was a cockamamie decision on my end. I’ve eaten according to my blood type and followed the FODMAP guidelines. Like a lost soul looking for the right creator to believe in I’ve gone in circles, trying things out. What has stuck thus far is avoiding dairy and investing in organics when possible.
I prefer my food modestly sprayed and unmodified, thank you very much.
But then Ecuador happened and I decided to continue along the plant-based track. I thought I might as well give it a go because I had nothing left to lose. Around that time I had also read a lot of (studies, articles, books and the like) about the drawback of eating animals from the corporeal and environmental perspectives. All the signs seemed to pointing in one direction. The message I picked up is: now is the time to give the veg/vegan way a go.
And so I went on my merry way to becoming a vegan-vegetarian hybrid. I tried eating raw for a couple of weeks after getting back from Ecuador but, while enjoyable, it was not realistic for me in the long-term especially. The temperature outside was below zero and my body too cold. I clamoured for hot soups, roasted vegetables and thick stews.
I instead settled on a way of eating that involved plants as much as possible. Be they roots, bulbs, flowers, tubes, seeds, cereals, pulses or nuts, the plan was to follow this path for as long as possible and see if it would take me somewhere I wanted to be. Falling somewhere between veganism and vegetarianism I stay away from meat but indulge in honey. I’m still wary of, and careful with, gluten (the quality of wheat/gluten in North America seems, for the most part, subpar. Breads here are wildly different than in Europe) and have been faithful in avoiding fish; however, I have an egg every so often as it seems to do something for my body that plants alone cannot.
Having shunned the idea of ascribing to one rigid set of food-norms, my plan is to honour most of the ethical leanings that have arisen (mainly linked to eating meat and non-GMO foods) and simply feed myself with the most vibrant, natural and clean foods I can find. Perhaps this phase will last for another month or maybe it will go on for many more years. While there is no way to determine how long my love affair with plants will last I’m quite happy with the choice I’ve made.
For now, there is no turning back.
I don’t want food from a box or a tin or a can. I want to avoid pre-packaged goods whenever I can. I prefer spending time in the kitchen putting something together as I try to figure out what my body needs and craves today. I want to feel the skin of an avocado give way under my thumb and would rather watch the leaf from a beet wilt as it is sautéed alongside a helping of onions and some sesame oil. Surprisingly enough I don’t crave meat, and while there are some days when I think how much easier or interesting it would be to have a piece of salmon on the side, I’m faring quite well with the choice I’ve made. I am also starting to see how marvellous the human body can be. There is something to be said for the vessels we have been given to cart around this life. It is impressive the way they respond–how they so easily regress and wither and falter and break OR adapt and evolve and transform and thrive. Simply because of what we choose to fuel it with.
And with that, the second leg of my journey begins (vegan/veg for nearly 6 months). So far, so good. Let’s see what the future brings.
*The first being: some recipes to come in future posts.