I toyed with the idea of becoming a “vegetarian” or, more accurately in my case, a “pescetarian” for a couple of years before I took the plunge. During those years I learned a lot about how animals are raised and slaughtered in factory farms in the United States. Finally, the incredible cruelty and reckless destruction of natural resources in the mainstream meat industry became something I could no longer support.
I saw two choices: I could quit meat all together or I could seek out humanely raised and slaughtered animals. It seemed expensive and difficult to find grass fed, pastured, and humanely raised meat near my home, so I quit meat all together.
For 18 months, I enjoyed my pescetarian lifestyle. I found some amazing new cooking blogs, I tried new recipes and my cooking skills improved. I also felt better psychologically knowing that I was not contributing to a system of animal cruelty. For the first couple of months, I was extremely bloated and gassy from the increased fiber in my diet–not the most comfortable transition–but I stuck with it. Although those side effects wore off and my overall GI health improved, I rarely felt completely full in a healthy way.
I began to wonder if my body was telling me that something was amiss.
It is possible to reach all your protein needs on a vegetarian diet without a ton of planning. Nutrition scientists recommend that we get 45%-65% of our energy from carbohydrate sources, 20-35% of our energy from fat sources and 10%-35% from protein. I tailored this to my own needs by converting my weight into kilograms (137 pound/2.2kg) and multiplying that (62 kg) by 0.8 grams, meaning that I needed 50 grams of protein/day.
That’s 200 calories from protein (there are 4 calories in one gram of protein so you just multiply 50 grams x 4 kcals). Of course, my protein sources will also have fat and carbohydrates but let’s pretend for a moment that I’m consuming 200 calories of straight protein. If I’m consuming 1800 calories/day, then 200 calories from protein is just over 10% of my caloric intake–at the low end of the AMDR guidelines.
While 50 grams of protein may have been enough to support my body’s metabolic functions, it was not enough to satiate me and fuel my body in the way it needed.
In December 2015, with the goal of increasing my protein intake, I decided to start eating meat again a little at a time. As it turned out, it was a lot easier for me to feel full, I was no longer bloated after every meal, I didn’t feel the need to snack as often and I had more energy.
I also had fun in the kitchen reacquainting myself with cooking meat, trying new dishes (a highlight being beef negamaki: filet mignon pounded out very thinly and wrapped around scallions or caramelized onions), and learning about new diets featuring sustainable animal proteins.
Toward the end of my time abstaining from meat, I was suffering from vegetarian fatigue. I was bored with my choices and starting to wonder if restricting a large category of food was fostering an unhealthy relationship with food.
Finally, the experiment gave me an opportunity to think through my moral stance on the issue. I believe it is worth spending the extra money on organic and/or grass fed meat. I think that it actually better serves my mission to live kindly in the world.
Meat provides my body with the fuel that it needs at this particular time in my life, and I’m very happy with my decision.