It wasn’t that we were eating meat in lieu of fruits and vegetables; our family eats (and drinks) lots of produce on the daily. And it wasn’t that we were getting fat or anything like that – Aaron and I are both naturally slender people who probably couldn't get fat if we tried. It wasn’t even that I think eating meat is unhealthy; Aaron and I both qualify, in Ayurvedic terms anyway, as people who can eat some meat here and there (though Ayruveda doesn’t recommend really regular meat-eating for any constitution), and Traditional Chinese Medicine similarly recommends small amounts of meat in one's diet, for keeping the blood balanced and strong. I’m not sure what it was, actually, that caused me to initially re-adjust our meat habits, but whatever it was, it led to my arriving home from a library trip one day with a bag full of vegan cookbooks slung over my shoulder.
Aaron laughed semi-uproariously when he saw this; I was a strict, bumper-sticker-sportin’ vegan in high school and college. Although Aaron hadn’t met me yet, he knows this about me because I sometimes refer back to that time with a touch of self-directed snark and condescension in my tone. “I know so much more about nutrition and food politics now. Eating meat is not the problem. And soy is not the solution.” But I’ve also spoken fondly of those early forays into conscious food choices; I learned to cook when I was a vegan. I became attuned to what food feels like in my body. And I developed an appetite for food as a source of health, happiness, world peace and prosperity. Nothing less.
I still think it can get us there. And I still believe in my somewhat-later discovery of the local food movement – encompassing meat and produce alike –as paving (or, you know, tilling or some such) the way. (That organic ground beef you bought that was shipped in from the former-rainforest in Uruguay? Not so much.) But I also know now that our oceans are over-fished, our planet is getting warmer way too quickly and the resources that are fundamental to human survival -- like fresh water -- are in short supply. These problems are all interrelated, too; beef production, for example, plays a major role in methane and nitrous oxide emissions planet-wide, and climate change – which is very real – is definitely worsened by this kind of pollution. Climate change, in turn, affects crop and cattle production; the local Texas cattle industry suffered pretty seriously as a result of last summer’s draught, and it hasn't rained down here, this summer, in well over a month. I'm really, actually troubled by, and worried about, this global warming thing, and feeling like there's nothing I can do about it puts me in an immobilized, inner panic. I certainly can't single-handedly stop the planet-destruction bus, but I can choose, three times a day, to do something about its momentum. So although my son must, for now, eat meat almost daily – and I will continue to source his meat from Earth and animal-friendly local purveyors – I’ve felt a recent desire to reduce our family’s collective footprint on the food front. How to go about doing so was not a mystery to me. It takes a lot more grain (or grass or whatever) to feed a cow than it does to feed a person. And two out of the three people in this family really don’t need to eat the cow to stay alive.
Also, cows are cute. There, I said it.
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I think my own body may have been craving meat more frequently than it otherwise would due to long-term sleep deprivation (have you noticed the sleep-dep hunger beast, moms and dads?). In recent months, as Kaspar finally got the hang of normal sleep – and as we, more or less, returned to the habit ourselves – I woke up in the mornings wanting lighter, cleaner fare.
Which brings me to the cookbook incident. I love cookbooks. They're fun. But lately, as in, post-baby, my relationship with them has changed. They're still useful, but I haven't planned meals around their contents for a while; I have cooking basics down, and essentially work with whatever produce arrives in our CSA box, serving it up with a protein (previously meat, mostly) and a whole grain. The batch of vegan books were helpful for getting meal ideas and for picking up a few new tricks; while I’m content to eat kitchari and various other super simple vegan suppers all the time, and Aaron will eat them without complaint some of the time, I knew he was gonna need some kickass, seriously substantial, and vaguely naughty-tasting dinners in the mix in order to stay satisfied. So while my basic approach to cooking hasn’t changed very much – the proteins are usually bean-based these days, and I also like seitan a lot (I think soy is sketchy and generally avoid it) – I studied up on interesting vegan sauces and some meaty-tasting mains so my man would really WANT to eat vegan dinners. Put simply, I threw in a little fancy to ease the transition, and it worked.
I’m not calling myself a vegan. I’m not putting any bumper stickers on our car. I’m still putting raw milk (still liquid gold in my book) in my morning coffee. And, once every other week or so, I roast a (local, happy, hippie-ass) chicken for all of us. (Nothing’s changed for Kaspar— except for the chocolate chip cookie breakthrough, that is.) I would have thought this totally lame when I was sixteen, but I’m calling myself... mostly-vegan, I guess. This is more about daily, plant-based choices than it is about labels, anyway. And I’m not about to get all inflexible on myself at this juncture (work/family/life demands = plenty). Full disclosure: We ate out with friends last week and I ordered a burger. But I do feel less sluggish (not so much after the burger, fyi) and more peaceful, now that I'm eating very little meat. I have no interest in cheese or eggs at present. I will absolutely eat high-end sushi on special occasions. But right now, on regular weekdays, I am loving me some miso orange sauce on roasted beets, homemade hot and sour soup, and black-eyed- pea Texas caviar. (Separate meals... those dishes don’t pair well. Don't try that at home.) And mint Rice Dream frozen cookie sandwiches are kind of my summer version of crack. It’s back to the hard stuff this winter, though… Just kidding. I’ve never done crack!
Are you a vegan? Mostly vegan? Sometimes vegan locavore? Plant-powered? Label-free? How have your food choices evolved over the course of your life? Wanna recommend some fast and yummy recipes for me to try? Share your thoughts!