Listening to My Body: Why I Eat Meat Again

*I originally wrote this post March 8, 2018 shortly after eating meat again after 3 years without it. Since then, I have become even more relaxed around the topic thanks to intuitive eating and learning how to unlearn the pressures of diet culture and the guilt that rides along with it.*

That’s right…I said it. I eat meat again. I am no longer a vegetarian.

But was I ever “a vegetarian”? What does that mean? I ate a vegetarian diet. For some reason, I embodied this label and wore it around until it became a part of me.

It might sound dramatic, but this shift in dietary choices has challenged my belief system and how I identify with the world. But also, I am noticing more and more that it is really challenging how the world identifies me.

In our society, it seems as if everyone identifies with their eating choices. I recently joked that we should be wearing name tags to announce our dietary preferences – “Hi, I’m vegan.” or “Hi, I’m gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, nut-free, added sugar-free, oh and paleo.” *This is especially true for anyone attending NUNM (or even living in Portland, Oregon).

There is nothing wrong with adhering to dietary restrictions – sometimes they align with ethical beliefs or are necessary for health purposes. BUT (and this is a big but) I think we have somehow let our food choices dictate who we are.

or at least i did.

For awhile after choosing to cut out meat, I took on this social-justice-warrior-holier-than-thou persona. I felt so much despair for the animals, our planet, and the factory farm industry workers. I believed that I was a better person because I didn’t eat meat. This perspective eventually waned as I learned that a) people got defensive when I mentioned my vegetarianism and b) our food choices don’t equate to moral worthiness.

Looking back to when I made this decision as a junior in college, I felt as if I only had two choices: eat meat and buy into the horrors of CAFOs (essentially concrete “farms” that house thousands of animals along with all of their waste) or swear off meat forever. I chose to adopt a black-and-white viewpoint of the situation and did not revisit this until recently.

While studying for my undergrad, I didn’t know a single person who openly discussed and cared about the sourcing of their meat. We were all broke college kids, so most people reached for the cheapest deal and went on their merry way. Grass-fed beef was not emphasized in my nutrition program, I had never heard of a meat buyer’s club, and I had no idea how to approach my local farmers with questions about their practices.

At the time, it certainly was easier to simply cut it out – I felt great. After about two years, I noticed some fatigue and went to my doctor for a blood test. She recommended supplementing with iron and vitamin B12, something I should have been doing the entire time sans meat. Once I added those to my routine, I felt better again. I started cooking all the time, exposed myself to amazing vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and truly believed in the difference I was making.

so what changed?

Rewind to about six months ago. I was taking summer classes at NUNM and started learning about animal agriculture from a new perspective in a course called Farm to Table. We heard from farmers at Kookoolan Farms and Nehalem Ranch, who spoke about sustainable farming practices and how that creates higher quality meat that is better for our health as well as the planet’s. We visited Urban Farmer, a restaurant dedicated to supporting local and reducing waste by utilizing the whole animal from nose-to-tail.

During this class, I pondered the possibility of eating meat again. I thought, “Okay, it doesn’t have to be black-and-white. It’s possible to eat meat and care for animals and the planet.”

But I was consumed with inner turmoil simply because these thoughts were coming to the surface. I didn’t want to go back on my word. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. These new feelings scared me.

Okay, now fast forward to about two months ago. I started randomly craving meat, which had not happened once during the three years without it. I found myself thinking about red meat quite often, especially around my period. Feeling guilty and ashamed, I pushed these cravings aside and essentially ignored my body.

Friendly reminder: I quit birth control in May 2017, which means I was on birth control almost the entire time I was vegetarian. I did not have a monthly cycle, my hormones were out of whack, and I didn’t really have any body cues to listen to even if I wanted.

With a history of low iron levels and heavy periods (when not on the pill), I started feeling completely exhausted and depleted by day two of my cycle. After enduring this for about three months, I finally made the connection that my non-stop craving for red meat is because it’s what my body needs. These thoughts don’t make me a bad person, or care about animals any less, or suddenly want to support shitty chicken nugget brands.

These thoughts were normal, healthy signals of my body cluing me into what it is lacking.

*ding, ding, ding! Intuitive eating at its finest!*

The day I made this connection, I ordered a burger from Dick’s Kitchen (with some hesitation…I was really nervous!) but felt relief after the first bite. Leading up to it, I was telling this dramatic tale inside my head…What does this mean? Who am I? What about my morals? HOW WILL I TELL PEOPLE?

after that first bite though, the story stopped.

All of this pressure was coming from me and me alone. I made a decision when I was 20-years-old and felt like I had to keep at it forever. I put myself in this box and felt trapped until I realized how easy it was to step out. I felt so empowered and in charge of my own life – which is SO crucial.

This is why I think deeply identifying with our dietary choices is problematic. Maybe you chose to eat gluten-free to ease bloat, but eventually it crept into all aspects of your life.

Suddenly you’re in a gluten-free support group and only have gluten-free friends and always talk about your latest gluten-free creation. It’s easy to then feel trapped in that and feel afraid to admit that you ate a piece of sourdough bread and actually felt amazing. We are allowed to change our minds. A decision we make today may not apply in five minutes or five years.

moving forward

Since eating meat again, I’ve made it a priority to know that I am buying high-quality meat from farmers that align with my beliefs.* Which for me, means: grass-fed, pasture-raised, no antibiotics/hormones, non-GMO, and cruelty-free. These factors are important to me and are worth the extra cost – that extra cost helps ensure the animals and workers are treated fairly, the environment is supported through sustainable practices, and the quality is top-notch.

Issac and I just signed up for a buyer’s club through Carman Ranch, a family-owned ranch in Oregon that emphasizes organic practices, humane slaughter, pasture-raised feeding, and respect for the environment. Buying clubs are much more affordable than purchasing from a supermarket, plus supporting local is always a win.

*It's important for me to emphasize here that in the past three years since writing this post, I have relaxed a lot even around this belief. While we still buy beef from Carman Ranch most of the time, sometimes it isn't feasible with our budget. And that is okay. Adding pressure to ourselves or others to buy the best quality all the time isn't possible or realistic for many, many people, especially in a pandemic where financial security is a real concern.

With love,

Jenna Bee

About Photo.png

Hi, I'm happy you're here!

I'm Jenna - a nutritionist, cookbook author, recipe creator, kitchen manager for a preschool, gardener, book worm, and animal lover.

I believe the true path to feeling well is less about bio-hacks and more about basic everyday elements.

Welcome to my corner of the internet.

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