Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Vegetarian Experiment...

I was a pretty strict vegetarian between the ages of about 15 and 22...

The primary reason was at that time I was following the 5 precepts of lay buddhism, the first of which ahimsa is the principle of non-violence.
I couldn't, at the time, abide eating meat and taking life when it seemed to me to directly contradict the first of the principles I was following.
However over some time I seemed to 'come to peace' with the eating of meat.
A few things changed my perception:
1) We have evolved eating meat, we have evolved to eat meat, and we actually (in spite of what some will say) need to eat meat to survive (in a natural state and without supplements). Body composition is also proven to be better when eating a diet containing meat, when compared to an isocaloric vegetarian diet (and even when compared to a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet)
2) I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in my early 20's and soon realised that many of the foods I was eating were affecting me adversely. Particularly as I was also a strength athlete and was seeking to optimise body composition and therefore preserve a critical mass of protein in my diet. Many of the protein foods I was eating (legumes in particular) were exacerbating my symptoms.

I could see fairly unequivocally that we have gotten to this point in human development and human evolution doing certain things over the long term. One of which is eating meat. It has been again unequivocally shown that we have eaten at many times in our development large amounts of meat. We are by nature scavengers and we ate what could be hunted, found, or 'kill' that could be taken away from predatory animals.
Because of this I found myself thinking that "I am..therefore I eat meat!"..
And that because I had been put on this planet as an omnivorous animal it really was simply the cycle of life that I would eat meat.

I also felt fully accountable for the eating of meat.
I grew up hunting and fishing, but was bought up with the strict rationale that we only hunted for the table. Not for trophies and not for sport. What we shot we ate....plain and simple.
In fact as a young, nearly vegetarian Buddhist (albeit one who still ate meat) the event that finally convinced me to become a vegetarian was walking down a hillside on a frosty evening, carrying an arm load of warm goats meat.

We had shot a wild Nanny goat coming out of the bush and after butchering it on the hill side we had to walk it back to the car.
There is a certain smell that goes along with death, and this was amplified by the mist rising off the sitcky warm flesh I now carried out....and at that moment I realised that I didn't want to do this. I didn't want to take life any more...and I didn't feel that I could, in good conscience buy sanitize packets of meat at the supermarket

Now before any of my vegetarian and vegan readers criticize me for my former and current taking of life please consider that I have taken these lives by my own hand on many, many occasions and so truly believe that I am accountable. There would certainly be many, many more vegetarians if people had to (even if only once) take the life of an animal they were going to eat.
I also don't feel any joy when we do this. In fact both my father (a wonderful, loving, passionate and kind hearted man) and I feel great remorse and sadness when we take a beast. We also feel almost overwhelming respect for these great creatures of the bush. So why would we take their lives?
Because we eat them.
That may not seem like a good enough reason. But I'm not here to convince anyone of my motives or my morals. I am comfortable in my own skin.

I do recognize the seeming contradiction in my previous points though, and although I take contradiction in life as being a given (anyone that is too extreme always paints themselves into a corner of hypocrisy) I decided earlier this year to drastically reduce my meat intake.

A few points to consider:
- I believe that meat is NOT bad for you.
- However most of the meat that people eat is TERRIBLE. The only meat people should eat is grass fed, free range and organic. (As applicable)
- People eat too large a portion size of meat in most cases. Consider that for many people a protein intake of (for arguments sake) 25g is ample. That equates to around 150g of meat. Most steaks at restaurants are at least 300g...
- Vegetarians who eat well (not 'potato and bread vegetarians') often eat a greater variety of cool vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes and so get ancillary, health promoting nutrients.
- Many vegetarians have a better relationship with their food because they spend more time preparing and researching. Mindful eating is a great conduit to relaxation and spiritual development.

I decided to limit my meat intake to dining out. Any meals that I prepared at home were to be vegetarian.
I also eat (much of the time) very little diary, only using butter in cooking and occasionally using natural, organic yoghurt; gluten (coming mainly from occasional spelt or rye bread)and eggs (even though they are in the random, sample day below.)

A challenge would be to avoid the irritating compounds and enzyme inhibitors present in nuts, seeds and legumes. Over the years I have developed the habit of soaking nuts, seeds and legumes that I use anyway and this has mitigated (thus far!) any negatives arising from getting my protein from these sources.

Example day:
French Toast made with organic free range eggs and spelt bread. Warm unsweetened almond milk with a little agave syrup. Soaked almonds as a snack.

Smoothie (AM and PM snack):
Mixed ground flaxseeds and shredded coconut, PhytoProtein (Golden Pea Protein), Athletic Greens (greens product), blueberries, banana, unsweetened almond milk.
*All ingredients organic*

Sprouted chick peas, lentils or other legume with mixed salad of kale, collard greens, chard. Olive Oil dressing and mixed nut/seed mixture.

6 weeks in....
I estimate that I ate meat approximately 4 times in the first month and about the same in the last 2 weeks.
That equates to a total of 8 meals based around meat...which previously would have been 4 days!
And this far it seems to be working out. I didn't want to do the typical body composition measurements to see whether my experiment was 'working' (our buddy Dr John Berardi has already done that!) but instead wanted to see how I 'felt'. A big component of what I teach in nutrition lectures is about learning to listen to our bodies and this is exactly the way I wanted to approach this...

...and you know what?...

I feel pretty good!
As far as I can tell my muscle hasn't dropped off, I'm still lean and mean and most importantly I feel great!
So while I won't be giving up meat completely I have certainly, for the time being, found a happy medium....but if you see me eating a big steak give me a break...at least I'm not a non-warrior chicken eater!

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  1. Thanks for sharing Cliff. I have had to work through some of this stuff too, in my own way.

    There is a pretty interesting book that was published recently, THE VEGETARIAN MYTH by Lierre Keith, which is written by a former vegan animal rights activist and which explores thoughts on how eating animals carefully and thoughtfully and locally may be a better ecological and ethical choice than veganism.

    Anyways, there aren't that many of who are compelled by buddhism, sports and fighting. So I am glad that you share your thoughts on here from time to time.

  2. You'd be surprised Al! I think there are a lot of us out there who have vibrant spiritual, mental, emotional AND physical lives. In fact I think that we are doing ourselves a massive disservice when we neglect one of these areas. They are, after all, so interconnected as to be completely inherent upon one another.
    Thanks for your comments mate!