What's more important to me: saving the planet, or my health?
by KATHY SINCLAIR
Let me confess. I love being a vegetarian. For almost 15 years I was practically the poster girl for going meat-free. I salivated over soy, flipped over falafels, and was turned on by tahini. I thrilled to a meal at the Naam or Foundation, and visibly recoiled when I saw friends gulping pork gyoza.
Passing up meat never felt like a sacrifice. I grew up eating chicken and beef, but in my early 20s I came to a scientific conclusion: meat was gross.
I refused to partake fully in holiday meals, loading my plate with vegetables and, I’ll admit, more than a little smugness. When I called home to update my parents on the latest—which often included the non-news that I was feeling a little rundown—they’d chant, in unison: “Eat some meat!”
Feelings of superiority aside, there are a lot of great reasons for going veg. Beans and greens are way cheaper than filet mignon. Then there’s the valuing of one being’s life over another. (Do we eat dogs and cats? Then why is it OK to go at chickens with cleavers?)
Plus, a vegetarian diet is better for the environment. Production of livestock requires way more energy, land, and water than plant foods. And a recent campaign by the Humane Society of the United States says that eating meat (and eggs and dairy) contributes more to global warming than driving a car.
But most of all, I didn’t eat meat because I felt I hadn’t earned the right. If I couldn’t kill a creature with my own two hands, I just didn’t feel entitled to chomp on its flank.
But lo! My veg-head days were numbered.
Several months ago, tired of feeling sick and tired, I sought the counsel of one of Vancouver’s best naturopaths. Sure, I knew I had a little daily-triple-espresso problem, but other than that, I fully expected the good doctor to ply me with a few supplements and send me on my way.
Which was why I was unprepared for her diagnosis: “You might want to think about eating meat.”
The room began to spin, and I broke out in a hot sweat. “Excuse me?”
“It’s possible your B12 and iron levels are low. And the best source of those nutrients is grass-fed beef.”
I couldn’t have been more incredulous if I’d spotted David Suzuki driving a bright red 2008 Hummer H2 through the streets of Kitsilano. Was I going to have to start eating beef? Would my vegetarian partner still kiss me? Even more shocking: had Mom and Dad been right all along?
I sought a second opinion. And a third. Again and again, I heard words that were not music to my ears.
Meghan Hanrahan is a registered holistic nutritionist in East Vancouver. Two and a half years ago, she was following a vegan diet that didn’t compensate for missing nutrients. Then, just as she was starting nutrition school, she began to experience numbness and tingling in her limbs, intense fatigue, difficulties with word retrieval, and “a deep sensation that things weren’t right.”
She was tested for multiple sclerosis; thankfully, her symptoms were just the result of nutritional deficiencies. She was advised to begin eating meat—something her raw-foodist/vegan community of friends didn’t exactly throw a party over.
Slowly, Hanrahan began adding animal products to her diet. Her symptoms have disappeared, but she doesn’t necessarily intend to eat meat forever. “It’s absolutely possible to be a healthy vegetarian,” she maintains. “There are lots of great reasons to be one. But it’s very individual. It’s about recognizing when a diet no longer serves you. It’s not one-size-fits-all.”
Even Molly Katzen, creator of the ardently vegetarian Moosewood Restaurant cookbook series, now eats organic meat. This has brought Katzen considerable condemnation from the vegetarian set. (Hey, just a few months ago, I’d have been throwing rotten bean sprouts, too.)
Of course, many maintain that eating meat is not necessary for good health. Look at Brendan Brazier, the Ironman triathlete and staunch vegan. And although Paula Luther, a registered holistic nutritionist in Vancouver, works with carnivorous clients (“My recommendations are always client-specific, rather than focused on a dogma,” she says), she follows a vegan diet.
Me, I’ve decided to take the advice of the naturopath. Not that getting on the train to Meatville has been easy. Several weeks ago, I ate my first hamburger in years—only to later have a disturbing dream about an adorable, brown-eyed Jersey cow.
The concept of chewing dead flesh will probably never excite me. But neither does the thought of being unwell.
Kathy Sinclair is a Vancouver editor and flexitarian who is learning to love non-medicated, organic, free-range, nitrite-free bison sausage—for now.