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Food Fight: The Real Vegetarian

What does it mean to be a vegetarian?  Am I a “real” vegetarian?  Are you a real vegetarian?  Does being a vegetarian mean I do no harm to any living beings?  Do vegetarians have to sign contracts and be evaluated by an official jury to become “real”?

In my last Food Fight post I outlined how I eat in detail.  I mentioned that I’m a vegetarian and I also mentioned that I eat eggs and cheese and that my feelings are a little mixed about it because eating cheese supports the meat industry and I’m not keen to do that yet I have not chosen to draw my line there at this point in time.  Renee, a commentor on the last post, brought up some other details about the dairy industry which I felt were valid points.  But then she told me I can’t call myself a vegetarian because I eat cheese and cheese is made with rennet (enzymes from a cow’s stomach).

Dictionary definition (Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary): A person who does not eat or does not believe in eating meat, fish, fowl, or, in some cases, any food derived from animals, as eggs or cheese, but subsists on vegetables, fruits, nuts, grain, etc.

There you have it.  Some vegetarians (like myself) do eat food derived from animals but don’t eat the flesh of animals.  I can most definitely call myself a vegetarian and I most definitely am NOT a vegan.  I don’t think it can be more clear than that.

I was raised as a vegetarian from birth.  It’s the way I eat.  I didn’t choose to be a vegetarian in the first place but later when I tried eating meat and fish and fowl I made a conscious decision to remain a vegetarian but NOT because I love animals.  I did it because it feels natural to me to eat the way I was raised.  It suits my body.  I feel good when I eat this way.  I like it.  Meat is gross to me.  I’m sorry if it disappoints anyone to know that I didn’t choose to be vegetarian for noble reasons.  Actually, I’m not sorry.  Eating is very personal and I chose what’s right for me.  What’s right for me includes eggs and cheese.

My concern for the well being and kind treatment of animals is very real and very strong.  But it’s important to reiterate that I don’t think eating animals is wrong.  If it’s wrong for people to eat animals then it’s wrong for lions to eat gazelles.  If lions can’t eat gazelles, they die off.  Nature made many animals dependent on eating other animals and in the natural setting the way the food chain is set up helps maintain a balance of animals and insects that works.  Nature also made many animals into omnivores, giving them the edge of not being dependent on one type of food.  Humans are such animals.  Just because we can choose not to eat meat doesn’t make it wrong for us to choose to eat it.

I take my cues from nature.  Humans are omnivores and as far as anthropologists can know – they always have been.  I choose to be an omnivore who doesn’t eat the flesh of animals.  I respect other people choosing to eat animals and I equally respect other people who choose not to eat any food derived from animals.  The only thing I don’t choose is to ignore how animals raised for food are treated and cared for.  There is a respect inherent in nature between prey and quarry.  In the distant past of human history that respect was inherent in us.  It is only in our more recent history that we have disconnected from our more natural relationship with animals as food.  People used to have to work harder to have their meat.  A human having to kill the meat he/she eats is a lot more respectable than going to the grocery store and buying a slab of animal flesh any time you want it.  So we’ve lost our way and have, through overpopulation, ruined the balance that nature designed to keep the earth healthy.

I care very deeply about the treatment of all animals but that doesn’t mean I think it’s wrong that they are used for food.  When Max rescued a baby garter snake we fed it tadpoles from our little pond.  I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t love hunting out those babies and offering them to the snake but I knew, as all people must know, that a snake is not a vegetarian creature and it would be entirely wrong to impose on it a diet it can’t survive on.  So we fed him the tadpoles and knew that it was nature’s circle of life in action.  But those tadpoles, until we snatched them out of the pond, lived a natural life.  The frogs who live in that pond were not put there by us.  They found our pond and chose it as their habitat.  My point is (in case it isn’t obvious) is that those tadpoles weren’t raised in a tank in my house under unnatural conditions and they were eaten by their natural predator.

There’s one last point I feel it’s important to make: if you are a vegetarian because you don’t want to cause any injury or death to other living beings, you are fooling yourself to think that you can eat in such a way that you never cause harm to other living beings.  Every single person on earth who eats food, no matter what diet they choose, causes injury and death to other living beings.  It is 100% impossible to farm vegetables and grains without also causing collateral damage to mice, rabbits, frogs, voles, snakes, gophers, and sometimes the larger animals whose natural habitat we’ve claimed for raising crops pushing them to new territories where they sometimes starve to death as a result.  Most people don’t care about insects but even if you’re growing food organically, as I do, there are casualties to insects and sometimes small creatures.  When I was working in the community garden a few years ago I was weeding and accidentally speared a frog with my weeding tool.  I don’t know if it was fatal or not.  I picked the poor fellow up and put him out in the adjacent field of tall grasses.  If I, a careful and caring gardener, can injure a frog while weeding, imagine what all those tractors and plows and harvesters are doing to the other little creatures.

We all eat at the expense of other living beings.  That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact of life.

Where you draw the line is for you to decide.  Vegans do considerable less harm to other living creatures than meat eaters do, but everyone has blood on their hands.  I think the main thing to focus on is how we are treating the animals we’re raising for meat and eggs and how they’re killing these animals before they reach the dinner table.  These things matter a lot.

I said that was all but there’s one more thing I need to say: vegans and vegetarians fighting each other over little details of diet is like Catholics and Protestants fighting over how to interpret the bible and the proper way to worship.  The majority of vegans and vegetarians have some common beliefs and concerns and if we all want meat eaters to care about the ethical treatment of animals then it won’t do to fight each other.  There will always be meat eaters, there is never going to be an entire planet of vegetarians and vegans.  People are omnivores.  What is an obtainable goal is to inspire all meat eaters to care how their meat is raised and to inspire meat eaters to eat less meat over all of it can be raised humanely.  This should be a shared vision between all people.

I am a vegetarian.  Please don’t tell me where to draw my line.  Please consult the official definition of vegetarian before telling people what they can and can’t call themselves.

Food Fight: The Way I Eat (and don’t be a food bully)

Everyone has their own idea about what a balanced good diet consists of and lately I’ve been feeling extremely annoyed with how aggressive people can get about their own dietary choices.  When someone starts eating a particular way and they feel great, lost weight, cured their aches and pains, or fixed all their relationships because of this plan for eating they’ve adopted it can become like a religion – it can transform people into evangelical zealots.  Everyone’s diet has scientific proof to back up its claims.  Special diets have become more than a way to eat – they’re becoming a way to fix everything in your life.  Panacea.

People are claiming that you can fix mental illness with gut health and that going gluten free can cure autism.  If the way you eat makes you feel fit, healthy, and happy, then you’re probably eating in a way that suits your body well.  What pisses me off is when you assume that the way you eat will make everyone feel the same way you do.  People have different bodies and though we all roughly have the same organs and functions – no two bodies are the same.  Eating lots of lentils makes me feel great but a good friend of mine can’t digest them.  No matter how much science can say we’re the same, clearly we’re not.  Most of my friends love sweet peppers and feel good when they include them in their diet but I cannot digest them without difficulty – we are not all the same.  It is clear that the foods that are optimal for my health will not necessarily be optimal for someone else’s health.

Outside of some ethical and environmental concerns I think everyone should listen to themselves and their own bodies to determine what way of eating is best for them and sharing ideas with friends is fine but trying to pound a vegetarian’s head with a juicy pork butt trying to convince them that meat should be a big part of their diet is a real asshole maneuver.  Don’t do it.  Likewise, a vegetarian trying to shove grains down the throat of a paleo eater and trying to guilt them about animal killing is an asshole maneuver.  Don’t do it.

More important than what kind of food or what balance of food groups a person eats is how our food is raised, grown, and processed.  That should concern everyone and it doesn’t yet.  Highly processed foods, high fructose corn syrup, and pesticides should be concerning everyone.  And it isn’t yet.  But even when it comes to these food issues about which I care passionately it isn’t helpful to be a jerk about it.  Be an example and an inspiration, not a bully or an evangelizing zealot.

My Eating Philosophy:

I am a vegetarian who eats eggs and dairy.  I eat mostly produce that is in season, locally sourced whenever possible, and organic as much as I can afford.  I eat mostly home made food and don’t eat a lot of processed food which keeps preservatives and high fructose corn syrup to a bare minimum in my diet.  The kind of food I make is largely influenced by Mediterranean style cooking with some Asian, Indian, and Mexican dishes thrown in.

I eat a wide variety of produce, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, eggs, and dairy and I believe that’s the best way to cover all nutritional needs.  I don’t believe any of the food groups are inherently bad for you (unless you’re allergic) and the recommended balance I strive for most closely matches that of Michael Pollan and Andrew Weild.

I believe that genetically modified organisms are not food.  All “food” that contains produce that’s been genetically engineered should be labeled so I can choose not eat it.  The biggest GMO crops in the US are corn and soy so if you don’t want to eat GMOs yourself, your best tactic is to buy only organic corn and soy products because GMOs (at this point in time) cannot be labeled organic.

I believe that one of the single most important things all of us can do to is to buy as much of our food from local sources as possible.  I don’t think I’m a zealot and I certainly buy some imported foods, but I believe it’s important to make the effort to tip the scales of your food buying to local sources for both freshness, supporting local economies, and strengthening local food sheds.

The healthiest eating habits for ME are: to eat 3 meals a day, (heavy breakfast, medium lunch, light dinner).  Eating modest portions of things like cheese is important to my health.  It doesn’t feel natural or comfortable to me to eat more than three meals a day and I do better when I don’t snack often.  Eating sweets only occasionally is best.

I don’t believe in dieting but I do believe that if you are very overweight and you want to lose some it’s helpful to count calories at least for a while to see how many you are consuming in a day and to gain perspective on how many calories your favorite treats have as well as monitoring how many calories you burn in a day.  You don’t have to be scientific and I don’t think it’s ever healthy to starve yourself.  No matter what anyone else says about weight loss – there’s no magic diet or pill or method.  Calories in and calories out is still a very important aspect of losing weight.  How many calories you consume in a day does not determine how healthy you are, of course, as you could be consuming all your calories in fats or all of them in sugar.  But it’s an important factor.

I know this works for me because I lost all my pregnancy weight (40 lbs) using portion control, increased exercise, and eating what I consider a well balanced diet.  I never gave up eating cheese or bread or pasta but all of these things I ate with more moderation than I had been while pregnant and right after giving birth.  I didn’t lose weight fast but I lost it steadily and I never felt better in my life than during that period.  So for me – that’s what works and what makes me feel good physically.

The details

No Meat:

I was raised as a vegetarian so I’ve been one since I was born.  I’ve tried many kinds of fish and meat at different times to see if I really wanted to be a vegetarian and what I discovered every single time is – the flesh of animals disgusts me.  Everyone living needs to eat food that used to be alive so it’s not that the animals used to be alive that bothers me (because plants used to be alive too) it’s the carcass factor.  I do not recognize carrion as food.  Humans are animals and so I don’t see any real difference between eating cows and eating humans.  In addition to that, I loathe the texture and the taste of flesh.  The taste and texture make it very hard for me to swallow it and once I choke it down it takes some work to keep it in my stomach.  Nice, huh?  And if I manage to keep it in my stomach I then get to enjoy the fun of my body struggling to digest it (the sensation of iron balls in my stomach for days and sometimes meat-burps for a few hours).  Especially red meat.  I will happily remain a vegetarian for life.

I don’t, however, think it’s wrong for other people to eat meat IF they are only eating meat that was raised in as kind and natural a setting as possible and killed in a setting as clean and unfrightening as possible.  CAFOs are evil and so are slaughterhouses.  The only ethical way to eat meat is to eat animals that are pastured on small farms and who don’t have to wait around in a pen smelling the fear and blood of the animals being killed before them.  The most ethical and honest way to consume meat is to either raise and kill it yourself or hunt for it.

One last objection to eating meat is that I don’t think it’s a sustainable way to feed the 7 billion people on this earth.  The amount of land it takes to feed the meat appetites of humans means that the only way to meet it is through CAFOs.  Raising meat in a natural and healthy way is much too costly and takes much too much land to keep up with meat eating.  I believe that meat production is doing a tremendous amount of damage to our land (so is factory farming).  I think the only way forward for human beings as a species is to eat a lot less meat.

Or stop having so many babies in order to drastically reduce the world population.  That’s the choice but at this moment people are still eating tons of meat and having tons of babies.  The future is not looking like a good place to be for all the people being born right now.

Eggs and Dairy:

I have an uneasy relationship with eggs and dairy.  I can raise my own hens (and have) and give them a great comfortable life as loved animals and do not feel bad about stealing their eggs from them (if anyone wanted to steal my eggs I’d give them all away – unfortunately by the time mine come out they’re useless plus too small to eat).  It doesn’t harm them for me to take their eggs.  However, I can’t always have hens and buying eggs from the store is ethically unsound.  I obviously buy “cage free” eggs but that term doesn’t mean the hens are actually roaming around a nice big yard.  Sometimes all it means is that all the hens are allowed to crowd together inside a giant pen.  That’s not a good healthy life for any hen.  I try to get eggs from local people who I know have hens for their own use and are truly cage free.

Dairy, on the other hand, doesn’t harm the cow it’s coming from necessarily (if the cow is raised with care and allowed to pasture) but you can’t keep a cow in milk unless you keep her having calfs and if all calfs born were girls who could produce more babies and milk – this would be harmless.  Except that obviously it can’t work that way.  To produce dairy a number of bulls are always being born and if no one is eating them then you have animals who eat food but don’t provide anything in return.  Dairy farming only works because people are eating the boys.  This bothers me as I don’t want to contribute to the meat industry.  But everyone who knows me knows I love cheese almost more than any other food.  This is really a tough one for me and I am heading towards a personal compromise of simply eating less dairy overall.


I have no argument with grains.  Not wheat, oats, barley, quinoa, rice, buckwheat, millet (though I don’t like millet), corn… grains don’t disagree with me or make me sick and I’m tired of people trying to convince me that I’m poisoning myself but just don’t know it.  I’m tired of people vilifying something humans have been eating without problem for thousands of years.  People didn’t start having horrible dietary issues until the mid-twentieth century when processed foods took over the food scene.  So enough with this!

Many people DO have allergies to wheat and those people need to cut it from their diet.  I respect that.  Most of those people had health problems that eventually led to a discovery that wheat was destroying their intestines and preventing them from absorbing or using all the nutrients from their food.  That’s serious shit.  That’s real and it matters – but don’t tell me that everyone is allergic to wheat because it just isn’t so.  Also – if you want to not eat any grains because you think that’s the best way to eat – good for you!  But don’t try to convince me that they are evil for everyone.  Thousands of years of eating them and digesting them without difficulty is enough proof for me that for most people grains are an awesome way to get nutrients and protein in their diet.

I do believe that eating a variety of them rather than only eating wheat and sticking mostly to wholegrains is the healthiest way to go.


Fruit and vegetables.  I eat a lot of them.  Mostly vegetables.  Organic is always best.  I can’t always afford to buy all organic but if I could – I would never eat produce that has been sprayed with pesticides.  I pay attention to the “Dirty Dozen” list and use it as a guideline of priority when I have to make a choice.  I think eating mostly local produce is even more important than eating local grains.  I allow myself a small amount of imported produce like avocados but always try to maintain a mostly local buying policy.  This automatically means I eat mostly seasonally too.  No tomatoes in winter.  No zucchini or green beans or eggplants in winter either.  I’m not a zealot and if friends make me a meal in winter that uses all summer ingredients I’d never say a thing or think twice about eating it and appreciating their hospitality.

I like most vegetables except for peppers.  I can’t digest sweet peppers and even hot peppers can be tricky.  Cayenne doesn’t ever seem to be a problem.  There are other vegetables I’m not that fond of but I’ll eat them if you put them in front of me.  I find Jerusalem artichokes to be a bit dreary.  Broccoli rabe is okay but I don’t love it so I never buy it.  Same with kohrabi.  Turnips aren’t a favorite of mine and neither are radishes though I’ll eat both and I’m fine with it, but I never get all excited to cook with them.  Bitter greens… oh bitter greens and how everyone loves you but me.  I can take small amounts of bitter greens but I don’t enjoy a big plateful of them.

Fruit – I like most fruit except mangos and papayas.  I like dried figs a lot but don’t care for them fresh.  Fruit eaten only in season is a revelation.


I don’t believe fat is evil any more than I think grains are evil.  I believe in baking with butter and cooking with olive oil.  Those are my staples.  I don’t bake a lot so I don’t personally consume a ton of butter.  I use it on toast sometimes but I use a modest amount.  I use safflower oil and am making an effort to only get vegetable oils that weren’t made from GMO crops.  My mom says I “grease up” my food but in reality I don’t use a crazy amount of oil when I’m sauteeing.  Usually a tablespoon for stir fries and two tablespoons for large batches of soup.  My big oil extravaganza is when I roast vegetables which I’m trying to reform now to use less.  I eat whole fat cheeses (low fat cheeses are rarely worth eating) but I do use low fat milk and low fat yogurt because I like them better.

I don’t eat much fried food.  Fried food makes me feel gross and sometimes even gives me the burps.  While I love french fries and apple fritters, I eat french fries seldom and doughnuts even less.  I love spring rolls but rarely eat those either.  It is lucky for me that fried food upsets my stomach enough to keep me from making a habit of it.  I am a girl naturally attracted to fats and starch and the two go brilliantly together when fried.  I don’t believe fried foods are part of a healthy diet except as a treat.


I eat a lot of legumes.  I love beans, lentils, peas, and tofu.  I am only buying organic tofu now because one of the biggest GMO crops in the world is soy.  Some people can’t digest legumes well and if I didn’t I probably wouldn’t eat them or at least not often.  However, I have never had difficulty digesting legumes.  I especially love lentils and feel really good eating them.

Nuts and Seeds:

I eat a modest amount of nuts and seeds.  Mostly nuts.  Mostly walnuts.  I love peanuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews, pine nuts, and almonds but since where I live I’ve been managing to get walnuts for free I eat more of them than any of the others.  I hate hazelnuts.  I really do.  I like sunflower and sesame seeds but don’t eat too many of them.  I even like pumpkin seeds but I don’t buy them because it’s ridiculously easy to roast your own.  But I don’t like the hulls and it’s tedious to remove them…so I end up not eating them at all.


I don’t view sugar as my enemy either.  I don’t eat a ton of it.  I don’t even eat a lot of it.  My son has a sweet tooth but I don’t.  Eating too much sugar or eating even a single overly sweet dessert (lemon bars come to mind) can make my throat swell up or make me feel gross.  While I don’t crave sweets usually if they’re sitting around and I start eating them I have a hard time stopping.  In our house we use both refined and unrefined sugars.