I grew up on meat. A hunter for a dad and a house adorned with taxidermy impressed upon me a respect for the concept that in order for me to survive, something else has to die. That's just how nature designed its cycle. And younger Kristine wasn't wrong, that's pretty spot on.
If you've been following my health journey the last couple years, you know I went herbivore for a while. My health was at an all time low in my first year of college. Fraught with inflammation, I was grasping at straws to physically stay in school. Giving up meat was a start and it was advice I took of ill-informed doctors in both the conventional and functional realm. It wasn't a political or moral kind of vegetarianism, it was a desperate attempt to cure my health. But it wasn't just meat I got rid of so in hindsight I can't say that was the biggest contributor to the inflammation. Anywho, live and learn but I'm here to talk about it because the question "what are your thoughts on eating meat again" pops up in my inbox weekly these days.
Liberation from meat.
My folks didn't have to discipline us much. Actually, considering how hands-off my folks were, conventional wisdom would have led anyone to believe my brother and I would turn out to be rebellious. Instead they ended up with 2 passive old souls who geek out on knowledge, go figure. The only threats I ever heard came at meal time. And rightfully so, damn was I a fussy eater growing up. And that you can't get up from the dinner table if you don't eat your protein mentality brought out some defiance in younger Kristine. There was no communication about it, that's just how it went.
It's tough to get a rise out of me but if anything dug under my skin during that meatless stint, it was the extreme regard people had around the idea of avoiding meat. Everyone assumed that because I liked vegetables I must have been a vegan. "Oh my god you're a vegan?" and "That's so hard but you must be so healthy!" The whole time I wondered why veganism was a supposedly noble lifestyle and identity. This identity was one that I didn't want to mess with as someone who is painfully passive on a lot of things. I never got the idea out of my head that if you eat a paleo or a Mediterranean diet, you're not a paleo or a Mediterranean. However, armed with the knowledge that conventional meat and animal products were huge causes of internal inflammation, I rolled with it. I was liberated from finishing my protein at the dinner table in the name of a cure.
That slice of liberation turned against me quickly. Avoiding meat pulled me into the grips of political and moral meat-avoiders where it felt like they were at my throat constantly demanding I choose an argument to support. Passive, uncommunicative Kristine was super uncomfortable in this space. I was eating mostly plants, why did that have to be so extreme? I have a leather jacket, it's a great jacket. But heaven forbid I wore it around a vegan during this meatless stint, I would never hear the end of it. And truth be told today, I wasn't at optimal health when avoiding meat. I was healing some of my inflammatory issues, wasn't frequenting the hospital from passing out and concussing myself so often, but then came the constant feeling of being cold, dry as desert skin, exhaustion, hair loss, weight loss, infertility, and the hypothyroidism I still deal with today.
Letting go of passivity.
At some point along this meatless stint, I also found a voice. I connected the dots for what I was passively letting stay in my life that was draining my vitality beyond what any inflammatory diet was capable of. I had one of those huge eureka semesters. And I share this not to throw personal histories in anyone's face, but because I know sharing it has helped a lot of pals recognize similar things in their own lives. If you're in a relationship where you're being punished for communication, cheated on, and feel like you have to put someone else's well being above your own, no amount of green vegetables in the world will bring down that kind of inflammation. Emotional, mental, and physical health are inextricably connected as biological systems and processes.
There's no shame in admitting I was not doing myself any favors at the time because choosing to be a powerful person makes all the difference today. I had to get my shit together beyond my diet. I laugh now at this period in my life because I was running from myself in that eureka semester doing anything and everything to get comfortable with what made me uncomfortable. I was the happiest I had been in years. That long-term rush of adrenaline surely didn't help many aspects of my vitality (hypothyroid, cough cough) but I woke up to a new way of healing. I communicated, built community around myself, and intend to continue to do so for the rest of my life. It's wild what speaking up can do but I still have to work at it every single day, it's not innate.
By the grace of some higher power I ended up in an internship in 2017 where my view of real food was turned upside down. I got the emotional/mental/physical connection and was working everyday to improve that but was subsisting on soy for protein and felt lousy. And no wonder, our soils aren't meant to support monocrop agriculture and my body wasn't genetically designed to support so much external estrogen. Bioindividuality is real, friends. The more I learned about grass-fed and pasture-raised animal fats and proteins, I decided to do an experiment on myself for the few months I was in California. I ditched the soy and other estrogenic foods like millet and cassava, and upped my intake of grass-fed collagen, pastured eggs, and wild-caught fish to start. If you don't like biology, skip reading the next sentence. In just two months I went down a full cup size, my hair started growing, and I got my period for the first time in eons. If that's not proof that phytoestrogen wasn't doing my body so hot, I'm unsure what is.
What did nature intend?
Getting well is a combination of lifestyle and dietary modifications. You can't outrun a bad diet, and likewise, mental and emotional health are paramount to achieving physical well being. I wasn't hung up on the ethical implications of herbivorism, I was hung up trying to recover from a lifetime of keeping quiet and the belief in the white coat authority. No one heard that.
If you feed a cow a grain-based diet, put it in a feed lot, and expect it to produce ungodly quantities of milk.. something has to give. That something is the nutrition of the milk and the vitality of the cow. If you don't provide a teenager the space to figure out what healthy communication should look like, she thinks she needs to participate in an ungodly number of activities to distract herself, and she feeds herself food that her body wasn't made to thrive on.. things also have to give. Strange comparison, sure, but sharing this parallel of my own neglect to the fact that what I was wrongly feeding myself literally and emotionally has seemingly made sense to many I communicate with these days.
I'm not here to tell any moral or political meat-avoider that what they're doing is wrong. You do you, make your own rules. Do I support their missions? Nah, but you won't find me chewing out someone for it like many did to me. Most of my vegan peers are the ones eating copious pseudo foods like tofutti "cream cheese" and cottonseed oil, and unsurprisingly they're also the ones that come to me with the most health woes. Is killing animal tough? Yeah. But I don't believe that avoiding meat is truly the kinder way to live because an enormous number of insects and mammals have to die for monocrop agriculture (wheat, corn, soy, etc..) to function. Is a cow's life worth more than a field mouse? All the bugs and rodents in the big ag fields lose their lives at planting and harvest with big machinery and pesticides. Entire species out in the wild are displaced and die as a consequence of polycultures being destroyed today. Carbon sequestration and polyculture is enormously important to a sustainable future for us, but that's not in the cards for their arguments, not even the environmental meat-avoiders. Dealing with death is uncomfortable for most, I get that. But for someone to live, something else has to die no matter a vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore.
With this anecdote on the table, if you're down to eat meat, consider these:
1. Stay away from Netflix documentaries that push vegan propaganda. These look at conventional, factory-farmed animals and their products instead of animals that were raised as nature intended them to be.
2. When buying, look for labels of pasture-raised and grass-fed/grass-finished. Find a local butcher if possible.
3. Sugar makes you sick, fat doesn't make you fat. Eat the yolks from pastured eggs and skip the muffin if you actually want to lower your cholesterol.
4. When someone doesn't share your dietary beliefs, listen to them and try to have a conversation. Don't attack them.