Hi there. I'm very interested in the paleo lifestyle but am conflicted with consuming meat. I've been a vegetarian for 30 years (a vegan for 4 of those), but based on experience and current data, I believe a paleo diet and lifestyle to be advantageous. But I can't get past the meat - I've been consuming some eggs and fish but that's as far as I can go. I feel little ostracized by the vegetarian community. And some of the language used on Paleo blogs and podcasts are so rough with folks like me who question eating meat. Is there anyone else out there in the same position?
At the expense of being ostracized myself, I am going to go for broke since I think I am likely to have a very different perspective as you will soon read. I might have to pull a Thomas Seay after this…
I was born into a strict Hindu family – meaning Lacto vegetarian (BTW – worlds apart from being a vegan). So for me, being a vegetarian was NOT a deliberate choice based on some ethical consideration or being won over by a celebrity preaching morality, but rather it was something I took as a given based on my ancestral heritage for literally 100s/1000s of years. This is no different than most people with respect to religion – with very few exceptions we are born into it and then rationalize/accept it. I am not at all religious and slave to the ritualistic bullshit (like many here, I prefer to think of myself as spiritual), but I have “ancestral baggage” for lack of a better term. 40+ years of habit, not necessarily conviction.
In 2010, I began a significant nutritional inquiry and started to devour everything I could read. My father, diabetic at 35, died of cancer at age 52. Now as a father myself for a few years, I felt compelled to do good not only by my daughter, but by myself, to ensure the well-being and longevity of our family. This led me to Paleo. I now am a proud and active member of this community. Other than the occassional inappropriate “anatomical” posts (which mysteriously seem to get deleted), I would like to think I am a thoughtful contributor here in recent months.
Ok, so time to come out of the closet….I eat no meat or fish. I do, however, liberally eat whole eggs and full fat dairy. As far as eggs are concerned, I have eaten them since childhood. As absurd as it might sound, my mother when I was a few years old started feeding me eggs unbeknownst to my father because IN SPITE OF BEING A STRICT LACTO-VEGETARIAN HERSELF, she knew that eating eggs would be good for my health (aren’t mothers wonderful!). By the time my dad caught wind of it, I was already hooked and he never said a word (he knew it was good for me too). My death bed meal would unquestionably include eggs! But 42 years into life, I have never intentionally eaten meat or fish. I am not advocating this to be optimal at all based on my last year of nutritional inquiry. I am convinced that meat does the body good. But sometimes good enough is good enough.
My primary influence has been and continues to be Dr. Kurt Harris and his Archevore approach to Paleo. If are not already familiar with it, please see the following - http://www.archevore.com/get-started/ . One of the fundamental issues is how you define Paleo. Just use the search function above to see the countless debates regarding macronutrients, inclusion vs exclusion of dairy, inclusion vs exclusion of non-gluten grains (like white rice), etc etc. As per the Archevore approach, my definition of a Paleo diet has been primarily based on avoiding the ubiquitous Neolithic Agents of Disease
As a Lacto-Ovo Paleo, I am complaint with the above tenets. Then there are the Paleo lifestyle changes like adequate sleep, activity, lots of sex, etc. In doing so, my well-being and quantitative biometrics (weight, lipids, HbA1C, HS CRP, Deadlift 2x bodyweight, etc) are markedly improved. If you read the Archevore 12 steps, the vast majority of benefits are achieved via the early steps and is more about what you avoid than what you include. I talked to Dr Harris back in May 2011 (which was an amazing conversation). While he in no way suggested that avoiding meat was optimal (he definitely tried to persuade me to eat some good juicy lamb, or at least shellfish!!!), his primary focus continues to be the avoidance of NADs. I point blank told him I was willing to supplement fish oil if he thought I should and he was unequivocal in stating that his preferential approach was to reduce Omega 6 rather than the (hyper) supplementation of Omega 3. In your case, you can just eat some good ocean fish!
The bottom line to me is that as long as you are not vegan, and particularly since you are willing to eat eggs and fish, you can not only survive but actually thrive with the Lacto-Ovo-Pesca Paleo approach in comparison to being a SAD eater. And whatever you do, please don’t be vegan - ironic that a non-meat eater is making that statement : - ) I write this not because of some judgement of the ethical aspects of veganism or position of superiority, but simply because the nutritional deficiencies resulting from the avoidance of full fat dairy are enormous.
I’m not going to lie to you, IT IS VERY TOUGH TO FOLLOW THIS WAY OF EATING WITHOUT CONSTANT VIGILENCE, GIVEN THE SELF-IMPOSED HANDCUFFS. But the important things in life usually are tough. I am able to have my Paleolithic cake (avoiding NADs) and eat it too (honoring family tradition). Optimal? No. Better than the alternative. Hell Yes!!!
Also, perhaps a consideration for you is the impact to key relationships in your life. I am married to a woman of Indian descent and while she too was born into a Hindu family, she liberally eats fish and never passes up a good lamb chop (another myth in the Paleo community. There are more non vegetarian Hindus than vegetarian and rarely vegan). In spite of our dietary differences, this is not an issue between us. And as far as our daughter is concerned, I am not at all going to encumber her with my ancestral baggage so she will be relishing the lamb chops with mama and I will be happy (maybe even jealous?) as she does.
You are concerned about being ostracized by vegetarians. Excluding me, since I am clearly an outlier here in this community, I have witnessed enough compassion and thoughtfulness in this community to believe that you are going to be more than accepted by your new Paleo “family”, so screw your judgmental vegetarian friends. Sure there are assholes here too, but show me a community, organization, culture, race, society doesn’t have them. “Respectfully” tell them to go fuck themselves if they get up in your grill.
Last comment which might surprise you…on behalf of my meat eating brothers and sisters here, I actually took exception to the title “Compassionate Paleo”. This implies the others here are not compassionate because they choose to eat meat. I am bringing this to your attention because I am quite certain that you did not intend to offend anyone. But can you see how people that are choosing to eat meat might be? Something to think about.
That’s my 2 cents. Ok, let the shredding begin. Seacrest, out….
I was a vegetarian for about 20 years, for many reasons. I now see vegetarianism as another way humans draw a line between "us" and "them" (them being the animals). I've come to feel that it's almost, like, an arrogance to believe that humans have risen above the requirement for meat as food... I guess I was thinking humans had perhaps evolved, (in 'consciousness' or something); and that I had a choice, that I was smarter than nature, that I was not an animal. I was also misinformed about nutrition, like most folks. The bottom line is that I am not physically evolved to eat the way I was eating (no meat, plenty of grains). I wasn't healthy. I had to make a choice to accept my animal nature, my instinct for survival, that I had intellectualized away with my big dumb human brain. Compassion and eating animals are not mutually exclusive; and like many other things - compassion must start within. I had to choose life. My life.
It has been about 5 months now. I still struggle with it sometimes - I don't take it for granted. If I start feeling squeamish, I practice gratitude; and I remind myself of my little place here on this planet, of the incredible symbiosis that brought us all here; and daily I feel ever more connected to life and the people and creatures who share this time here with me, as well as those came before and after.
Personally, I made no attempt to ease into things by abstracting the new food into nice tofu-like cubes, I dove right in and immediately began eating things that had identifiable parts, with bones and sinew and whatnot. Right away I was eating offal, and fish with head-still-on. I had to do it that way - I didn't want close my eyes and pretend like it wasn't happening. I'm finally, gratefully, accepting my place as actor in the cycle of life.
All that aside, my main motivation as a vegetarian was a desire to avoid supporting the ethical and environmental disaster of the factory-farming industry. The slow-food movement and the increased availability of sustainably farmed food made it possible for me to make the changes - I wouldn't have done it otherwise. I also feel like supporting local farms will do more to progress the food industry - even on a small scale - than eating (processed) vegetarian food. Like Rooty, I also recommend reading Michael Pollan (and for those of you who still eat CAFO meat, I recommend Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser).
Good Luck to you, I hope you find a way of eating that is both comfortable and nourishing. :)
ETA My meat buying-club just posted this on facebook and I like it:
We cannot live harmlessly at our own expense; we depend on other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration." Wendell Berry
What about moving to sustainably/ethically-sourced meat?
Feedlot animals are treated horribly, and even for a die-hard meat eater like me, that's a tough pill to swallow. There are farms where this isn't the case, though. Animals that live a content, natural life, and then are slaughtered compassionately (that sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?).
Pick up a copy of Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. The first half or so will probably make you even more steadfast in your vegetarianism, but I think the latter half will turn things around a bit for you. Most notably, he visits and profiles Joel Salatin's Polyface Farms, which is about as diametrically opposed to normal CAFO-style agriculture as possible.
It just showed me how farming can be done, even if it's not as widespread as we'd like. With some research, and knowing what you're looking for, I think you can find meat that you'll feel okay about eating.
I try and say a prayer when I consume animals (which is nearly every meal), that includes
Once upon a time I was in the same boat. I finally came to the conclusion that my ideals and my biology had come to an impasse, and I couldn't change my biology, so the ideals had change. I suppose I could have chosen to naturally select my meat needing genes out of the game, but I'm not that hardcore.
The thing that really made it feel okay for me was watching a documentary about urban farmsteading. The woman in it mentioned that predators have their eyes in the front, and prey have eyes on the side their heads. She also expressed sadness about butchering the animals she had hand reared. I appreciated that she divulged her full spectrum of feelings about it. I think it is normal and natural part of being human. Being super predators we might otherwise waste meat and overhunt if we didn't feel a little guilty about taking a life.
I go to the farmer's market to get cuts of meat directly from the people who raised and culled the animals. It somehow feels cleaner for me emotionally than anonymous meat in plastic wrap at the grocery store. One of the times was almost spiritual, like a ceremonial taking and giving of life force. Sorry if that last bit was too woo woo, but I think wanting to honor the sacredness of life is what kept me vegetarian, and knowing that I can take that into meat consumption is comforting.
There is also no rule that you have to eat high on the food chain. Ruminants do offer really awesome nutrition, but shrimp, mussels, clams, crawfish, small fish, etc. are quite nourishing.
If you can't bring yourself to a place of being able just say, heck this is my place on the food chain, there is one vegan meat out there: placenta.
I think many small-scale grassfed and organic beef producers see their work as vocation, or holy calling, and respect both the eater and the animals that are giving sustenance. I know that we don't sleep if the animals are in any way uncomfortable or lacking in anything, and we ensured that our processor used stress-free humane slaughter methods. A true husbandman "cares" in the fullest sense of the word, for his/her livestock.
Some people get good results on a mostly starch diet with supplementary protein from fish and invertebrates and plenty of things like coconut and avocado. I'd suggest trying out such a diet and if you end up needing to add meat, then looking for local farms where you can visit and ask questions about how the animals are raised and slaughtered.
Edit: seriously? No difference between meat and fish in terms of compassion? I don't think anyone who says that has actually even killed an animal. Here is a story about a chef's first slaughter. I subbed in fish so you can see how absurd it is
"I first harvested an fish—an adult salmon and two fry—eight years ago," explains Cosentino, using the politically correct term he adopted after being bombarded by haters. "It's a whole mix of emotions—fear, hate, joy, awe—all the big ones. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, holding this baby fry in my arms and petting him until he died, trying to make him comfortable. Did I cry? Yes. Do I cry every time I harvest fish? Yes." There is a slight catch in his voice. "I cry every time I talk about it."
Cosentino continues to participate in slaughter. "My fish all have names; I've raised some from birth. You need to look your animal in the eye before you put it on the plate," he says. "It's very real. It's hard."
Evolutionary this makes sense. We are closer to cows and pigs than we are to salmon or scallops. Cows and pigs have behaviors and emotions that are very similar to ours. We can see the pain in their eyes and when you kill one you feel their pain. Slaughtering an animal was a hard experience for me. I just don't get the idea of feeling the same way about fish. When I catch a fish it's just no big deal at all.
I understand where you're coming from, and yet I'm confused. I'm assuming your dilemma is with eating living things, which means you don't like that they have to die in order for you to eat them... Yet you say you eat fish. Aren't fish alive too? What difference is there between a salmon and a cow? I see none.
I love animals. I would do anything for my pets. If I could I would've given blood and a kidney to save my dog when she was dying. But I also realize that humans are, by nature, omnivores. There's plenty of evidence to that. When I ask myself, "would you kill an animal to feed your starving child?", the answer is "yes". My loving animals and my eating meat are kind of like two separate concepts. Through my own experiences and explorations I know what nature intended for the human race, and I feel it would be pointless to fight it, not to mention detrimental to my health.
Factory animals are treated horribly, and I don't blame you if you have a problem with that. I do. Look for local farms where animals are treated well and live happy lives. Not only does it affect the quality of the meat, but it makes our animal-loving hearts feel better.
Best of luck, whatever you decide.
Leslie, I could have written 98 percent of your post myself. I'm also a 30-year veg-head, very light lacto-veg.
As I hit my 40s, I found I needed something different, so I'm researching, and researching, and researching. I recently had my first animal flesh protein since John Lennon was alive.
I was the lesbian who slept with a guy and woke up ousted from her community. (metaphorical, here...)
I moderate vegetarian forums...how could I eat fish? I get nauseous smelling bacon, or even seeing it on a cooking show. (life long, btw)
I am trying a bit of fish regularly to see if the system will work with it. Jury is out. More importantly, I'm lowering whole grains and eliminating refined grains. Sugar is next.
So, depending on why you traveled the vegan road, you have a few options: one, revert to L/O/pesca, which seems like it could do what you need (and that is more important than adhering to a philosophy in diet), and find a community not based on food (and that will be the bigger shock, I think). Secondly, experiment, and you might find you are fine as a veg, and that is OK, too. Thirdly, paleo with meat might work, and you will develop a new outlook.
All are fine. We eat to feed ourselves, not a ring of judges pointing bony or greasy fingers. We also feed our souls. That is intensely personal.
I never fully clicked with the philosophy of veganism: that humans have NO right to use animals in any way. I have always thought we should be present and aware in all we do, admit when we kill (that includes plants) and have an attitude of gratitude, and use the life to be better people in the universe.