Dear Willow: Should I Eat Meat or Not?
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There is a lot of information out there about what I should or shouldn’t be eating. I currently eat meat and have been thinking about turning vegetarian or vegan. At least that is what is spoken about a lot in many communities, and I want to make sure I’m healthy. What are your thoughts? What is the right way to eat in this regard?
Just to get it out of the way I need to make this disclaimer: I am not a doctor or nutritionist, and I have not received formal education in regards to any of the below matters. I have acquired all of my information from first hand experience and not the experience regurgitated from textbooks. There are plenty of resources available to you and the library is a great start. This topic is much debated and I will tell you what I believe. My beliefs are based on what is right for me and it is up to you to do what is right for you. You must first consult with your professional team, especially if you have specific needs based on a diagnosis or are taking medication.
Phew! Now that is out of the way, so here’s my story and answer:
Eleven years ago, I sat in a yoga workshop with a few East Coast instructors who had us read a PETA manual with photos of decaying cows. Ten years ago, I read books on the life force within plants and how they moaned when cut or picked. Six years ago I sat in a highly revered motivational seminar where we watched commercial farms butchering chickens, putting them on a conveyor belt to dip them in a highly acidic bath mixed with their own urine, blood, and guts. I felt guilt, for being hungry, and shame, for my life being dependent on the death of some living organism, plant or animal. I was vegetarian. I was vegan. I ate only raw foods. I was a detoxing, fasting fanatic. I was gluten-free, dairy-free, cage-free, pesticide-free, toxin-free and thoughtless of others that ate.
I broke down and allowed the fear tactics to dictate my life. I feared making the wrong decision and being judged by someone else’s view on what I was or wasn’t supposed to be eating. I thought the best option was to begin many years of living with less. I began “fasting” as a means to starve out the shame and lessen my need to be dependent on death for my life. I was repulsed during the holidays that advocate gluttony and was angry that few children knew where their food came from. My world began to shrink and narrow along with my mind. Instead of honoring abundance, I became a master of deprivation - depriving myself of sleep, food, love, and community. After all, highly revered moral and spiritual beings like Sadhus and aesthetics or Babas lived in caves, practiced yoga or meditation all the time, and lived lives with no attachments. Ultimately, I felt shame for having been born and for putting a burden on the planet.
All the messages around food and what not to eat were the first messages from outsiders I listened to. Up until that point, I lived a carefree and purpose-filled life. People could express to me their opinion and I would not adopt it as part of my identity. What changed for me was that I began listening to peers for what was right for me, rather than choosing their words as though I was educating myself and collecting information. I took their words as gospel and began living my life with scarcity and fear of being judged. All because I wanted love from others and knew that if I wanted to live, I needed to eat.
I am speaking this story to you because I frequently hear people ask the same question you asked. I also hear nutritional authorities preach their lessons and hear people impose their beliefs in a guilt-driven way to people who are making different choices than theirs.
My hope is that you listen to your own insights on what is right for you. Take information as a tool to educate yourself about how to optimize your health and mindset. If you choose to eat meat, make informed and honorable decisions around where the meat came from and how it was treated. Honor and respect the life of animals and plants.
If you really want my opinions and wish to fast track toward optimal health, gain independence from commercialism and consumerism by doing one, many, or all of the following things and abide by the cardinal rule: keep it simple. You are better off eating what came naturally from the ground. I have a saying, “Eat as close to the earth as possible.”
- Dig up your lawn and plant a vegetable garden.
- Plant berries, fruit trees, and herbs.
- Raise chickens for eggs and meat.
- Keep bees for pollination and honey.
- Dairy goats for weeding and milk.
- Ride a bicycle.
- Join a co-op.
- Purchase meat from local farms.
- Shop at farmer’s markets and support local merchants.
- Learn more about your native roots prior to the 20th century and what your ancestors ate. Try to eat similarly to what they ate, as your DNA is adapted to these foods.
- Eat when you are hungry. Don’t eat when you are not.
- If eating is something you do for comfort, give yourself what you need rather than filling the void with food.
- Eat vegetables.
- Eat protein.
- Drink a lot of water (do not purchase water bottles, refill canteens).
- Eat treats occasionally.
- Stop labeling your actions with “diet,” “-free,” or “I don’t eat…” and replace these language patterns with what you do eat. Change the focus from deprivation to eating foods that help you thrive.
Now, I eat mainly fowl, bison, elk, deer, eggs, vegetables, fruits, and chocolate. I drink green powders, minerals, water, and coffee. I honor the animals I eat and practice kindness to every animal I greet, whether I am anticipating they will end up as food or friends.
Above all else, be in the now and respect life around you. Care enough about your actions to know if they are harming or helping yourself, others or the planet. After all, we are what we eat, think, and act.