melon/mushroom misunderstandings

Recovering from surgery the past few days has provided an unfortunate abundance of television time. And guess what everyone’s been talking about this week (“everyone” being the influential Ellen & Oprah)? The magic of being a vegetarian.

I’m listening to all this and thinking (pardon me, fellow vegetarians): what a bunch of boloney!

Yesterday, Ellen hosted Jonathan Safran Foer on her show. He wrote the influential book Eating Animals, and I interpret “influential” by the flocks of readers proclaiming their newly improved lives. Nine year-old girls and middle-aged men alike shared testimonies of their successful, healthier lifestyles since becoming vegetarian—after reading this book. Without exception, everyone was happier, more energized, living more harmoniously, etc.

Day Two of recovery, I catch the second half of Oprah’s show called Food 101. In her satellite interview with Alicia Silverstone (adorable in the 90′s satire Clueless), Alicia evangelizes about all the glories of veganism, as exemplified in her book The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight, and Saving the Planet. If the title alone doesn’t suggest some awfully big promises, allow me to share some of her comments from the interview. Since becoming vegan, she has no more acne, bloating or fatigue. Alicia’s life is “brighter”, she has lost and maintained a healthy weight, and the “whites of [her] eyes are actually whiter”.

Perhaps I’m too skeptical for my own good, even for someone sharing in this celebrity’s passion for advocating healthy food choices. But I fear these narratives offer false promise setting up readers/listening/viewers/followers for certain disappointment.

There are a few things I want to say about my personal experience with vegetarianism, and I hope this is a safe venue to begin a dialogue on the matter. I really wish a vegetarian lifestyle offered the same success and transformations for me that it offers for Ellen and Oprah’s followers. But I have persistent acne, doctor visits as frequent as the next meat-eater, and worsening eyesight despite my carrot intake. It would be simple to be swept away into vegetarianism made to sound like the perfect, trendy diet. Truthfully, I object to meat for its taste and texture before principal. To cut meat from a standard diet anticipating dramatic life changes… well, I fear these motivations lead to ultimate disappointment.

I love my life as a vegetarian for endless reasons: I feel great about what I’m putting in my body (and believe I’m improving my longevity as a result), I generally have less concern about food safety, it’s little challenge to maintain a limited fat intake, my diet offers an abundance of variety (vs. 142 ways to dress chicken breasts), and I rarely experience “gross” satiety upon finishing a meal.

Though I gleefully spread my love for vegetables and fresh food throughout my social encounters, I wouldn’t ask, or even suggest, that the people in my life become vegetarians. To alter one’s view of certain foods as “sacrifices” and others as “indulgences” worries me. I’m writing my final research project this semester on the evolution of America’s relationship to food via home cooking trends, and surely will have more to say on the subject later. But for now, it seems to me that moderation of all foods (real, grown foods), and a variety of nutrient-dense foods offers the most fulfilling diet for many eaters. Do the foods we ingest not have more impact than the foods we restrict? Our bodies are not nourished by what we’re not eating, but what we are. Rather than “good food” and “bad food” labels that offer guilt or relief, I think altering our perception of food must be done in a way that values food for its benefits and quality in our lives. 

While I’m on my soapbox, can I make a brief statement about Fake Meat????? When Oprah’s cameras followed Alicia Silverstone into the grocery store today, Miss Silverstone stopped at the freezer section to drool over breaded imitation chicken breasts, reminding her audience that these really, “aren’t so bad”. Thus, she continued, “giving up meat doesn’t have to be so hard”. For meat lovers seeking low-fat alternatives, soy burgers/tofurkey/fake bacon strips may be a feasible option. But, please shed light on this for me: How can a vegetarian find fake meat appealing? Even edible?? As I stated above, I have long eluded animal products because the taste and texture gross me out. Naturally, I don’t turn to vegetarian “tastes just like real chicken” alternatives because they have the same detrimental effect. For vegetarians who oppose the slaughter of animals, how can a product so similar in taste and appearance be acceptable? I would so appreciate input on this matter.

Vegetarians have all kinds of connotations and reputations, and I wouldn’t doubt there are readers who might overlook my blog for its vegetarian association. But I felt it pressing, in the midst of this “responsible food movement” to set out a few crucial talking points on the matter.

Please, please, please: if you can, eat your veggies and eat them in abundance. Choose fruits and whole grains, too. But enjoying your food, participating in its preparation, and demanding the delicious, is what I believe contributes to a healthy, fulfilling life. That’s just my take.

April 2010 update: the food blog Tigers & Strawberries had a powerful post inspired by Micheal Pollan’s comment that American women have stopped cooking. If you’re interested in reading (and I highly suggest it!), click here.

2 Comments

Filed under health, here to share

2 responses to “melon/mushroom misunderstandings

  1. Tommy Wills

    I have a lot of opinions! Where to begin…I suppose firstly I would say that like any other ‘fad’ discussed (read: promoted) on Oprah, Ellen, et. al there is almost always an exaggeration of any of the positive attributes because that is what garners the best ratings and then the target audience just moves on to something else the next day or week. Aside from the smug satisfaction I get from being a vegan, I have noticed a lot of health benefits. Granted, I dropped meat and dairy within less than a week of each other [quitting cold tofurkey?] so it’s dicier to determine what changes specifically have been most effective.
    My motivation for dropping dairy was a result of reading all the articles on the site notmilk.com and my disgust with the meat industry came not long thereafter. In my case, my skin has been completely clear, I haven’t been sick, and most noticeably I have not had a stuffed/runny nose in over a year. I think being more conscious of what one consumes (regardless of whether one is eating meat) necessarily leads to better health and when one has that discerning mindset along with consuming objectively more nutritious food there are bound to be improvements. Coupled with I what I perceive to be very toxifying elements in much of what is produced by the dairy and meat industries I think it’s certainly a case of omitting those foods as to why I’m healthier in addition to eating a lot more veggies and fruits.
    As for fake meat, I don’t find it at all offensive conceptually. Humans have traditionally relied very heavily on animal proteins for health and survival and the consumption of and taste for meat is perfectly natural. Natural however doesn’t always mean it’s good. And I can’t pretend that I don’t think animals aren’t delicious, I think they are very tasty. However, I think it’s completely unnecessary (if not altogether unhealthy in many instances) for an animal to suffer and die to sate my hunger for a few hours. If somebody is so stuck on the taste and texture that they find it difficult to drop animal proteins from their diet, perhaps the fake meat is a good transition out of eating animals if it’s not an end in itself, so I don’t think they are all bad in that regard. Fake meats are still gross though by and large so I’d rather just stick to real fruits, veggies and nuts.

    Great post Lindsey!

  2. Pingback: get-well soup « a pear to remember

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