Everything in life is a journey, and I concluded a very positive and eye opening one this spring. I spent almost four months as a quasi vegetarian, eating absolutely no beef, pork or chicken (not including eggs), in an effort to rid my body of toxins and a lot of guilt. While home sick one winter day (technically speaking) in Miami, I decided to watch a documentary on NetFlix called Food Inc. While not entirely about the low standards regarding animal welfare, the film really exposed what’s wrong with our food system in general. I felt sick to my stomach after watching how processed our food is, how horrible many of the animals and people in the industry are treated, and how big business has done away with small farmers as we once knew them. After the film was over I literally got up and proceeded to throw stuff away from my fridge. I didn’t want anything to do with processed lunch meats or anything else that was “factory farmed”. I instantly decided to become a vegetarian and set out to let everyone know what I just learned.
You should first be aware that I’m a huge carnivore. I love meat and greatly respect the predator / prey relationship humans have with animals. My favorite restaurant was Texas de Brazil, a type of establishment termed a “churrascoria,” which are very popular here in South Florida. A churrascoria is a meat lover’s paradise. Typically, for a flat fee, waiters (usually very handsome for some reason) walk around with huge knives adorned with cuts of meat like top sirloin, filet mignon wrapped in bacon and anything else that four legs can produce. You can stuff yourself for hours, go home and fall into a deep coma where you continue to dream about the feast you just consumed. It’s the very essence of gluttony and it was my favorite place to spend an evening with my partner Eric and take out of town guests.
My goal however, was much more important to me than the hot waiters walking around with big pieces of meat (seriously I couldn’t resist that one). I needed to make a serious change which was not only important to the animals I was eating, but to the planet and the people involved in the process. So I set out to distance myself from it as much as possible. That night I went to my local Publix and bought my first boxes of vegetarian burgers and chicken patties. I had to buy better eggs too, I couldn’t believe what hens were put through in small battery cages and was horrified to discover that “cage free” still meant living indoors with poop everywhere.
You see, something made perfect sense to me. As people go, it’s pretty much generally accepted that if you’re stressed out, you’re gonna get sick. People say it at my office all the time “don’t let it get to you, it will will make you sick and it’s not worth it.” So I think we can all agree that being stressed out means your body produces nasty biological toxins which will eventually make you sick and in some cases, just plain kill you. Okay cool, got the concept, great.
Now think of this. Much of our meat we buy is factory farmed in which animals are kept in extremely stressful conditions, some of which could be described as torture. You literally could not house your dog or cat in the same way because you would be arrested for cruelty. But for some reason it’s perfectly acceptable to keep a pig confined in a crate their entire life, which is so small they can’t even turn around. That’s just fucked up. What sort of toxins do you think this stressed out animal is producing? Perhaps you’re okay with the cruelty aspect because you regard the animal as a food source, okay whatever. But answer this question. What do you think eating these animals along with their stress induced toxins is doing to you? Think you don’t produce enough on your own and need even more?
To me it’s no surprise that everyone seems to be getting cancer and other chronic diseases these days. Something isn’t right and while there might not be a single cause for this, I don’t doubt the food we put in our bodies is a huge factor. From the pesticides we spray on fruits and veggies to the animals we put through hell, the system has to change. The best part is you, as a consumer, have a tremendous amount of power. As they noted in Food Inc., you might not think you much much say but take a look around the grocery store and see how much organic milk, cheese, meats and produce there is. And while organic meat doesn’t mean humanely treated, it shows that where there’s a market the industry will respond. In other words, money talks, bullshit walks.
McDonald’s recently announced all the eggs they use in their restaurants will be cage free within the next ten years. While this change will cost billions of dollars and might sound great, cage free hens are still indoors, living in incredibly crowded and filthy conditions, often in total darkness. Still, the fact that McDonald’s would be willing to make such a change at such cost, means they know where the industry is headed. Other chains such as Burger King are also doing the same, evidence that we can make a difference through small changes performed collectively.
Several weeks into my vegetarian type lifestyle I was feeling great. I was losing lots of weight and I wasn’t tired as many people have described when taking on this new way of eating. I began to make vegetarian tacos (which actually tasted better), veggie ‘chikin’ sandwiches and even brought along veggie meatloaf when joining my family for Easter dinner. I still had to carve the ham though, which was pretty gross for me at the time. I found myself actually starting to not like meat and preferred the textured soy substitutes I found an abundance of at Target, Publix and other stores. I switched my eggs to organic “Happy Eggs,” a company that lets the hens roam around an eight to twelve acre facility in the open sunshine. They were more expensive but the taste and color were well worth it. Of course my veggies and fruits had to be organic as well. I was in it for the long haul.
About three months later something began to change. I didn’t feel so great anymore and I started to bloat like crazy. I had so much gas it was painful and I would have to leave the office to walk in the parking lot and let it all out. I also started to itch. A little at first, but then it became more and more intense to the point where hives started to appear on my body at night. I realized I was developing an allergy to soy products to which my health conscious friends exclaimed “Of course! Soy is bad for you! Didn’t you know that? Everyone knows that!” Seriously? I was so confused and I was totally like “what the fuck?” Now what was I supposed to do? What am I supposed to eat? I was just getting used to this!
It was time to re-evaluate my position while sticking to my initial philosophy of trying to help animals and end the practice of factory farming. I still wanted to effect change, but somehow I felt like this was the Universe’s way of telling me there was a better method. So I came up with a plan that I still feel is equally as effective, if not even more so. I started to shift my purchase of beef, chicken and pork to small farms where animals were still treated with respect and cows lived out in fields eating grass in the sunshine, not confined to feed lots eating mostly grain. A website called Butcher Box made this very easy for me and giving these farmers my business helps sustain and increase demand for humanely raised animals. It also means that I’m eating healthier as the animal didn’t live a stressed out existence. Additionally, grass fed beef is higher in omega-three fatty acids which is great for your heart. As I mentioned in another blog post, if you’ve ever wondered why your grandparents lived so long with a diet consisting mainly of beef, while smoking and drinking with the best of them, now you know. Factory farms didn’t exist.
If you would like to make more humane choices while grocery shopping, there’s an excellent website to help you understand what terms like “free range” and “cage free” mean, how to read labels and other things to consider when buying food sourced from farms. The Food Animals Concerns Trust even has a handy guide to print out and carry with you to the store. If you’ve had your own “NVE” let me know how it went and if you shared a similar experience. While it’s a bit more expensive at times to buy organic and humane, the benefits to your health and the environment are numerous. Not to mention you’ll sleep better at night knowing the hens laying the eggs for breakfast will enjoy the next day as much as you will.