This is not just a salad.
When you haven’t eaten a bite of meat in 23 years, this salad becomes kind of a big deal. This salad represented a total juncture for me, a willingness to look beyond my well-defined “rules,” and a leap into the unknown (as in, what is going to happen to me if I eat this?).
Why was this salad a big deal for me, and why am I telling you this? A little back story first…
23 Years without Meat
I gave up on meat as a teenager because, frankly, I thought it was gross. I never liked meat as a kid (somehow I was ok with the occasional Big Mac, sausage pizza and other similar delicacies, but not actual meat). This was never a moral issue for me, it was a personal taste/texture issue. That said, the more I learned about how 90% of the meat is farmed and harvested in the United States, the easier it was to just avoid it altogether. It was never an issue of discipline for me – I simply didn’t want it. And, I still cooked well-sourced meat for my family and friends. [NOTE: I do believe in the food chain, and I think there are ways to find and consume meat responsibly. If you have a different belief, that’s 100% ok. Why would we have to agree on this? You make your choices according to your framework, and I will make mine. Can we set that aside for now? I want to tell you about WHAT HAPPENED.]
A few days ago, I left the office of this wonderful practioner to whom I was complaining about how I am always hungry, constantly overeating, and how I just generally feel like my eating habits are controlling me – which they are, and which I am totally OVER.
Does this surprise you? I am pretty healthy compared to the majority of the population, maybe. I eat very little processed food, tons of veggies, drink only water, hot teas or coffee and the occasional red wine, and I try to stay fit. BUT, but, but…I also eat more than most men in a day, I am hungry about an hour after every meal or “snack,” and I just haven’t felt my “peak” self recently, despite my fairly concerted efforts.
So, while I am not allowed in the official vegetarian camp because I sometimes eat fish, I have definitely thought of myself as a vegetarian for more than two decades. No, my hair didn’t start falling out, no I didn’t gain 30 pounds from eating vegetarian processed foods and soy all the time, and no, I didn’t suffer from a lack of strength or any of the other things that DO often happen to people who avoid meat chronically. In fact, I felt pretty good most of the time. But, something changed.
Note to self: we are not static beings. We are organic, dynamic, complex amazing beings, and our needs change on every level as we move through life. This is sometimes bizarre or frustrating, and it is sometimes called growth.
Anyway, for some reason, I listened with different ears to this smart, fabulously healthy practioner who basically said, “why don’t you just try it?” and I couldn’t think of more than one reason not to. The one reason I did think of? I don’t like meat. BUT, one of my mantras is a quote from Arthur Ashe on achieving greatness: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” I thought about that, and then I thought about…
Say what you will, a lot of life’s challenges can be made better with bacon. So can recipes. You can be a fish-only vegetarian and still be aware of this wisdom.
So, I marched myself to Whole Foods (I trust their sourcing more than most. A farmer’s market would be my absolute ideal, but, “use what you have,” right?), and I talked far too much to the butcher about why I was buying bacon for the first time in my life while he looked at me kindly and oddly at the same time like I was an alien, but a friendly one, and then he gave me 4 pieces of Black Forest bacon and told me how not to ruin it (PS – he was wearing a pin on his apron that said “I heart bacon” which I took as a sign that the universe was nudging me in the right direction here).
And then I went home and cooked it. I crumbled up 2 fat slices and added them to a huge bowl of arugula, with kalamata olives and sundried tomatoes that I sautéed for just a few seconds in the bacon pan for extra fat and flavor (baby steps? nah.), then I sprinkled in some hemp seeds for nutritional value and added a hint of shaved hard goat cheese and a ton of black ground pepper. And then, after a moment of gratitude and a few moments of “what am I doing?”…I ate that stuff UP.
And nothing happened.
I just ate a normal meal in a single sitting, felt satisfied, full and just pleasant. And all of that, for me, was huge. I just felt normal. I didn’t pace around looking for other things to eat as soon as everyone else had finished their meal, and I wasn’t hungry again for at least 4 hours. It was utterly liberating.
Is there a moral to this story?
Did those 2 pieces of bacon alter the course of my life and wellness? No. Of course not. I mean, the combination of flavors, good fats and protein was fairly awesome, but the revolution was in my HEAD. I realized something that I knew intellectually, but often fail at in application – that we create most of our own challenges, that we can remove our challenges when we’re ready, and importantly, that what works for me is WHAT WORKS FOR ME, and not some book of rules that works for somebody else.
So, while I may never fully move into the “meat-atarian” camp – and if I do add meat to my repertoire, it is almost certainly going to be as a condiment – it doesn’t really matter. I am going to listen to my body, listen hard, and I am going to do what she says.
That’s what’s working for me, for right now.
What about you? Have you made any changes that felt significant to your journey? Are there any that you are avoiding or afraid of? Share them in the comments.