a peek inside the fishbowl

15 Apr, 2009

Thinking about meat vs. non-meat

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Recipes and Food|Yaktivism

I’m pretty interested in the foods we eat, how they’re made, and what effect they have on our physical (and mental!) health. Not that long ago I wrote about a book called Eating Clean. And then I read a book called Food Matters. It was that point (about three weeks ago?) I decided to become a part-time vegan.

I’ll explain more about this in a moment.

I used to have a vegetarian friend who once chastised her roommates for eating “flesh sandwiches” when she found them eating ham and cheese. In a sense, she was right (meat IS flesh, you can’t deny it), but I think it was a a slightly mean and annoying way of expressing oneself. I’m assuming her ham-eating friends had accepted her way of eating without comment, why would she feel she needed to do otherwise? She certainly wasn’t winning anyone over.

The problem is that discussing veganism/vegetarianism to meat-eating folks is like talking about politics or religion. It’s a sensitive issue. If a vegetarian defends her opinions she is practically accusing the meat-eaters of being cold-hearted animal killers. Nobody really wants to hear that by choosing meat they are closing your eyes the inhumane treatment of animals. (i.e. Is there truly a difference between a calf and a puppy?) Anyway, I don’t really want to get into all that here, but I have been teetering on the edge of vegetarianism for years.

In his book Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan describes an ideal farm: mixed crops, meat and veg and grains, all working together in a sustainable way. i.e. cattle being moved around the pasture to grow fat on wild grasses, being followed around by chickens in a special mobile coop (who ate the bugs/corn in the cow poop) and laid wonderful eggs. It was more complicated than what I’m describing, but every part of the farm contributed to some other part, like some intricate piece of machinery.

The practices which Pollan described largely disappeared with the advent of factory farming.

But I digress. I wasn’t a big fan of the Food Matters book, it was more sensational that I would have liked, and not as complete as Omnivore’s Dilemma, but I did like the idea of trying out part-time veganism (which means no animal products i.e. no egg, dairy, meat). This was something I could do, and I’ve being doing it pretty successfully for the past few weeks. (That is, except for the time I accidentally ate a hard-boiled egg and succumbed to sushi for lunch. I’ve also made exception for my morning coffee.)

I once worked with a vegetarian who ate Doritos and Coke for lunch. Just because people call themselves vegan/vegetarians doesn’t necessarily mean they eat very well. I figured this out after three days of cucumber and hummus sandwiches. I hadn’t gone grocery shopping and I was sadly under-prepared.

Here’s what I do.

Breakfast: coffee (which I make with milk), toast with almond butter, a piece of fruit (usually a banana), or cereal with soy milk.

Snacks: fruit, nuts, bread dipped in olive oil & balsamic, more fruit

Lunch: Marla’s black bean soup (which I have perfected!), or salad, or sandwich (i.e. cucumber and hummus). I had a lovely slice of toasted bread with sliced cucumbers for lunch today.

Dinner: whatever.

Dinnertime is when I stop being a vegan. I eat cheese (which I miss terribly during the day), butter, meat etc.

By leaving meat/dairy/egg out of two of three meals I’ve dramatically increased the amount of incoming fruit and vegetable.  There’s no calorie counting (weight loss isn’t my main motivating factor although the few pounds I’ve lost have been a nice benefit) and it’s pretty easy. While I scrounge around the fridge for something for lunch I’m not weighing the pros and cons of ham vs. salami, margerine vs. butter. I just don’t have either.

I was a heavy meat-eater growing up. It wasn’t considered dinner if there wasn’t some meat in it. The meals always centred around meat – usually beef. You know what? It doesn’t have to. Our love affair with beef is getting us in trouble all over the place. (This coming from someone who loves a juicy medium-rare steak.)

I will still eat it, I will just eat less.

I’m not sure how long I’m going to keep this up. I miss having breakfast for lunch (I’ve mentioned my love of bacon multiple times) and I miss my yogurt. But on the flip side, I’ve been feeling pretty good. So why stop now?

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35 Responses to "Thinking about meat vs. non-meat"

1 | Mom On The Go

April 15th, 2009 at 5:38 pm

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I’m the same point in my thinking as you though not as formal as to declare myself part-time vegan/vegetarian. I’ve recently found out I’m iron deficient and I think eating as a vegan may well see me get the iron I need without adding weight that I don’t need. If you need inspiration, check out http://melomeals.blogspot.com/.

2 | Scatteredmom

April 15th, 2009 at 6:08 pm

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We eat a lot of chicken and fish, with the odd beef thing thrown in for Jake, because he loves it. With all the food allergies/sensitivities in the house, I don’t think we could go fully vegan/vegetarian. It’s hard enough already!

(Jake can’t eat dairy, I can’t eat many kinds of fruit/nuts, Hubs has a limited diet)

Oh, and those brownies? So easy, you should try them. The girls could help!

3 | lacoop

April 15th, 2009 at 6:13 pm

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The power of suggestion: I’m running to the store right now to get the ingredients for a good ham and cheese sandwich!

4 | porter

April 15th, 2009 at 6:41 pm

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Good for you!

I’ve been following one of your readers (Veg Next Door)
for a while now and I find that just reading about her choices is inspirational for me. I’ve tried several things that she’s written about. That said, at this time we won’t be switching to the lifestyle completely, it’s just nice to incorporate it into our lives. So we might still do breakfast for dinner AND a vegetarian recipe or two for dinner each week!!!

5 | Judy

April 15th, 2009 at 7:11 pm

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Eliminating animal products during the day could also help reduce the grocery budget I am guessing! We have at least one vegetarian dinner a week as our way of cutting back, but lunch and breakfast tend to be a free for all of leftovers, sandwiches and such. I have tons of food allergies (nearly all raw fruits and veg including soy products), so I don’t know if I could go vegan all day.

I look forward to hearing how you do with the part-time vegan and I may need to get the Omnivors Dilemma… I should say there is now a very cool pork shop in Westboro. The Hungry Piggy I think… they focus on local food. Even local ice cream!

6 | Amy @ Muddy Boots

April 15th, 2009 at 7:30 pm

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I haven’t read any of the books you mentioned, so am not sure what their reasoning is for vegan/vegetarianism… or yours really.

I’m currently reading “Nourishing Traditions” and it makes a really great argument FOR eating meat. There aren’t many societies throughout history who have been vegetarian (it’s kind of a modern luxury), whereas there are many examples of societies who’ve eaten almost nothing BUT meat, and experienced remarkable health and very few diseases. It’s a fascinating read and a topic I’m very interested in.

7 | andrea

April 15th, 2009 at 7:43 pm

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Hmm. My reasons. I am trying to find a good balance that works for me, especially as it pertains to my health, and my energy level.

Another reason: many experts agree that factory meat farming isn’t great … not for the animals, for us, and for the planet. I wouldn’t be doing it justice tapping it all out here, but I do recommend you read the Pollan book I mentioned. It is a fascinating read.

I don’t have anything against eating meat per se. You won’t see me mocking anyone’s “flesh sandwich”! I believe we, as humans, were meant to eat meat. But I don’t think we are meant to eat it three times a day, or in such huge quantities.

A proper serving of steak is supposed to be the size of a deck of cards, but when’s the last time your restaurant steak was actually that size?

Lots to think about.

8 | LO

April 15th, 2009 at 9:00 pm

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cutting down on meat i can do but vegan ie no milk, cheese etc-too much thinking and not really interested BUT i do agree that when you are going to eat meat it should be of great quality, organic and so forth. I’m often terrified by what i see at the store and often we aren’t eating it due to lack of something quality:):): but the yogurt, cheese, eggs, etc (hardcore) I could not do and am not interested in it. I think what you are doing is a neat medium. Also, we are more focuse on trying, oh yes, trying and often failing:) on lowering but not eliminating ‘corn’ ingredients, glutens and bad wheats….it’s an entire career at the grocery store sometimes….sigh:) great post Andrea! Makes us think! BTW i once had a neighbour way back when who was vegetarian and they regularly ate tomato sandwiches for dinner………..hmmmmm

9 | Redheadedmama

April 15th, 2009 at 9:18 pm

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I’ve actually gone in the reverse direction – I went from being vegetarian for over 20 years, with a brief stint as a vegan, back to incorporating meat into my diet just last year. It was more of a mental/emotional shock to have to eat meat (I had to do it for some complicated health reasons) than a physical shock. I still don’t like eating meat, for numerous reasons – the biggest one being problems with factory farming practices – but I have discovered that I really like fish. To be honest, I feel much healthier since returning to meat – isn’t that strange? Although for me, a return to meat still means a largely veggie diet, complemented by fish and the occasional chicken (I mostly shy away from 4-legged animals but will eat free-range red meat in a pinch :). Seems my body really needed the protein/iron my even carefully constructed vegetarian diet wasn’t providing. I’ve thought about the meat thing since I decided to go veg back when I was thirteen. I’m also reading the Omnivore’s Dilemma for book club in a few months, and I’m really interested to hear others’ views on this. In a nut shell, I think people should get as many veggies, fruits, and legumes as possible, and just complement it with fish and occasionally with white/red meat (obtained as locally and sustainably as possible) if desired.

10 | Redheadedmama

April 15th, 2009 at 9:41 pm

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Also just wanted to share the following link. The TED conference is an online conference that occurs once a year where key thought leaders speak for exactly 20 minutes about a relevant issue. This one is Mark Bittman’s take on North America’s food problem and how it is ecologically and socially a problem for us today, and for our generation tomorrow. He’s a good speaker and articulates the issues well:

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/mark_bittman_on_what_s_wrong_with_what_we_eat.html

11 | lacoop

April 15th, 2009 at 9:47 pm

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If you are looking for good local meat, try the Ottawa Farmer’s Market (which opens again May 10th, at Landsdowne Park). It has great local vendors, who can give you lots of choice in non-factory meat (bison, elk, beef, chicken and more). Plus there are lots of great local veggies, eggs and so forth. We try to go each weekend when it is open. We also found that some of them will deliver through the winter (we get our eggs and cheese fresh each week from one of the local farms, delivered to our house). And I couldn’t agree more with you Andrea on the serving size…we have really made changes there (e.g. we’ll take a big steak and cut it into 4 oz servings) – it is healthier and it makes your dollar go farther.

12 | Trea

April 15th, 2009 at 10:51 pm

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Hmmmm … you bring up lots of great points. My husband was a veggie for 16 years and he was totally the coke and doritos kind. It drove me nuts. Lucky for him, he married into a good German family where he just couldn’t keep avoiding meat forever – so he stopped trying. Then the truth came out – he was a carnivore at heart and has become the biggest meat eater ever!
For a naturopathic diet, I once too gave up lots of dairy and meat and wheat and all that stuff, and it is true that you feel better. Too bad I couldn’t keep it up … it is about balance.
Have you read the short story by Roald Dahl called Lamb to the Slaughter?

13 | Susan

April 16th, 2009 at 5:21 am

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We are another family that is doing a bit of a compromise. We eat almost no meat, but it is not a hard and fast rule. We’ll have bacon or sandwich meat every once in a while (just about the worst processed meats there are!) and about once a month my husband decides he Must Have Meat and cooks chicken or pork for dinner. I have frankly never thought about going vegan, even part-time, but it might be an interesting experiment, either for one or two meals a dal or for a short period.

I think it’s a matter of everyone making the best choices we can, given all the information out there about food miles, environmental degradation, nutrient loss due to intensive farming, food processing, etc, etc. Shopping can sometimes be exhausting. (AND we have a nut allergy in our house to boot.)

I have read Pollan’s book, which I thought was excellent. The one after that is not nearly as good, I found. I am reading one right now called Secret Ingredients, which covers some of the same ground – so to speak – but from a Canadian perspective.

I have a question for lacoop – do you live in Ottawa? I would love to know where you get your eggs and cheese delivered from if you are.

14 | Tali

April 16th, 2009 at 6:45 am

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I was a vegetarian for 18 years (a vegan for part of it), and then a couple years ago I started eating fish again…a little bit for health, but also because it was the one thing I missed all that time (I stopped eating meat at 12 years old) and I wanted to eat some before they were all gone…

The girls eat meat because I wanted it to be their choice, to eat it or not…I would not be surprised if one of them eventually became a vegetarian.

Meat is really meant to be eaten as a flavoring or condiment, rather than the focus of the plate.

Personally, I won’t eat anything I wouldn’t feel comfortable actually killing. I don’t have problems with other people eating meat (obviously!), but feel like it would be disingenuous, myself. And I don’t wear leather, either, for the same reasons.

15 | Jenn

April 16th, 2009 at 7:45 am

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A few years ago I had to eliminate corn and chicken from my diet. I had to rethink meals and and quickly grew tired of my options. I began to add in many vegetarian options and simply enjoy the variety of textures and flavours.
My thoughts behind eating meat is similar to having dessert. Who said you need to have it at every meal? And when you do indulge, why do so many people gravitate towards the mass produced junk out there? We have a wonderful butcher and that weekend roast or steak not only is a treat but is far better quality than anything bought at the grocery.

16 | Cath

April 16th, 2009 at 10:11 am

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This is a great, fascinating topic. I was a vegetarian for 15 years, and then had a kidney problem that led to my doctors strongly advising re-introducing meat. For me, it made an enormous difference from a health perspective, but it still left me wondering how to eat well from an ethical and environmental standpoint.

At this point, we eat some but not a ton of meat, and what we do eat is largely sourced from local and to the extent possible, organic sources. (For instance, I found a great local supplier of organic chicken; I buy and freeze 6-7 birds and that lasted us all winter). I find that limiting the amount we actually eat makes paying the extra a good trade-off.

I do wonder, though, what is truly the most sustainable choice for the Ottawa area (or this part of Canada more generally) — it would be interesting to know the lifecycle analysis of meat here versus more southern parts of the world where crops grow more quickly (a lot of those stats re: an acre of crops vs an acre of pasture might not be the same for an area that’s frozen 4-5 months of the year!)

17 | Chantal

April 16th, 2009 at 10:59 am

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I used to buy my meat once a year (1/4 of a cow) from a farm in Pakenham who did exactly what you described from “Omnivore’s Dilemma”. The meat was so delicious. Unfortunately they had to stop selling, for personal reasons, this year. I am not sure why, but man do I miss them. I have to really get my butt in gear and find a new supplier that was as good as they were. But that may be hard.

18 | andrea

April 16th, 2009 at 11:57 am

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I wish I had more time to ponder all of your great comments today!

This part-time vegan plan has been working really well for me… mostly because it’s incredibly easy and I haven’t actually eliminated anything from my diet so I don’t feel sad and deprived.

I’ve cut way down on the amount of butter/marg I eat because I’m not having any other than what’s on the table at dinnertime. When I make a sandwich without it I taste much more of the bread and the particular veggies I’ve sliced up, whether it’s cucumber or tomato or whatever.

Today I had a big bowl of soup that was full of beans and veggies and one whole avocado. It was easier (and tastier) than having a ham sandwich.

19 | Rebecca

April 16th, 2009 at 12:01 pm

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Very interesting topic – I grew up with a grandfather for a farmer so we would get beef and chicken fresh from the farm. All farms at the time I knew had free range animals etc. So, naively, I’ve always just picked up my meat from the grocery store thinking it was true everywhere. I support farmers and want Canada to continue to be a leader in beef farming, dairy etc.

Now, I am more aware that factory farming and conditions for animals is awful in some places. I need to find a way to balance my want to eat meat and the guilt. However, it hasn’t yet stopped me from buying it at the grocery store (bad, I know -but I do look for organic or local now).

It’s a hard balance – what I would like to do (buy only local, free range products, especially if organic, hormone-free etc) but my pocket book and convenience hasn’t helped me get there.

I hope you continue to post on this journey and give your tips – your book recommendations etc. may just help me along the way.

20 | andrea

April 16th, 2009 at 12:14 pm

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It’s tough weighing the pros of eating naturally-raised meat vs. how much it actually costs. I’d love to get an organic free range turkey some day but they’re like $60.00 at Saslove’s. I just can’t do it.

But I’m thinking (as someone said above) that if we eat less meat perhaps we can afford to pay a bit more for the good stuff.

21 | Amy @ Muddy Boots

April 16th, 2009 at 12:16 pm

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@Andrea When I asked what you reasons were I think it came across as kind of snippy. I didn’t mean it that way, just that I haven’t been reading your blog that long so wasn’t sure if you’d mentioned it a bunch already. Sorry.

I definitely make a distinction between:
– foods grown organically and those grown with pesticides and commercial fertilizers/antibiotics,
– between unprocessed dairy products from pasture-fed cows and pasteurized dairy products from confined animals raised on processed feed,
– between fresh and rancid fats,
– between range-fed meats and those from animals raised in crowded feedlots,
– between natural and battery-produced eggs
– etc, etc, etc.

I agree wholeheartedly that a diet high in mass-produced, store-bought meat is NOT a good idea, nor do I think that animal products are a must at every meal. However, I just don’t think that humans were meant to live without meat and other animal products. I’m not sure that there are any higher level mammals that are 100% vegetarian.

@lacoop I’d also love to know who delivers eggs and cheese to your door!

@Cath Great point about Canada being different acre for acre than warmer climates. Also, can your share your chicken supplier??

@Chantal Let me know if you find a good source for beef/bison…

Sorry that I turned this pro-veggie ;) post into a list of meat suppliers. But I think the more people who know of and have access to great LOCAL, sustainable meat, the better.

22 | Amy @ Muddy Boots

April 16th, 2009 at 12:17 pm

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Why doesn’t your comment form like my paragraphs?? So much easier to read when there’s a bit of formatting…

23 | andrea

April 16th, 2009 at 12:52 pm

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Fixed it! Thanks for the prodding Amy!

24 | Loukia

April 16th, 2009 at 1:37 pm

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Sometimes this can be a touchy subject – however, I hope I am not judged by the foods I eat! I know I certainly don’t judge others if they choose to not eat meat.

I know someone who is a vegan and her children are also vegans. I think in a way it is wrong to cut out such a huge food group for very young children. I think everything in moderation is good for you. Cheese, yogurt, milk, especially, for children. I know there is soy milk, but it’s not the same… it doesn’t taste the same, anyway…

Your diet sounds very balanced and healthy. You cannot go wrong eating the way you do! And if you’re feeling good, why stop?

I wonder how children who are vegans get their iron? (What are they fed instead of chicken, pork, etc.?)

25 | The Veg Next Door

April 16th, 2009 at 2:40 pm

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Andrea, only you would eat bread dipped in olive oil & balsamic for a snack. So civilized. :-)

Everybody’s comments are very interesting and everybody is so polite. I’ll have to read Nourishing Traditions since I’ve read the exact opposite — many cultures thrive eating no flesh or very little.

Last week on Oprah some groups around the world who live long healthy lives were profiled. One of the common traits was a vegetarian diet or eating very little flesh.

Loukia: iron is found in seeds (such as pumpkin seeds), lentils, beans, legumes, fruit (including berries), blackstrap molasses, vegetables (such as greens) and other foods.

Regarding dairy, we are the only animals that drinks milk beyond infancy and no other animal drinks milk from another animal. Something to think about.

Incorporating vegetarian or vegan meals into your daily life is a step in the right direction.

26 | andrea

April 16th, 2009 at 2:43 pm

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Civilized AND delicious! ;)

I would really like to find a brand of olive oil that is truly delicious all on its own. Anyone have a brand they love? Please share!

27 | Loukia

April 16th, 2009 at 2:52 pm

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I do! It’s from Greece, though! My inlaws and my grandparents bring gallons back every year from Greece. I should mail you some! ;)

The Veg Next Door – thanks for the info!

28 | The Veg Next Door

April 16th, 2009 at 3:00 pm

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Andrea, check out Nicastro’s and ask for assistance. They’ll have tons of recommendations. For dipping you should go with something fruity maybe.

29 | lacoop

April 16th, 2009 at 4:58 pm

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I had to check who we get our food from…and it turns out to be Crerar Honey (613-821-2133 or http://www.crerarshoney.com). They deliver baked goods (from Richmond Bakery), eggs (BEKINGS Poultry Farm), cheese (St Alberts), maple products (not sure who), and of course honey. I think Cochrane Dairies also does something like this (deliver their products, plus a few other local products). When I asked at the Ottawa Farmer’s Market (www.ottawafarmersmarket.ca if you want to see who the vendors are), a number of farms also indicated they would deliver (some would arrange a delivery in the winter as well). Hope that helps.

30 | LO

April 16th, 2009 at 5:20 pm

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The Elk Farm in Carp has excellent meat. ALso, the Carp market (Starting back up later in May Saturdays 8-1) has great local and organic EVERYTHING.HMmm better go find that omnivore book i bought and haven’t read yet……

31 | Miss Vicky

April 16th, 2009 at 6:48 pm

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I agree that if you are eating less meat, it’s well worth the investment in good, local, non-factory-farmed products. Meat is probably the biggest part of our grocery budget but I’m OK with that.

We’re going the opposite direction, since we just found out today that WeeG is no longer allergic to dairy. I have really missed having cheese in the family diet, so I am looking forward to introducing him to it. Plus I’m not entirely comfortable with the amount of soy he was consuming, so looking forward to a more balanced approach and bringing some dairy into his diet.

Ultimately I think it’s good to put some conscious thought into the dietary purchases – where it’s coming from, how it’s produced, what’s going into it, and so on. It is time consuming to shop at multiple places, seek out local producers and learn more about the local food scene, but fortunately there are so many more resources now – like http://www.justfood.ca

32 | Amy

April 17th, 2009 at 11:31 am

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I don’t know about Ottawa, but here (SK and AB), the smaller butchers get locally grown meats, and might be willing to give information on where they get it from. For example, my uncle supplies a Regina butcher shop with free range lamb when they need it, but also does private deals with individuals for a single animal. It’s usually cheaper to buy from the source. Although now that I think about it, I’m not sure many butchers would give that information away. Or you may have more luck chatting up vendors in the farmer’s market, like was mentioned above.

And I hate to nitpick, but is your bread vegan? Most bread has butter/eggs/milk… I know I’m being a bit of an ass, don’t mean to put down what you’re doing, I really admire your decision to eat healthier and more ethically.

33 | andrea

April 17th, 2009 at 11:44 am

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I think local sources are the way to go too.

Amy: As for my bread, yes, I’ve been checking and so far what I’ve eaten doesn’t contain egg or dairy. :)

34 | Gwen

April 17th, 2009 at 4:23 pm

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After choosing my organics path a while back, this has been a constant topic of discussion for my husband and I. In the past year, we have totally cut out red meat (well I have anyways, he will eat it occasionally if he goes out to lunch with co-workers) I don’t cook it at all. Pork is out as well (except for the occasional slice of bacon…I *loves* it like you do!) We eat chicken and fish. There are so many reasons that we have gone this road. Dairy is something else that I have cut back on drastically. I LOVE cheese, which is why I don’t think I can cut it out 100%. Anyhow, this is what I have been doing for the past while and I feel great and can’t imagine ever biting into a steak again :)

35 | VB6* with a drizzle of olive oil >> a peek inside the fishbowl

August 2nd, 2009 at 8:56 am

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[…] A few months ago I read a book called Food Mattersin which author Mark Bittman wrote about his decision to become a part-time vegan, that is, turning two out of three daily meals (i.e. breakfast and lunch) into vegan meals. It made sense to me. I wanted to reduce the amount of meat/dairy/eggs I ate too, not just for health reasons, but for environmental ones as well. I first wrote about it here. […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark. We have two daughters: Emma (19) and Sarah (17). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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