Saturday, March 12, 2005

Chicken and Other Quandaries of the Universe

Update: I've updated this post a bit because the more I kept thinking about it, more relevant thoughts kept piling up and hopefully it's a little clearer now...

Among other life altering events in the past weeks, I've got one more to throw out there. I'm kinda feeling around for comments on this one. I'm not a scientist, politician or economist. With that said...

I've been a vegetarian for about eight years (I think). It started sometime after I came home from college. I don't recall what the defining moment was that I decided to stop eating meat. Probably had to do with being around my mom and sis and their activism for animal rights. It seemed noble enough of a cause and I didn't have anything to lose. But I was also so far mentally down the drain at that point it was just something to do instead of an active change in lifestyle. Or maybe, I'd seen Bambi one too many times.

I did notice a few things after time. I don't have as many severe allergies and sickness that I did when I was younger. I did lose weight but also went way down in my energy level. I couldn't give blood anymore because I kept coming too close to passing out when I tried, guess my blood thinned too much. I even tried going vegan for about a week, but that was a disaster. As uber-trendy as it sounds, I wasn't a health-minded vegetarian until I started going to the gym and discovering I was lacking lots of vitamins and protein and still inhaling lots of processed crap.

So since then I've been trying to eat better. Or at least what is perceived as better. And that may entail eating some chicken in the near future. Lest you think I've thrown all caution to the wind, I've still set some boundaries: I don't support factory farming, I want to buy locally and organic, and most importantly I will not fall prey to that American past time of over-consumption! As far as I can tell we don't have the same environments and body functions that primal times previously shaped and we inevitably change with the eras. But I'm not convinced that the modern way of producing food is working. It makes me queasy to think that what I am eating is not in fact what I am eating. Fish genes in tomatoes? Bug genes in plants? That certainly wasn't possible centuries ago. Was it? There is the psychological side to consider, maybe I've just tricked my mind into thinking eating better is equal to feeling better and therefore, I do.

For a while my wife was a vegetarian, but then she got pregnant and we didn't feel it was safe for nutritional reasons. My kids also are not vegetarian. Not from any lack of research about it, mind you. That needs to be a personal decision when they are old enough to decide for themselves. Hopefully they won't have as hard a time figuring out as I. Sometimes I think perhaps there is such a thing as too much information. I even was reading about blood types having to do with diet (and that consequently I should be a rabid carnivore since my ancestors of O-neg blood were hunters?). I just get confused. Who do you believe? As much as people talk about feeling "in tune" with their body, I don't think I've ever experienced what that feels like.

I'm also conflicted about buying what is considered "yuppie food." At least in this part of the country. Seems like the only places I can really find free range, hormone-free chicken or organic vegetables around here is health food stores and upscale grocery stores, which don't exactly fall in line with the average Joe's price range (which is mine). It does frustrate me, I want to be able to raise my kids this way but it's often out of my reach. Children are more susceptible in their developing years and of course I want to provide the best that I can. My idealism constantly clashes with practicality in this regard. There's also something in my mind about teaching people to empower themselves to raise their own food in an effective manner but that's another discussion entirely. I'm too much of a spoiled city boy to know what I'm talking about there.

Essentials of survival aside, we've cultivated food to be a great aspect of our human experience. It can cause equal portions of pleasure and pain. It defines cultures. People seek it out like they seek shelter or sex or success or companionship and falls under the same degrees of balance as those things do. You can take it to extremes. When I hear the word "crave" (to describe anything not just food) it gives me a visceral sensation to my taste buds and stomach. I'm craving the knowledge to know how to eat the right way. Oof, my tummy is grumbling.

So yet again it comes down to the selfish reasons for doing anything. I've been testing out eating chicken this week, and since I've been getting the extra protein boost, I have been feeling more energetic and able to be stronger in my tasks. To be more of the supportive person that is necessary right now for monkey wrangling and concentration. I don't think I've actually ever been opposed to the idea of eating meat for basic nutrition where it is necessary. My best buddy Adam eats primarily meat because he is allergic to lots of things, like dairy and soy. My mom actually had to start eating chicken lately unwillingly because she's having digestive problems with soy and meat alternatives. And my dad has about three things he actually can eat without feeling like an utter piece of crap later, chicken being one of them. Are these things an affect of how we've made developed our world food supply or simply given how genetics works, am I just setting my self up for the fate of nutritional failure like my parents?

So, for me, is it more effective to promote good farming practices by my protest of not eating chicken or instead to partake of some that has been raised in a humane and ecological sensitive manner? Is my goal of building muscle mass a health issue or simply a method of falling victim to masculine vanity? I suppose that's based on the person. Being healthy looking is indeed an attractive. It must derive from the survival instincts to attract a mate and then reproduce equally healthy kids and continue on the species. If that's true, perhaps homosexuality has become more prevalant as a natural way of overall population control. Then again, it obviously didn't work in my case and there are many gay couples out there with a "biological clock" so to speak. But it's so skewed these days as to what looks healthy. As much as I enjoy being able to tighten my belt a few notches and sport more bulging biceps, I can easily see myself falling into that trap. Plastic surgery, liposuction, botox? Ugh. I can understand cases where it's life or death, but I don't think "beauty surgery" is all that healthy for your mind. it's not a route I see myself taking in my life either.

Since I have unsteady religious convictions, but I'm not intelligent enough to claim science as my higher power either, I can't accept those rationalities fully. If it exists, what is the difference between the soul of a chicken and that of our own? Is it simply the lack of communication with these beasts that drives ignorant bliss in our our relationship with them? Where does moral responsibility come from or are we merely groping around with blinders on? It leaves me with more questions than I can find acceptable answers for! If the soul of a chicken must be sacrificed in order to do this, I suppose that is the order of things. I've also heard the argument that plants are living things as well. I am not a plant so I couldn't tell you. But I'm also not a chicken or a cow. And if someday the chickens and cows and plants take the upper hand on the food chain then it might be karma coming back to us in spades and I'll meet you in the holding pens.

Wow that went on much longer than I expected. And it's way past lunch time.



Joseph said...

I think it's good that you're putting so much thought into what you eat--which is probably way more than most people do.

You're going through a lot of big changes right now--maybe eating some meat is going to go along with the changes that you make. I think that worrying about becoming a superficial monster is probably pretty typical for most (former) vegetarians staring meat-eating in the face again. I think you'll find that everything will balance back out in the end, though.

Michael said...

Great post! My first reaction is this: if your body is telling you that it needs something, you should listen: decreased energy could be just a natural part of life, but passing out when you give blood is a signal.

Not that I'm advocating a meat diet for everyone - for many people it's great and frankly in today's world we'd be better off if more people were vegetarian. I totally hear you on the "yuppie food" problem...I tend to eat way too much crap because decent fruits and veggies (let alone meats!) are hard to find and expensive.

I don't think there's much (if any) reason to worry about genetically engineered veggies yet, most of what's being done is mostly doing things farmers have done for ever by selective breeding just much faster. It's what's added to it that bothers me - pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics - those are obviously and conclusively Not Good For You. They may or may not be outright *bad* for you, but they aren't good.

Soooo...I'm all for eating organic free range, etc. to the extent possible. Every bit helps, right?

As with everything else regarding health, I've found that it's best to learn to listen to what your body tells you. If you hate bananas, but suddenly the smell of one makes you crazy hungry, your body is telling you it needs something. All the new-age talk about "being in touch with yourself" etc. is just to get you to but the book or take the class: just take a minute to listen to your instincts, and they'll probably lead you the right way.

ken said...

I was a veggie head for almost a year. Mainly b/c of a lot of the reasons you stated Simon. I spent a lot of years growing up with a farm in my backyard, the weight thing, and so on. At the time, I was playing rugby in college and I found that became winded easy, dizzy, and tired. One night, I was at a party just about to tiptoe over the line of sobriety, when I got the sickest craving in my stomach. Literally if there was a raw steak in sight I would have started knawing on it. I walked down the street and ate two McDonald chicken sandwiches so fast I threw up. I have been eating meat again ever since. My body was practically yelling at me for cutting the meat out and it seized on my inebraited state to change the tides. I commend those who can do it, it wasn't for me. I lost a ton of weight, but my energy was never quite where it was or has been since.

Zeitzeuge said...

I was a Vegan for about a year during college. I couldn't last much longer then that. I've always been very slender, had problems keeping weight on and always caught colds easily. I changed to a Vegetarian for a couple years after that. I gained a few pounds. Nothing substantial. But I could tell my body was needing something else.

I'm all for people wanting to be vegans or vegetarians for whatever reasons. I support them in their decisions. Me personally? I couldn't do it. My body needed more nutrition and protein. I wasn't getting it doing what I was doing.

I slowly started back eating chicken and fish. Red meat only on occasion. I still have problems eating some forms of red meat today.

I do notice my body being more sluggish after I eat now as compared to back then.

Something I learned to deal with. But I have gained 30 pounds this past couple years. Muscle and fat.

sis. said...

>>I've also heard the argument that plants are living things as well.>>
um.. hate to tell you this bro, but i can tell you for certain that they are! if you mean, do plants have souls, well, that i don't know. but i believe everything, even all the tiny bugs and weeds and those miniscule bacteria that cannot be seen, are important to the balance of life. i think your respect for that is reflected in your eating habits, so i wouldn't worry so much about what is "right" or "wrong". people may judge you, but that's their problem... your happiness is the world's happiness!