The weekend before last my boyfriend and I had the pleasure of running away for a night after a quick, spontaneous conversation on Friday afternoon about checking out the Charlottesville farmers market in Virginia. We left early the next morning, taking our sweet time during the 2 1/2 hour drive, stopping for coffee at a cute cafe. When we arrived, we strolled the market just as it began to drizzle, but despite the gloomy weather it felt great to be sans agenda – with just my man and a weekend latte.
As we browsed, we chatted about what we’d make for dinner that night at the little Air B’nB house we reserved on a farm in small town Virginia – about 30 minutes outside of downtown Charlottesville. We decided on mushroom tacos after walking past a beautiful display showcasing some fungi. We also picked up a jar of homemade, farm fresh salsa and a little bunch of cilantro from some guys a few booths down. Paired with a few veggies we brought and the homemade corn tortillas we were planning to make that evening, we were pretty set to go!
When we arrived to the house, we were greeted by the caretaker who lives just a couple miles down the road. After explaining the logistics with the house, she got around to telling us about the land, how they raise grass-fed cattle there, and that they’d be coming around towards the pasture behind the house later in the day – which got me really excited. After she left, we settled into the house to cozy up for the night, where we made dinner, and took the opportunity to just relax in the quiet countryside.
The next morning the cows were still near the house, grazing and drinking water from the troughs set up near a small red barn just off the driveway. I absolutely love animals and revel in any opportunity to be near them – especially when they’re in a more natural, outdoor environment [i.e. not at the zoo]. So I grabbed my tea, threw on some shoes and meandered over to the fence closest to them. At first they were scared of me, not knowing who I was or why this strange woman was talking to them. But after a few minutes, one or two warmed up to me and got closer, little by little. Soon I was talking to them and in awe watching their movements as they returned my gaze. My heart was so happy!
While I was out there, though, a thought popped into my mind that isn’t new to me, yet something I struggle with often. That thought, “I love being around animals so much, is it morally better for me to live a vegetarian lifestyle?” I go back and forth with this for a few reasons. . The most obvious to me – I love animals. I’ve always loved being around animals, grew up with birds and a dog who was in our family for over 15 years, and still get a big smile on my face when I see a family of deer grazing in the neighborhoods around us. I grew up spending afternoons on my cousin’s farm where pigs and cows grazed freely throughout their pasture. I feel like animals have this incredible intuition and balance with nature that humans have lost through our technology-driven world.
I actually began eating a vegetarian diet when I was 16. I remember visiting my best friend that summer and sitting in her kitchen talking about it, deciding that from that moment on we wouldn’t eat animal products. After a couple weeks, she went back to adding meat into her meals but I stuck with it for 6 1/2 years. I became passionate about it because of the moral ethics, for improving my health, and because my oldest brother, who I totally admire, was a vegetarian. I honestly didn’t have a whole lot of information on how to eat or what to eat, so I researched, researched, and researched some more.
Because my mom was a nurse, she was constantly pestering me to make sure I was getting enough protein. Her persistence, though, pushed me to pick up cookbooks and it was then that I began really experimenting with cooking and baking, especially with more alternative ingredients. I felt really good about avoiding meat, even though it was a challenge [particularly in high school living with my meat-lovin’ fam]. However, I replaced my protein sources with fake chicken, Tofurkey at Thanksgiving, and ate more cheese because I’d read that it was an acceptable protein replacement [eek!]. Simply put, I was eating really junky – and it showed. I gained some weight, had high cholesterol, and my skin was terrible. I felt like a mess, and then felt even worse when I got super sick just two weeks before my brother’s wedding in Hawai’i.
I had to take those two weeks off of work while I regained energy back so I could make it to the wedding. I remember laying in bed for hours on end until I could muster up enough strength to make myself a meal. My meals, though, typically consisted of eating big bowls of grapes – something I constantly craved! It was so strange. But during that time, I also craved chicken – roasted chicken, fried chicken, grilled chicken. I dreamed about it – honestly! So, after some time of this going on, I ate a little poultry, then ate a little bit more, and eased myself back into a meat-eating world. I didn’t know much about sustainably raising animals – free range this or pastured that – at the time, but I was still very particular about what kind of meats I ate and chose organic whenever it was possible, not incorporating red meat into my meals until just about 3 years ago.
Fast forward to present day. . I’m now fairly well-versed in more sustainable farming – although there’s constantly something new to learn! I still am particular about the meats I do eat – my boyfriend and I purchase small amounts of meat weekly or biweekly from a local farmer, either directly from the farm or at the farmer’s market on the weekend. I trust the resources that we buy from – knowing that because they’re local we’re stimulating our area’s economy and directly supporting the farms the beef or chicken we eat is raised on; feeling good about the nutrients in their pastured diet, which are passed onto us when we prepare meals; and creating a relationship with the farmers, which allows me to create a personal relationship with, and have deep gratitude for, the food on my plate.
But it still doesn’t answer that internal tug – should I really be eating meat? Honestly, I don’t have a real answer to that. There might be weeks when I eat a completely vegan diet, a few days when I eat fish, and other days in between that have me grilling a free range beef burger because my body is telling me it needs that B12 and iron. I know that my body thrives more on meat protein than legumes or tofu due to digestive issues I’ve dealt with for a very long time. I know that I love animals and I will never support eating meat that’s been raised in terrible conditions on factory farms.
Do you eat meat? Just fish and eggs? Or are you vegan all the way?? Share in the comments below – I’d love to know!