That was always my mother’s explanation of her vegetarian dietary choice, which she made when I was 14 years old, about three months before I joined her in her vegetarian diet.
And I have followed this way of eating faithfully up until about a month ago, when I ate fish in preparation for my plans to cruise for extended travels in my boyfriend’s sailboat. There will be times when we’ll be a week or more at sea, with food stores dwindling or pricey, and there is sure to be fresh seafood aplenty.
Yes, I ate something with a mother AND a face (yay for a reason to include this Dr. Demento favorite!). But before I get into it, let me provide a little more backstory on myself.
My mom and I were always what was known as the “lacto-ovo” vegetarian, for those not up with the vocab; that means we would eat milk and eggs. Otherwise, no meat, no fowl and no fish, but yes to cheese, butter and all the by-products of the meat industry. For 22 years, I was a strict and healthy lacto-ovo vegetarian.
When I first became a vegetarian, I was so grateful to have my mother along for the culinary adventure. It wasn’t rebelling that way. So many kids are laughed at or worse, made to eat crap and develop really unhealthy habits of sneaking “acceptable” stuff like French fries and Doritos. (Read here about why junk food is so bad for you.)
Sure, there was a fair share of laughing at me. My cousin still makes jokes about Tofurky to this day, more than a decade since we stopped sharing Christmas dinner together. I remember when I worked as a lifeguard at a local apartment complex, some creepazoid tried to endear me to him by offering to “dive down and pick up the leaves at the bottom of the pool for my lunch.”
Insert dummy laughter and my 17-year-old disgusted face.
I had chosen the vegetarian diet for a number of reasons. It dates back to sixth grade, when we were dissecting a frog and I learned what meat actually was. It was that little muscle on that little frog leg. Gross, I’m sorry. Barbaric. Why ever would someone think to eat that? That’s the simple origins of it: I have a problem differentiating meat from its reality, and I never thought it was something humans were really supposed to do.
Tangent: When I was in eighth grade, it was dissection time again, and I wasn’t having it. A precocious and socially conscious vegetarian, I wrote to PETA about my quandary. Stoked to have someone join their righteous outrage, they sent me a super-big pile of every paper and collateral material they had. I marched into my science teacher’s room and said I didn’t want to dissect. She asked why, and I dropped the entire pile on her desk and said “This is why.” She had me do some BS computer program instead, and this is one reason why I am poor at anatomy.
Over the years, restaurant employees have turned from “Um, you can have a salad” to providing all kinds of fabulous meals. A list of awesome vegetarian-friendly restaurants is available at www.thelovelightproject.com, where you might be discovering this blog!
Two years ago, as I was preparing myself for my Yoga teacher training, I decided to go vegan, which is a much stricter diet. That means not eating meat, fish, fowl AND also not eating or buying all the by-products including cream, butter, milk and honey.
Insert endless debate about whether bees are really animals and aren’t they happy and no! they are slaves and hey one time a swarm of bees was in my house, man! Whoa, are you allergic? What were we talking about? Oh yeah, this is total bullshit, right? What IS honey, anyway? I read this interesting article.
So, being a vegan is really hard and takes real dedication, and I honor everyone who is living the vegan lifestyle. Especially those who are living it without being annoying. When I was in college, I was the president of Earth Matters, the environmental and social justice club at NYU, and we were totally in cahoots with the vegan club. I remember our efforts got soy milk in the cafeterias, and isn’t crazy to think it wouldn’t be there now?
Veganism was a lot of work but worth it. I remembered what food tasted like for real, not covered in butter or cheese. Breakfast in restaurants was difficult, but not impossible. I had to get used to drinking my coffee black (I gave up sugar a while ago, but not cream until two years ago), but again, that’s actually what coffee tastes like. Don’t like it? Maybe you shouldn’t drink coffee.
Annoyingly, I gained weight. Am I the only person you’ve met who gained weight when going vegan? I sure was. I blame the over-nutrition: I was so focused on what I could eat that I ate it all! Nuts, beans … hello five pounds!
Anyway … that was how it was until I sold all my possessions and moved on to a boat with plans to cruise indefinitely with a man who loves to fish. Now before you start judging me as a love fool (who knows, you may be right – stay tuned), there is a lot of spiritual text on this topic that makes sense.
Meat, for me, is what is known as an aversion – the opposite of an attraction. It is a klesha, which are obstacles to realizing our highest self. By labeling myself, I am identifying with my aversion to eating meat products. This is a great way for me to separate myself from others and, frankly, suffer. It’s one way to forget the One Love.
So when my boyfriend shot a snapper on the reef, I ate it. And I felt gross! I had a major tummy ache, but otherwise I was OK. So I bought some enzymes for round two, which happened about a week ago. I had a bite, and the reaction was way worse! It was like I felt all the pain and suffering of that fish. I cried and went to bed early. I really didn’t understand it.
I’ve had a little time to think about it, and it is what it is. At this point, I plan to only eat fish that has been freshly caught by my love and is really necessary for my nourishment. I don’t ever plan to eat fish out at a restaurant. And I guess, for now, I’m going to feel bad as a result. I’m working on that.
I didn’t see the fish’s face, and I don’t think the fish even saw his mother – but I did think of my mother’s rule, wondering the benefit of having rules for eating. What is the root of my suffering when eating a not untasty meal? Is it the energy from the fish? The simple biology of my gut bacteria? Or my own Self-imposed rules?