As a kid, I didn’t exactly choose to be a vegetarian. It grew out of my extreme pickiness combined with my parent’s limited cooking skills. Meat was one of many broad categories of food I just didn’t like the taste and texture of.
Of course, by the time I was calling myself a vegetarian in high school and college, the label itself seemed to draw other meat-skippers into my life. Most of these friends had better reasons for their dietary restrictions than I did, and I learned a lot about those reasons just by hanging around them. I learned about factory farming, antibiotic overuse, and water waste. I felt pretty good about not eating meat.
The Age of Vegan
Inevitably, I dabbled in being a vegan. For almost a year in my 20s, I ate no animal products of any kind and learned to make a pretty great vegan chocolate cake. I love the challenges of cooking almost everything from scratch, and in retrospect this era was probably the start of my passion for food and cooking. I still have a special love for vegan food.
But I started graduate school, life got crazy, and I couldn’t cook as much. My vegan diet quickly deteriorated to a monochromatic menu of French fries, beer, and fake chicken cutlets. Naturally, I started to gain weight.
Enter the Modern Food Movement
This is when I began learning a new perspective on food — factory farms weren’t the only option for meat, and small-scale farming that produced both meat and vegetables could be the kind of poly-culture that benefits the land rather than damaging it. Plus, I knew that eating meat could help me lose weight. I’d seen it happen for other people, and I understand enough about nutrition even then to know that my starchy, processed vegan diet did not support weight loss.
Basing my meals around a lot of vegetables and a little non-factory farmed, grass-fed chicken, pork, and beef made losing weight much easier than it had ever been before. In fact, it inspired my cookbook, Almost Meatless. But more important than feeling in control of my weight, I simply felt better — stronger and more energetic — almost with my first bite of rib-eye. Although I was a vegetarian for more than half my life, I never considered going back in the 10-plus years I’ve been eating meat.
Weight and the World: Competing Concerns
In fact, from my individual health and weight-loss perspective, I’d rather eat more meat than I currently do. Environmental concerns and my food budget keep me on more of a meat-light path. I still have — and enjoy — many vegetarian meals, and many days I go totally vegetarian without even realizing it. I know you don’t need to have a big ol' slab of meat at the center of the plate to make a satisfying meal.
But adding meat has meant adding variety, protein, vitamins, and iron to my diet while helping me cut back on grains. For me, that’s a winning food equation.
Loving Food While Losing Weight
Is it possible to talk about the fraught space of food, body, and weight in a healthy, thoughtful way? We think so, and we're presenting a month-long column exploring one food-lover and food writer's journey towards finding her own personal balance. Joy Manning is joining us this month with her own stories, practical tips, recipes, and perspective on the real-life struggle between loving food and loving your body.
Read the Intro to Joy's Column: Is There a Healthy Way to Love Food and Watch Your Weight? Introducing One Food-Lover's Story