8.24.2017

I Didn't Eat Beef For 7 Years (And I Regret It)

(photo by Lukas Budimaier

Alright. First of all, it wasn't just beef that I gave up for seven years, but any kind of land animal. Beef, chicken, pork, none of it. I was a pescatarian. (basically vegetarian, but with the exception of eating seafood) 
But since most people aren't familiar what that word, and I didn't feel like having ridiculously long post title, I decided to just go with beef. More clickbait-y. Now. Moving on...

My story 
I first gave up meat for a school project/experiment my sister was doing. I was around nine or ten at the time, and we both went vegetarian for a short period to see how it affected our health. But after the project was over, we both decided to keep with it, only slightly changing it to allow fish in our diet as well. So, did I decide to follow this diet simply because my cool, older sister was doing it and I wanted to be just like her? Maybe. Partially. But there was a large part of me that just felt like it was the right thing to do. I mean, after watching all those horrible factory farming videos, how can you not feel guilty about eating a hamburger? That was the real kicker. I didn't want to put anything in my body that had been practically tortured just so I could have my dinner. Plus, we all know that plant-based diets are the healthiest, right?
So I stuck with it. And the first few months were hard, of course. I had the typical cravings (and givings in to those cravings). But after a bit I got the hang of it, and continued to abstain from eating meat happily.
Now, I have to give kudos to my mom (shoutout to you, mom. I know you're reading this and I love you and also what's for dinner).  She never forced me to eat meat or tried to convert me back. She wasn't on board with the whole idea, but she let me experiment and make my own decision about my health nonetheless. 
But to be honest, I didn't have the most healthy diet, before or after turning pescatarian. I still ate like the average American, just without the meat. Didn't eat a whole lot of vegetables. Ate lots of pasta, bread, and the standard, processed "food". But like most people who remove meat from their diet, I started replacing it with something else. 

The dangers of soy
So when one removes meat from their diet, the conventional way of replacing it is with soy. I'm sure you've seen all the frozen meat replacements walking down the frozen food aisle at the grocery store. I swear they mold that stuff into looking like every cut of meat you can imagine. Burgers, hot dogs, ribs, bacon, etc. And the most popular brands use soy as their main ingredient. And of course these aren't healthy; they're highly processed products. But in my opinion, the worst thing about them is that they contain large amounts of soy products.
Now, I could write an entire blog post about why soy is not the health food people think it is, (and I plan to, eventually) so I'll try and keep it short here. But among soy's many downfalls, one of them is that it's very high in phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are a type of plant-derived "hormone" that can cause endocrine disruption and mimics estrogen in the body. And in the female body specifically, high levels of this can cause estrogen dominance, which can then lead to infertility, menstrual issues, weight gain, and more.
And I went pescatarian I ate a lot of this stuff. The fake chicken strips and ground beef and even soy-based corndogs. Yeah. So it's kind of terrifying to me looking back, thinking about a ten year old girl whose body is just beginning to develop, consuming large amounts of severely processed soy products.
I don't know if or how eating all those phytoestrogens affected my body. But for as long as I've had my period, it's been irregular and difficult to track. Does that mean I can directly correlate the two? Probably not, but it's something I think about often.
Irregular menstrual cycles are largely caused by hormone disruption, something that was likely happening in my body at the time. So while the correlation is something that I have no solid evidence for, I can't help but wonder about what eating all that soy was doing to my body. To think that I was consuming phytoestrogens in such large quantities before and while I got my period is alarming. And honestly, I'm grateful that it hasn't seemed to affect my health in any other way.
But it's still scary to think that there are so many young girls who are switching to plant-based diets just when their bodies are just starting to develop from girl's to a woman's. It feels like every time I turn my head, there's another preteen girl deciding to go vegetarian. And while it's fantastic that they feel so strongly enough about something that they want to change, it makes my heart sad to think about what kinda of effect it might be having on their bodies, in both the short and long term.


Ethical meat eating
Now, here's the thing. This isn't a story about me regretting the seven years I abstained from meat eating because I missed it. Those years weren't a time of deep deprivation. I wasn't dreaming about bacon every night. I'd become perfectly content with the diet I'd chosen for myself, and I didn't miss meat anymore. I didn't crave it.
I could've probably stayed a pescatarian forever and lived an entirely happy, meatless life. But I'd gotten to the point where the reasons that made me give up meat in the first place didn't convince me anymore. My own reasoning didn't make sense to me. I remember trying to answer the question I'd gotten often when I told people about my dietary restrictions: "So why don't you eat meat?". But my answer didn't even convince myself. It just wasn't good enough anymore.
And at that point, (I was around sixteen years old) I'd come to realize that it was possible to consume animals and be ethical about it. And I probably should've gone back to eating meat sooner, but I'd just gotten too comfortable with where I was that change didn't seem appealing. And after so many years, it had become a part of my identity. Melanie, quiet, long hair, doesn't eat meat. I didn't really want to give up that part of me. And, in all honesty, there was a small part of me that felt a little bit superior because I'd been able to give up meat for so long. The classic "I'm better than you because I ___". And giving up after seven years felt almost like defeat.
But I knew it was the right thing to do. Still, during a month-long process of deciding whether or not to denounce my pescatarian ways, I knew one thing. I knew that if I were to go back, I wanted to do it ethically. I wouldn't be eating CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) meat. I didn't want to eat a burger if the cow had to be tortured to make it or a chicken wing if the hen had been stuffed with antibiotics. And for the most part, I've kept to that.
So I eat meat now. But I am a bit picky about it. And that's okay.

P.S. I have plans to write more in-depth about veganism and plant-based diets in the near future, but since those subjects get me pretty riled up I might need to take some NyQuil before I write them. 

Eat your veggies kids,
Mel


(photo by Jakub Kapusnak)

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