Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Shameless Carnivore, Omnivore's Dilemma and the Moral Vegan

It is no secret, if you've followed my blog, that I have struggled and gone back and forth in defining my own nutritional and eating philosophy. Now, I find myself having come full circle to where I was when I was in culinary school, what I have summed up by pointing to the words of Michael Pollen in "In Defense of Food" i.e. "eat food, not too much. mostly plants". But that also means I am reincorporating meat, eggs and very minimal dairy and only the kinds that fit my nutritional philosophy. I want to be eating what I think I am eating. It is a nice place to be, I have relaxed and am doing what my body demands. After a year of never craving meat, a month ago after my long run, all I could think about was turkey and I never in my life liked turkey. It was funny, but I listened to my body. The rest of the week, I had less than no desire for meat and then again, the next sunday after my long run, the same occurrence.

Last night when I was running, I was thinking about The Shameless Carnivore, The Omnivore's Dilemma and the Moral Vegan. The first two are names of books and the third I am sure will be one at some point. But moreso, I was thinking about how they represented schools of thought, or in some cases armed military camps. I do believe in alot of the moral/compassionate part of being a vegan in the way that the Buddhists do, though I have never and will never consider myself a "moral vegan". Being a Moral Vegan is viewed as meaning something different in our society in alot of ways, it has certain conotations. But while I do believe in the aspects of compassion etc, I do not find myself in a place where nutritionally I am able to continue being a vegan. I became vegan to be healthier, more fit and a better runner and instead became less healthy, tired, and only able to run at 75% of my ability due to the thyroid problem that was onset therein. The combination of health problems that onset during this time had my doctor exclaiming, "I don't know how in the world you are in one piece, let alone running so well." I am not attributing these problems to veganism, but it is clear something isn't working and that (veganism) is the only major factor that changed in that time. And so now, I have to change it and I am changing it back to when I felt most healthy (summer 07), when I was "eating food, not too much. mostly plants", but that means yes there is/was meat, eggs, etc on occasion. Very clean, organic, local and not from the center of the grocery store. I do not find this to be a moral dilemma, I do not feel like I am therefore not compassionate for the lives of animals. Point of fact, even the Dalai Lama eats meat for health reasons. Is he a less compassionate person for it?

When I think about those three camps (Carnivore, Omnivore, Vegan) in the current political climate, I cannot help but liken it to politics. On each end you have your extremists. In food, your extremists are your Shameless Carnivores and your Moral Vegan. I do not mean extremists in a pejorative way, I mean it in a way as meaning further from the middle and usually with a stronger commitment to their stance. Omnivores are somewhere in the middle and pick and choose what they want from each, that does not make them better or worse, stronger or weaker, but it does make them more moderate. I find myself now, firmly, comfortably and healthfully in the middle. I have and probably will continue to receive some flack for this decision, but the fact of the matter is, the one thing in all of my nutritional/foodie wanderings that HASN'T changed is my moral compass. Quantifying an Omnivore who chooses to eat meat as "Pro-Meat" is like labeling someone who choose to have an abortion "Pro-Abortion". I am not correlating or putting eating meat and having an abortion on the same level by any means, but I am correlating the idea of the right to choose and still be a moral individual.

I was talking to my friend/Vespa sponsor Peter Defty the other day and he worded it best, "I can get on my soap box," he said, "but it is slippery up there." We all choose our battles, get on our soapbox for different things, but what battles we choose to fight are not the sum of our person. Just as it is not a true moral quandary for a Moral Vegan to be "Pro-Choice", or a Shameless Carnivore to be "Pro-life". Just as a Moral Vegan is more than the literature they hand out about the treatment of animals, so is a Shameless Carnivore more than the cheeseburger they consume. We are all more than that. We are all in a position where we can easily lose our footing on our soapbox because we are made up of much more than the issues we get up there for (on the soapbox). Personally, I am letting go of the guilt I first felt when I gave up Veganism, because I realized that my inner moral compass had not changed, no matter how many times others tried to tell me it had. I realized that as complicated and difficult as it was to get where I am on this issue, I am even more infinitely complicated than that. So back on my soapbox for a second, remember whatever you are Shameless Carnivore, Omnivore ('s Dilemma) or Moral Vegan, that the person looking back at you across the line, may share and value alot more of the same things than you might suspect, so why don't you step off your soapbox for a minute, make a real human connect and find out?

I wanted to include two very interesting articles that I literally Stumble!Upon:
Back Aboard the Meatwagon
I found this article amusing and I have heard many similar tales of denounced veganism. I want to read his book, The Shameless Carnivore, I think it would be fascinating not only to read his experiences but also read his several chapters devouted to vegetarianism. He seems to have a deeper perspective than "vegetarians are just plain wrong and crazy to boot."I'll post a full report when I do read it.

Happy, Fat and Meatless
I think particularly in the second article I liked the reminder that being a vegetarian/vegan does not guarantee better health and that in some ways it is more common to eat "unnaturally" through the consumption of faux and replacement products. While I myself, shied away from as many faux or unnatural products, I have known many vegetarians who would go through an entire day and not eat any, well, vegetables or fruits for that matter!

Adventures in Indian cooking

One of the things I am attempting to do is get myself off Iron Supplements or at least, lessen my dependency on them. To that end, I incorporate lots of iron rich veggies, but its not quite enough. Iron is essential in running, helping with the oxygenation of the blood and what not. Low iron equates to slow moving blood, which means slow moving body. I was watching Grill It with Bobby Flay, when I got inspired to make some Indian inspired food. I had been thinking about lamb and ironically, when I went to Whole Foods to pick up some ingredients for dinner, lo and behold Organic, grass fed, etc etc Lamb was on sale. I picked up some ground lamb and headed home, ideas churning in my brain about what to make. In the end I made, a curried lamb burger with a cucumber mint yogurt sauce & heirloom tomato slice and a side of Gobi Masala. It was delicious and the flavors danced across my palate. For those of you for whom gluten is not the enemy, I would recommend homemade pita or naan (ok store bought would do but make sure you warm it up)!

Curried Lamb Burger with Cucumber Mint Sauce
Serves 1:

Ingredients Burger
1/3 lb ground lamb, lean as you can get it
1-2 tbsp curry powder
slightly less than 1/4 cup, minced red onion (to taste & desired texture)

Ingredients Sauce
1 small container plain Greek yogurt
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
2-3 tbsp fresh minced mint

For plating:
Sliced Heirloom Tomato

Turn on grill, broiler, gas, whatever you are going to use to cook your burger. In a bowl, mix the ground lamb, curry powder and red onion. Salt and pepper to taste. Form into a patty and grill to your liking!

While you're grilling, in a small bowl mix together the yogurt, cucumber and mint. Salt to taste.

To plate (for those not using a pita or a bun!) place a slice of tomato on the plate, place burger on top and then spoon some yogurt sauce over top!

Gobi Masala
Serves one


3-4 tbsp gobi masala seasoning (you can find this with the ethic foods), you can make your own if you want, but it is simply a good balance of the spices. OR you can use curry powder
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 of a large head of cauliflower
1/2 cup minced onions
1 cup frozen peas and carrots


Heat oil in a skillet over med high heat. Add onions and saute briefly. Add cauliflower. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Add seasoning, coat cauliflower well. Cover skillet and cook, stirring occasionally for 8-9 minutes. Add frozen peas and carrots and cook until peas/carrots are heated through.


  1. Ooo...the lamb and gobi masala look yummy! Indian cooking is my standard fare, but you;ve made it look (and I'm sure, taste) so delicious!

  2. OMG this looks sooooooooooo FANTASTIC. I may just have to make this tonight.

    I really appreciated your post. I just think it was well-said and I'm happy you've found peace in your decision. It's one of the most important decisions we can make, I think - and while it may change over time, we need to be fully confident in our decision of how we want to eat and know WHY we're making it our choice.

    Michael Pollan is one of my heroes. I wish more people knew about him and believed in what he has to say. Thanks for helping spread his words, Devon!

  3. I just ate about 4 oz of salami! My body crave meat of the salty variety, so I listened (and loved it).

    Very true, I think, about the extremes and politics. When I was the most extreme with my eating I was also quite adamant about my left political views. Although I'm not even vegetarian anymore I still struggle since the thought of handling and cooking meat grosses me out. I feel like I don't deserve to eat what I can't prepare myself. That said, I can't wait to try the cauliflower recipe.

  4. Hey Devon - how interesting - I had the same/similar experience. I was not vegan but vegetarian for 2 years and my body finally screamed at me enough to listen. I enjoy being in the middle and I do believe eating animal-based foods have their nutritional benefits that just cannot be found in plants. I won't get on a dietitian's soap box about it though. I just think it's great you are listening to whatever your body tells you. And by the way, thought I'd mention - if you are taking iron supplements - if you aren't taking iron bisglyconate (Solgar makes a product called "Gentle Iron" and it is this form of iron) - I would highly recommend taking this form - it never upset my tummy or gave me constipation or anything and at times I was taking 150mg a day. I hope you are well and much congratulations on your win a week or so ago!!! jess

  5. Have you read Nigel Slater's book, The Kitchen Diaries? I think he's got a great attitude about food--very relaxed, while eating local, organic, etc, (but not vegan or even vegetarian.)

  6. This is such a great post. In the middle is a great place to be -- a mindful eater. I wish I could reach through the monitor and sample your cooking -- it always looks so awesome.

  7. Good for you. I've never understood what the moral message is when a meatless diet leads to diminished health. We have been eating 100% locally pastured pork and beef for the past year and have learned some interesting things in our adventure. Like that when the meat is of really high quality and tastes fabulous, we eat less of it (I blog about it at Eat Local Northwest). And Charlie's bad cholesterol has dropped significantly on our home cooking.

  8. I was vegetarian for the first 19/20 years of my life...then I started collegiate running and that didn't work anymore.
    I love your posts! I'm trying to eat more and also a bigger variety of foods to support more running, and your recipes are awesome (although I'm not nearly as good at making them)!!

  9. Good for you Devon! Like you said, even the Dalai Lama isn't vegetarian. Anyway, it's important that you listen to you body - it knows best, ultimately. I wonder if the turkey craving was related to your thyroid levels straightening out. It's full of tryptophan, if you ever need to get to sleep....:-)

  10. I'm hungry now. I have struggled with iron poor blood for about 5 years now. It got really bad right after I had Alex (12 years ago) and after serious iron supplements and injections I got out of the enemic woods. But...I got it again about 5 years ago and have to keep a close eye on it always now. I ate almost zero red meat then. I ate a ton of iron rich greens and grains but they helped little. I added red meat at least once a week along with molasses. During heavy training I eat red meat at least twice a week. Honestly it was the only thing that seemed to dent the chronic anemia. I also got the hypothyroid diagnosis last year during the late summer. They wanted to put me on meds but I wanted to see if it was related to heavy training. Within a month after the end of the season I was on the low normal range. I got it again this last year but backed off a bit from training to bring it back to normal. Good luck with eating and whatever you choose to eat I am sure it will be full of great healthy ingredients to fuel your athletic endevours.

  11. Tara (aka Running Radi)October 28, 2008 at 12:50 AM

    Fast Foodie, this is a great post. I have been a vegetarian for nearly 12 years, including short bouts of experimenting with veganism throughout those years. As I have become more dedicated to running, although I have yet to ever crave meat and am not experiencing any obvious side effects of a meat free diet, I do struggle to accept what may be best and natural for my body, particularly given my current level of training, may conflict with what is healthiest for my conscience. I am glad you have found peace in your decision, are listening to your body and wish you luck in your training and all future endeavors.

  12. 1hi. It sounds as you have found the balance for YOU...because, lets face it, food as well as being political, is ultimately personal.Me..well, i have gone from vegetarian, to vegan and am now experimenting with raw food and juices. Am feeling great thus far but am very prepared to be relaxed about it..listen to my body..
    good luck with all you are doing!

  13. I realize this is an old post but I wanted to put my two cents in for the record. Whatever one's politics or reasons are, the fact remains that eating animal products causes immense and unnecessary suffering, whether done by the most callous hunter and celebrator of exploitation such as Ted Nugent, or champions of compassion and justice like the Dalai Lama.

  14. Well.... we really don't have any idea what sort of vegan diet you were eating, do we? Vegan diets can range from total junk food to near paleo / raw food. There are high far and low fat versions, and high protein and low protein versions. Which type were you doing?

  15. Dan- Over the course of my blog, I have set out pretty clearly what my vegan diet consisted of (though I understand that you may not have the time to go through all the posts to establish the precedent). I don't eat processed products (now or when vegan). I cook mostly plant based meals (even when I am not vegan). I incorporate whole, real foods with a heavy emphasis on plants. There is little grains and I didn't try to "fake" meat products in my diet. I also noted that soy doesn't work for me. So when I was vegan, I was eating plants, nuts and seeds and some gluten free grains. Now that I am not vegan, I eat the same but with the addition of meat.


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