Last month, I attempted to cut meat out of my life for an article I was planning for our upcoming Health & Wellness issue. Turns out, the article got scrapped. But I thought it might make for an interesting conversation, since I did indeed try.
For the first week, I focused on giving up red meat, which wasn’t that hard. I subsisted mostly on vegetables, but snuck a Trader Joe’s chicken and wild mushroom sausage in a salad one day, and failed to give up seafood. The second week, I shunned white meat, but again, indulged in fish and shellfish. At this point, I had officially become a pescatarian—a vegetarian who eats fish.
By week three, I resented the summer crop of juicy, cheesy, ketchup-y burgers I was seeing everywhere, along with images of barbecue sauce-slathered ribs. I started fantasizing about a grilled rib eye or N.Y. strip laced with a generous slab of bleu cheese butter. But surprisingly, that all passed quickly. I thought about giving up the seafood, but realized there was simply no way.
Over the next two weeks, I fell victim to another chicken sausage, a roasted turkey wrap, and a few pieces of boneless chicken breast in a Kashi frozen meal. The worst (and best) crime was a Wawa turkey sausage, egg and cheese bagel—possibly a new addiction.
I also ate turkey bacon (something I’d turned my nose up at in the past), but successfully did not have any red meat for 42 days. My re-entry came when I ordered the Mongolian lamb at Susanna Foo’s this past Sunday. It didn’t taste like red meat, so I kind of forgot about breaking my covenant until the next day (it was too good to feel guilty). Eating a medium-rare hunk of lamb or steak, though, has lost its appeal, which surprises me.
Did I feel any better? Honestly, I can’t say I noticed a difference. To tell the truth, I’m a pretty healthy eater. I do eat A LOT for a small person, but I rarely eat anything processed. I don’t drink soda or iced tea (just Joe in the morning and occasionally in the late afternoon); don’t down too much candy (just a little ice cream); don’t touch hot dogs, cheesesteaks, pancakes or French toast; and have minimal bacon, eggs, bagels, potato chips, fries and soft pretzels. No, I am not a saint. I just prefer fresh, homemade food and, when I overeat, it’s usually on something like pasta, a baked potato or pizza from Bertucci’s.
I did notice, however, that my stomach was not as flat (no I don’t have anything fabulous going on; I’ve had five kids!), as it can be when I work out and try not to eat too much. I thought passing on red meat, especially, would make a difference, but it wasn’t until I started eating meat again—just this past Thursday—that my stomach seemed back to normal. (And I reminded myself that fish isn’t exactly “diet” food, so I probably made up for the calories and fat by eating more seafood.) I’ve read that vegetables, with all their fiber, do make some people feel bloated, so that may have been a factor. Luckily, I didn’t have any digestive issues while bulking up on the veggies, nor after succumbing to a quarter-rack of pork ribs and barbecued chicken in the same night.
Health aside, figuring out what to eat every day was tough. I gleaned a whole new perspective on the challenges of cooking and dining out when you’re a vegetarian or vegan. And I had to make some hard choices, like passing up some amazing foie gras at the Fancy Food Show in New York two weeks ago and saying “no” to a luscious piece of steak at a wine tasting at Savona—I didn’t even think about not being able to eat something on the menu till they showed up with it, but I wound up with a wonderful plate of caramelized scallops that were to die for. One night, I crafted a truly awful meal that was probably very good for me but not my palate: I placed sautÃ©ed kale on top of brown lentils and topped that with a fried egg (oh, where was the pancetta?!), some leftover cherry tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella—weird, I know.
There are plenty of schools of thought on eating less meat, and I am definitely going to continue to “watch it.” But I still abide by the laws of moderation, along with the Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating Pyramid.
I’m all for a healthier inside and out, so if you’ve got any war stories or inspiring words, leave a comment. Because, if I’m true to my ancestry, I’ve got a lot of years left, and I don’t want my skin, my bones, my belly or my brain giving out because I couldn’t sacrifice a few things on my grocery list.