December 20, 2012 by Kriscinda Lee Everitt
See this picture? I had been craving buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy for weeks. Actually, it’s a vegetarian sausage gravy, and I’m here to tell you—it’s just as good. It really is. I’ve had both and I can say with confidence that this just isn’t a meal you need to give up if you give up meat.
I’ve been a vegetarian for about eight years. Technically, as of about seven or so months ago, I’m now a pescetarian. I’ve incorporated fish into my diet, which is funny, as, when I was a meat-eater, I never really ate fish. Recently, I’m thinking about introducing some vegan elements to my diet—mainly, cutting out the dairy.
I do these things for a variety of reasons—the two big reasons, for me, are ethical and health-related. Neither of these approaches, for me, are perfect. And that’s by design.
I’m a pretty idealistic person, and what I’ve found is that, by being so, I set myself up for such a tremendous amount of disappointment and grief in life. And so, over the years, I’ve been trying to moderate my idealism. I can’t be perfect, and honestly, I don’t want/need to be. That whole ‘all-or-nothing’ approach to life…it’s stressful. And not just stressful; it’s impossible. The plain fact is that, no matter what I’m idealistic about (and it’s a lot), the world will never accommodate this idealism in my lifetime. Probably not in many lifetimes, if ever at all. So what do I do? I do what I can.
I’m always looking for that fine and delicate balance between living what you believe and not going over that almost invisible edge that goes from self-satisfaction in what I do/don’t do and making myself miserable. See, I can live without steak. Does it taste good? Aw lawds, yes. But it’s a taste I can live without. Cheese, on the other hand, hits on too many pleasure points for me and I don’t think I can give it up completely. More importantly, I don’t want to. Now, the all-or-nothing people will say that that’s just plain selfish or weak, and to that, I say, yes. So what? I’ve never been too entirely sure why, in order to do some good, one must be miserable.
I’ve replaced so many of the things I’ve loved with perfectly good alternatives. I’ve changed a lot since I was, say, twenty. And looking back, I’d have to say that most of those changes didn’t occur because I was necessarily trying to improve my own lot, but because I was trying to improve someone/something else’s. I’m not a stoic. I have definitely reached a point where I have to stop and say, “Okay, I’ve done, and continue to do, frankly, more than most. At some point, I really need to think about what makes me happy.”
And believe you me, this hasn’t been/isn’t easy. As if life isn’t difficult enough, I beat myself up over what I eat, what I wear, where I shop, whom I support, etc. Or, I used to. Well, it’s a hard habit to break, but I’m doing a lot better. With the diet as an example, I decided a few months before our honeymoon that I would/should be able to make exceptions while traveling. Because tasting the local cuisine is so essential to really experiencing a place and a people, it didn’t seem fair that, say, my disgust with American factory farming should keep me from trying a meat-based dish elsewhere. We went to the UK and, while I had a few pieces of sausage with breakfast now and then, I ended up opting for the vegetarian versions of bangers and mash and haggis. That was months ago and I’m still kicking myself for not following my own resolve. And I’m trying to figure out why.
As I consider cutting out most dairy from my diet, I realize that my weird hodge-podge diet—that is definitely not carnivorous, but a little bit vegetarian, pescetarian, and soon-to-be vegan—doesn’t bother me. I realize that my only issue with not adopting any one of these diets “fully” isn’t what I think about it, but how others will look at it. You might say, “Who cares what others think?” Well, that’s a much easier question to answer when you’re listening to your music on your headphones and someone says, “metal sucks.” You can just turn it up and ignore them. It’s much harder when you’re sitting down with friends and family to eat and you are, inevitably, the joke around the table. Or, worse, when what you decide to eat for yourself is treated as if it’s a personal affront to others who choose to eat something else. It’s harder when something as individually personal as your diet is treated as if you’re doing something to harm someone else.
It’s not something I’ve really figured out (and I won’t go into any theories I’ve come up with here), but it’s a real phenomenon and it’s really aggravating. And so, with my weird-ass diet—that I have chosen for myself, and tweak for myself, and really shouldn’t involve anyone else–for the comfort and convenience of others, what do I call myself? It’s so much easier for friends to pick the restaurant or cook for a dinner gathering if they know you’re a…what? A vegetarian? A pescetarian? A vegan? And you don’t want to hear the grief I get if I mention that I’m not a big fan of bell peppers and mushrooms (I’m working on mushrooms). Apparently, I’m a flat-out picky asshole for not eating meat and not liking all vegetables equally. How dare I like some flavors but not others.
Why the hell do so many people have so much invested in what I eat? I mean, it’s important to me. It’s important to me to not support factory farming and to not treat animals as if they’re a lower, subordinate species fit only to kill and consume. It’s important to me to find a balance with fish, because I notice a big difference in how well I function if I’m taking a supplement or eating the actual fish. I need to function. It’s important to me to not have a sudden, fatal heart attack at age fifty like my grandfather did. It’s also important to me not to development cancer, like everyone else in my family. It’s important to me to maintain a healthy weight and feel good. And, as much as it upsets the all-or-nothings, it’s important to me to like the taste of the foods I eat and how they make me feel. And because all of these things are important, I’m not a carnivore, not a vegetarian, not a pescetarian, and not a vegan. I just eat what I eat.
And so, I will eat cheese. And, although I will limit that intake to a handful of times a year, I’ll love it and I won’t be able to get enough of it. And it’ll be awesome.