Sometimes you have to eat meat. Some days you wake up speckled with ghastly bruises, like you’d been thrashing around in a Lamb of God mosh pit all night. Other mornings, you feel like each leg weighs 10 stones. Anemia, low red blood cell count, everlasting fatigue, ugh.
I love animals, I did my best. I abstained from eating them for 23 years. At age 15, I declared myself a vegetarian, much to my Midwestern family’s chagrin. My spicy, Scorpio, RN aunt berated me, saying I would have to get iron injections in my ass. My mom looked panicked, but I reassured her it was just a fleeting whim (wink). Truth is, I had always felt eating animals was wrong. At age 4, or 5, I questioned this common practice.
Young Lolo: Why do we eat chickens? I don’t want to eat them.
Older Brother: But Lauren, if we didn’t eat chickens they would pile up to the sky!
Keep in mind that this is the same brother that told me if I ate my Brussels’s sprouts quick enough a Cabbage Patch Kid would pop out. At this point, I figure I am owed a minimum of 5 dozen of those doughy, baby powder scented dolls.
In the end it was the fetal pig dissection junior year of high school that officially turned me off of meat. The harsh truth is that most of us have no idea what meat really looks like. It comes all neat(ish) and tidy at the supermarket. As a suburban 15 year old, it was beyond illuminating to see a small corpse lying on my dissection tray. His fragile eyelashes never able to bat away dust motes! My heart ached.
When I confronted the bio teacher about the inhumanity of all of this, he curtly told me that these fetal pigs were aborted from the mama pig before she was rendered into hot dogs. Basically, if you eat hot dogs, then shut the f**k up. Side note, said bio teacher did not go down in the 1996 annals as my favorite teacher, hiss. While he was brusque, and frankly a wanker, it was the awakening I needed to take a definitive stance on eating animals. I became a vegetarian.
Fast forward, 22 years later I was living outside of Burlington as the R.A./Cook/Shirodhara(er)/Sloth Yoga Teacher/Assistant/Gardener at the Ayurvedic Center of Vermont. Each morning, I stumbled out of bed and made a fresh cauldron of kitchari. For those that are unfamiliar, kitchari is one of the panaceas of Ayurveda. Composed of equal parts split mung beans, white basmati rice, all the spices under the sun and, of course, ghee. This is a simple, easy to digest mush, that allows digestion to take a pause while it tends to detoxing, repairing the tissues, etc. The grub can be used for the convalescing, heck, it’s even used as baby food in India, as it’s a complete protein brimming with amino acids.
Clients coming for panchakarma are put on a mono-diet of kitchari one week prior to their arrival, for the duration of their stay, as well as for 3-4 days after they returned home. Needless to say, since I lived and cooked at the center, I ate a boat load of this golden slop. My boss would quip, “I can’t give you health insurance, but I can give you kitchari.” Honestly, I love the stuff, it’s like home base to me. Think of kitchari as the American equivalent of chicken noodle soup.
After roughly 2 months of eating kitchari for 15 out of 21 meals per week, I started to crave meat. WHAT?! I know, my sentiments exactly. Like I said, I had been a vegetarian for 22 years and suddenly I was craving meat. The client(s) would arrive on a Sunday, and the kitchari would commence after a weekend hiatus. Come Thursday night I would start fantasizing about hauling ass over to The Farmhouse Tap & Grill for a juicy burger. I pushed these cravings aside and reached for chocolate, or sleeping excessively.
And then I started to dream about eating meat. I would startle awake equal parts horrified and guilty. What was happening to me? I’m a vegetarian, dammit!
Fast forward to the following fall. I moved to the Berkshires and was establishing myself with a new allopathic doctor. He ran some blood work and reached out 2 days later, you know it’s never good when the doctor calls himself. He wanted to let me know that my panels came back and that I was basically malnourished. Hypocalcemia, anemia, low white blood count, low Vitamin D (but heck, who doesn’t have low Vitamin D in New England?!), and freakishly low blood pressure. An aside on low B.P., why doesn’t any doctor question this? Instead of saying, “oh wow, great B.P., I wish mine was this low. Must be all that yoga!”
Malnourished?! But I ate kitchari for a year! I do all the right things. I drink nettle tea, I eat my greens, I combine my proteins, exercise, and sleep like it’s my job… Oh wait, did I mention that kitchari is a cleansing food? Mung beans, the primary ingredient, are known to be like little Pac-Man in the blood stream, chomping up nitrogen and putting the abode into detox mode. As one of my beloved teachers says, if you don’t have ama (toxins) to purge and you insist on cleansing, the body starts to break down healthy tissues. Duh, and cue the light bulb.
Oops, just straight up oops. Oops and sorry body. God, I had spent so many years depleting myself, burning precious tissue and ojas (our vital immunity). I was rundown and my body was screaming for help. It was even trying to run an intervention through my subconscious mind via corpulent meat laden dreams.
Here were my options:
- Take prescription iron supplements that were cherry red
- Eat meat
Obviously a devout vegetarian went for option 1, but washed the time-release red coating off of each pill. Who wants that red dye in their system? Another duh, and ouch. The lack of time-release coating hurt my stomach fiercely. It felt like there were a dozen knives being twisted in my small intestine, not to mention regularity became a struggle.
Why do I do such dumb things? I suppose so you don’t have to.You can learn from my errors.
And moving on to option 2. I’ll admit it, there were copious tears as I drove to Guido’s for a pound of organic, grass-fed ground beef. I blessed the shit out of that cow and gave so much thanks for its life. I pounded papaya enzymes to ease digestion. For years I had heard those urban legends of people not eating meat for years and their body stops producing the enzyme to break down the flesh. Thus, papaya enzymes for good measure.
I ate the meat…and loved it. Sure, I felt remorse and guilt, but knew that ahimsa (or non-violence) also meant non-violence towards myself. I needed to rebuild my tissues so that I could be a fully functioning, positively contributing member of society.
Out of solidarity my Ayurveda cohorts joined me for $5 burger night the following Wednesday (where I coincidentally met my love, Tyler, karma works in mysterious ways). I had committed to eating red meat 1x a week for the next 5 weeks. The burger went down with ease, but the bacon was passed on. Pork still felt wrong (fetal pig samskara?) and less medicinal.
My pale coloring changed almost immediately and I was embarrassed to admit that I had been chronically tired for 2 decades. My mother later told me that I was anemic as a baby. In Ayurveda, this preexisting condition would be labeled as a khavaigunya- or an area of weakness in the body. In times of chaos, the khavaigunya is the first place to become compromised and show signs of distress.
I ate red meat through that first Berkshire winter and felt human. I skipped the 2nd and most of the 3rd winter, because I’m arrogant, and felt this overriding guilt for the souls lost for my consumption. However, Saturday I felt the urge again and made some red sauce with ground beef. My Sicilian bf was psyched, to say the least. I swear he was Garfield the cat in his last life.
I ate meat all weekend, and am starting to get my strength back again.
Ayurveda teaches to honor your body’s cravings. This flesh vehicle is incredibly intuitive and wise. It has the infinite wisdom of self-healing. If we are in a somewhat balanced state, the body will have healthy cravings. Meaning, my body was craving meat because it was low in iron. Just like pregnant women, deficient in trace minerals such as zinc, experience Pica and chew a handful of earth to meet their nutritional needs.
Moral of the story? Let thy body be your teacher and listen, truly listen. If it wants bitter dark chocolate, do it, it’s abundant in iron.
If you crave wheat and you’re trying to go all GF/Paleo, heed that call. The brain operates almost solely on carbs, and many of our indigenous diets were chock full of wheat.
Honor your Ancestor’s diet. Honor your own inner wisdom. Honor every living soul and morsel of food that graces your dinner plate.