The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Meat-Eating Vegetarian

Despite the fact that I had a freezer full of beef and pork all last year, I actually consider myself a vegetarian. Well, I'm a meat-eating vegetarian. How can this be?

I support many of the arguments for a reduced meat diet. The environmental devastation due to the conventional meat industry as well as cruelty to animals are each enough of a reason in my book to steer clear and away.

Other than that, I am not against eating meat. Some animals species are simply designed to eat meat and that's the way it is. The cycles of nature depend on it or else animals would die from overpopulation. I don't subscribe to the idea that eating meat is unhealthy--although that largely depends on what you eat specifically and your overall lifestyle (which is true for anything you eat).

I tried to be a vegetarian for a while and managed to stick with it for a few months (with meat supplements about every 5-7 days). I was actually surprised that I liked it. It took a while to learn how to cook differently. I was eating nothing but eggs with a can of pinto beans, because I couldn't figure out what else to prepare. I almost went into a panic at first, with my stomach grumbling, my mind hazy and the cupboards bare. It took my body a while to transition, too. But when it was all said and done I didn't miss the meat as much as I thought I would. I was gorging myself on nuts, fruits, beans, whole grains, salads and other things I've always neglected. I discovered a lot of new dishes. It was nice going to restaurants and only having to pick from 2 options instead of wading through a 10 page menu.

However, I did not do well on the diet. Despite my best efforts to make it nutritionally balanced, I just felt like crap. I discovered later that a vegetarian diet is a problem for some people. Deficiencies of B-12, beta carotene, iron and calcium can happen. Some people are able to manage better than others, usually based on which part of the world your ancestors came from. I thought it was in my blood--my grandparents grew up in Slovakia with only occasional options for meat.

Being a vegetarian--however briefly--was an invaluable experience and I recommend it for everyone. I learned how to enjoy meatless meals more than ever. I trained my body to go without meat for sustained periods. Sure, I have always enjoyed a vegetarian meal every now and then, but I used to feel empty--even angry--if I went a full day without meat. It was good to break that meat addiction.

Still, being a full-time vegetarian just wasn't working for me at all. I decided to go back to eating meats, limiting myself to properly raised ones. As far as I'm concerned, eating naturally-raised meats offsets most of the vegetarian arguments. In some cases, eating these meats may actually be better for the environment than eating conventional vegetables!

When the power went out, I threw out the last of my meat. Being suddenly without, I got a wake-up call. When I had a freezer full of meat, I got lazy. I had a constant supply of exceptional quality meat. I bought it in bulk and got a rather good deal. If I was looking for some variety, I'd get a chicken from the farmers market or some wild caught salmon every now and then. Normally, I would just go to the freezer anytime I wanted to eat, and kept items thawing on a regular basis in the fridge.

Without that, I have suddenly remembered how expensive and difficult it is to find this kind of meat on a cut-by-cut basis. Stores like Whole Foods are outrageously expensive and stores are not exactly in everyone's backyard. Farmers markets are open mostly on weekends. Buying in bulk takes a good deal of planning and sometimes involves a wait of a month or two.

Last year, I did pretty well. I bought virtually no meat from the grocery stores that wasn't raised well. Over 99% of the meat I bought fit this description. However, I was just horrible when it came to restaurants. I ate there indiscriminately. I'd eat the naturally-raised option when restaurants like Chipotle would offer it. But if they didn't, I pretty much ate anything. This is what I need to work on.

I am here to state my re-commitment. I only want to eat meats that are sustainably and humanely raised. I'll make exceptions for when I'm invited to someone's house. But there is no reason why I can't eat vegetarian at restaurants.


  1. Ahh - this is exactly why I became a vegetarian but why you won't find me preaching to folks not to eat meat. 15 years ago it was easier to give up meat completely than to try to source organic or well raised meat - once I'd got used to the abstinence it has been easier to stick with the no meat/fish option ever since.

    Fortunately apart from going a little loopy now and then it doesn't seem to have had an adverse affect on me.

  2. Pauline,

    Yes. I had forgotten how difficult it is to buy responsibly-raised meats. I should also mention that I live in a town where organic grocery stores are actually common, so I am sure the difficulty is more for folks who leave in other places.

    So that is why I pledge to be a vegetarian when I do not have access to this kind of meat. Now I just have to live up to those words!

  3. I try to only eat meat in restaurants that is organic and free range, too. Conventional chicken just tastes disgusting to me now, and I can't handle greasy burgers, I only order the beef if the menu says grass fed. I order fish a lot...just not scary full-of-mercury-fish such as swordfish. Have you read "Omnivores Dilemma"? It really made me think, so much so, that now when I order pizza I get the veggie.

  4. Wow, Sarah, it sounds like you have more options there in Seattle! I can't think of a single restaurant in town that serves grass-fed beef. Maybe Whole Foods in their ready-made food section?

    Columbus is probably the most progressive place in the state. We do have a few vegetarian restaurants, but that's about it.