Monday, February 22, 2010

Food for thought.

Toward the end of my sophomore year of high school, my crazy biology teacher who used to make us carry around a toilet seat for a bathroom pass showed our class the film Diet for a New America. It was an expose of the negative health and environmental consequences of meat production and consumption as well as a look at the cruel treatment of animals in factory farms. It's based on the book by the same name and written by John Robbins, son of the co-founder of Baskin-Robbins.

This movie pretty much rocked my world. I went from never once thinking about where my sack lunch came from to having graphic images of slaughter seared into my impressionable young mind. As an animal lover, I was completely freaked out. There was no way I could eat meat after seeing such things. Even just thinking about it made me feel woozy.

But I was young and didn't do the grocery shopping or cooking so my approach to vegetarianism was somewhat less than stellar. Instead of swapping out "bad food" for "good food", I just stopped eating all the stuff that grossed me out. I used to joke that I wasn't so much a vegetarian as I was a breadetarian. And not a crunchy, healthy breadetarian; a plain bagels and white bread breadetarian.

I was having other problems with food at the time too, but looking back I almost wonder if more of my weight loss and waifishness had to do with me being malnourished than I gave it credit for. A growing girl cannot thrive on dry cereal alone!

But regardless, I kept my stance on meat for several years. Once in a while I would eat something meat-like yet unrecognizable like a plain McDonald's cheeseburger or one of those cheese filled hot dogs. It was easy enough to imagine those were something other than meat (although...gross), but anything that could be easily traced back to an animal was totally off limits.

It took about seven years but eventually the scenes from that movie began to fade from my consciousness and I made my way back to meat. Would you believe me if I told you a $7 stadium dog at a Sacramento Kings game put the final nail in the coffin? Soon after that Bill and I were regularly frequenting happy hour at Outback Steakhouse and giving the meat-heavy South Beach Diet a whirl.

I was still kind of a wimpy carnivore though and especially terrible when it came to cooking the stuff. Even though the chicken we bought (we rarely bought red meat) was barely recognizable as an actual bird (boneless, skinless, frozen...), I would still carve off about half the breast and give it to the dog. This piece looks veiny. This one has blood on it. This piece was touching the veiny, bloody part.

When it came to burgers though, I rarely had a problem. Since they're typically grilled, I never had to cook one myself (isn't that funny - if it's cooked on a grill, it's probably been cooked by a man), and restaurant burgers are pretty much good across the board (especially at Edgefield Sportsbar...). When I was pregnant with Liam, burgers were the only food that really tasted good that first trimester. I must have given in to cravings at least a few times a week.

Not long after I found out I was pregnant this time, I watched the movie Fast Food Nation on TV one night. Have you seen this flick? It's a fictionalized take on the book by Eric Schlosser (which I haven't read) and is about, among other things, a fast food company that discovers SHIT in their MEAT (their words, not mine). If I'm remembering the scene correctly (and please know that I'm heavily paraphrasing here), Bruce Willis is eating a big ol' shitty burger while explaining to Greg Kinnear that of course there's shit in the meat - there's no way around it with untrained workers and excessively fast factory lines - but that it's no big deal as long as you cook the meat.

Needless to say, I have yet to crave a single burger. (And actually get a little grossed out just thinking about them. Yes, even the ones from Edgefield!)

As if my world hadn't already been turned upside down enough (no burgers?!), I have since watched the documentary Food, Inc. and an Oprah episode about the documentary Food, Inc. featuring Michael Pollan (author of many books including The Botany of Desire which I've read, and Food Rules which I haven't) and Alicia Silverstone (Cher from Clueless, duh, and author of The Kind Diet).

Now, I don't know about you, but I am obviously very easily swayed by media. Not all media. I mean, I'm pretty sure I could spend a good chunk of time with Fox News without ever once thinking, Wow, that totally makes sense! But give me a well made documentary, an E! True Hollywood Story, a persuasive magazine article, a profile of an Olympic athlete...and I'm all over it.

So watching a great documentary about a subject that had already tugged at my heartstrings before and then following it up with an Oprah episode (she recently got me crying over freaking Celine Dion, okay?) was like a one-two sucker punch right in the gut. I am face down on the mat, gasping for breath, cartoon stars swirling around my head, wondering, What the heck am I supposed to eat now?

T. K. O.

So I picked up The Kind Diet and started reading. As it turns out, that Cher is a pretty good little writer! (You just never know with celebrity authors...) The book offers lots of information about "kind foods" vs "nasty foods" with thoughtful reasoning behind why it's better to choose kind. And it's not just a bunch of Cows have feelings too, you know. There is some of that, of course, but there are also strong health and environmental arguments. Like, did you know it takes as much water as you would use in six months worth of showers to make one 16 oz steak? Even if every last one of us went mellow when it's yellow, it wouldn't begin to rival that!

Even though the Kind Diet is vegan (yikes!), it makes a lot of sense to me. Like, when you think about it, doesn't it seem kind of strange that we love another animals' milk so much? I mean, could you imagine drinking milk from a dog or a friend or even from your own mother? It seems crazy! Yet, that's exactly what we're doing with cows' milk. It's not made for us - it's made for baby cows. Maybe that's why it's linked to health problems ranging from allergies to cancer...

Facts aside though, I get really sad when I think about cutting dairy out of my life. Not milk so much (although I do love that one perfect cup of coffee in the morning), but cheese. Cheese! When I asked Bill what he thought about a vegan diet he said the only hard part about it would be me and my unnatural love for cheese. He says I act all sad and deprived when I don't have it. I could never eat meat again and not even notice. But cheese? Oh, cheese! I don't know if I'd call it unnatural but I do love me some cheese.


The other day I made a burrito without cheese (or sour cream!) and it was so much better than the burritos I usually make that I didn't feel sad or deprived. I felt elated! Stoked! Totally satisfied! It made me think I might actually be able to do this. At least most of the time. I never want to become one of those people no one can invite over for dinner. I figure since we cook and eat at home 90-95% of the time, we can focus on those meals and let the rest fall where they may. That way we can be a little healthier and a little greener without being loser social outcasts. At least that's the plan.

The best thing about this shift is how excited I feel about cooking. Cooking! We made a big Trader Joe's/Whole Foods run this weekend and I have put a delicious meal on the table every night since. That's huge for me! Since I didn't like cooking meat and dinner didn't seem like dinner without chicken, I would "forget" to make dinner more often than not. Now I look forward to cooking. I like that I can whip something special up quickly and I don't have to scrub my hands a million times while I cook (I was always paranoid about raw chicken germs). The food tastes great (and makes awesome leftovers) and it's a cinch to clean up. So far I'm thinking win-win-win!

I have to admit, I don't think just anyone could get me to consider a vegan diet. Michael Pollan is cool and all but he's no Alicia Silverstone. I mean, Clueless? Come on! That is like the movie for my generation. And when it comes to It Girls, she's It. Every boy I knew was in love with her and every girl I knew was kind of okay with that. And that's not the kind of thing that goes away. As Bill was flipping through the book checking out recipes the other day, he paused at a photo of Alicia Silverstone. "You know, I've always had a soft spot for her..." And I was totally okay with it. Especially if it means he'll keep doing some of the cooking.


Amber said...

I'm right there with ya-- Michael Pollan is my hero. While I still occasionally eat meat at home, I make sure it comes from ethical local sources. I never eat meat at restaurants. Case in point, one day last month I got an unexplainable craving for a cheeseburger (which NEVER happens) so naturally we went to Edgefield. I ate the burger. The next day I was sick in bed with a fever and throwing up. I'm not saying it was the burger, but isn't it a funny coincidence?

Clean Fresh Mommy said...

I too have been heavily influenced by FFN, Food Inc and Oprah. I actually wrote a similar post last month after Oprah aired. And I am right there with you on cheese - I actually gave it up for Lent (even though I'm not a practicing Catholic, I like the challenge!). Not sure I can give it up for good... I get a little weepy thinking about a life with out it!

Feel free to share any good recipes you come across!

Jill said...

yes! what ARE you cooking?
i hate cooking meat & i gave up at the beginning of the year, but much like you once were... i'm more of a breadatarian.

No Mommy Brain said...

jill - something i love that's really easy and filling is sweet potatoes. chop them into good sized chunks, toss with olive oil, season however you like (rosemary and garlic work well) and stick them into a 400 degree oven on a baking sheet for 30 minutes or so. serve with a big, messy salad and some brown rice medley from trader joe's and that's dinner!

jen scaffidi said...

Mmmm....tasty. Good luck giving up cheese! I remember the fondue party several years ago where you, me, and Bill just did NOT leave the pot the entire night. I'm still full.

And not to go all Nellie-the-Nag on you (but I'm gonna do it anyway), you are making sure your kid gets all the protein he needs, yeah?

I trust you, but I also have some vegetarians in the family who were NOT diligent about the kids getting the right nutrition and those kids have not developed well (like, they are underweight and their bones are weird).

So I have vegetarian mom paranoia and thus I feel like I have to say something.

And I'm done. Sorry about that! It won't happen again (ok, it probably will).

No Mommy Brain said...

oh, the fondue! yes, i remember that fondly. sigh...
liam's diet is already so selective there is no way we will be limiting it more. thank god he likes peanut butter! i usually don't worry because he's plenty big and smart as a whip but weird bones? yikes!

Jessica said...

First of all, dude! You have Trader Joe's. Lucky duck! I haven't lived in a state with a Trader Joe's in about 15 years.

Second of all, that has always bothered me about milk! We are not meant to drink it. I don't even put it on my cereal (not that I eat cereal much any more), however, I too love me some cheese. I'm okay leaving it off things, but I love fancy cheeses one their own with crackers. I also love sardines and crackers - are those kind?

And third of all, you're an awesome writer! I love reading what you have to say and you say it well.


No Mommy Brain said...

thank you! we didn't have trader joe's when we first moved to nashville and it sucked. life is much better now (even though they can't sell wine)...

jen scaffidi said...

Weird bones = bones not developing properly, brittle or... for lack of a better word... holey.

Could be untrue or nothing to worry about? May I suggest asking your doctor? They usually go to school for the answers to questions like that, right?