I Am Not a Vegetarian

Fourteen months ago, I became pregnant. It is a widely known fact that pregnancy wildly affects the senses. I could not stand to be near the rabbit’s litterbox because of the smell (a smell I never could smell before and now cannot smell anymore). I thought root beer tasted like Altoids. And meat tasted…well, tasted OK, but made my stomach turn.

Since then, I’ve read that meats and other easily spoiled foods are one of the biggest triggers of pregnancy sickness. Colloquial stories from message boards support the research. I took meat totally off of the menu and started finding new sources of protein.

Let’s backtrack a little. I was one of the biggest meat eaters I knew. To me, a bologna and cheese sandwich contained bologna and cheese, not bread. I routinely ate entire summer sausages out of hand. I absconded the potato and went for a bigger steak. So this was totally new to me. I was worried that the little person inside me would not have optimal development without animal protein. But I simply could not eat meat.

I was already using FitDay to track my consumption of foods (when I was trying to lose weight before the pregnancy). I tried to balance my diet and ensure I had adequate protein, vitamins, and minerals without meat. I found that I was eating less saturated fat and more healthful vegetables. Almost every day, I obtained 100% RDA of all vitamins from food sources, something I had not done pre-pregnancy and pre-no meat.

A friend of mine had recently become a vegetarian, and she jumped into it completely, even checking for animal-based ingredients in seemingly veg-friendly foods. I respected her decision and admired her all-out commitment but didn’t feel it was right for me. I did know that my food habits were changing. Eating no meat begat better habits in general. For instance, when I was craving food as I did throughout my pregnancy, I was reaching for fruit instead of donuts. I still managed to pack on almost two pounds a week, but at least it wasn’t clogging my arteries!

As my body lifted its meat ban, I had planned to pledge to eat more healthfully, meat or no meat. But the meatless diet was working so well. I was concerned that I might not get enough of the right proteins for the baby unless I ate animal protein. So I incorporated two portions of lean fish per week.

I started to feel really good about my choices. It’s supposedly better for the environment to be a vegetarian due to the lower use of natural resources. I started really watching for local fruits and vegetables and other ways to eat well and help the planet. As an animal lover, I realized that I liked not eating them. Then, when people wondered why a meatatarian like me was piling only veggies on her plate, I carefully told family and friends of my new choice.

“Why would anyone do that?”
“I don’t think that is good for you. You need meat.”
“I hope you come to your senses soon.”
And, my favorite, “that is the stupidest thing I’ve heard.”

I guess I was surprised that everyone cared so much what I ate. My husband is very supportive. I even cook meat for people occasionally, just to make them feel more comfortable. And I continue not to eat much meat. As long as I’m nursing the baby, I will not stop eating animal protein, and I probably won’t stop when she’s finished either. I’m labeled as a “flexitarian” or “pescetarian,” neither of which is exactly great. The terms irritate most true vegetarians and cause only eyerolling among my omnivorous brethren. I’m stuck in a middle that works for me: better for my health, Ainsley’s health, definitely better for the lives of animals I don’t eat(!), and the environment, but still not so strict that a slipup means I will feel like a failure. Unfortunately it’s a middle that not many others appreciate. For some odd reason my dietary blog posts draw more comments- and more ire- than the rest of my posts.

A few thoughts, for the record: I don’t care what you eat. My new diet doesn’t mean I’m silently judging you for having a steak. I haven’t forgotten how enjoyable meat-based foods are; I’m just trying something that I hope will be a permanent, healthful change for me and for my family. I am very supportive of people who can commit to a vegetarian lifestyle, especially in a meat-and-potatoes Midwest.

Any time someone makes a commitment to try to change for the better, isn’t that a good thing?