Anyone who knows me well will likely have just spit out their water/tea/scotch all over their keyboard, so I’ll give you a moment to grab a towel before continuing.
Techno-drowning crisis averted? Good.
The History Of Kelly The Vegetarian (Precontemplation)
Okay, let’s start with a little background on my vegetarianism: I’ve never liked meat. That’s pretty much it, but that would make for a pretty boring story, so I’ll elaborate. As a kid, meat always grossed me out. (Still does). The only meat I could handle was meat that didn’t look like meat – hamburgers, etc.
When I started cooking for myself, I’d only eat meat when NOT at home – if the only decent looking thing on the menu had chicken, I’d suffer through it. I always told hospital programs I was vegetarian, because it was easier than explaining my incredible pickiness about which meats made me gag and which didn’t. Sometimes this resulted in me being fed nothing but veggie burgers and peanut butter sandwiches for months on end, but for me that was still better than the alternative.
Eventually, nearly a decade ago, I made the switch to full vegetarian. I couldn’t justify killing an animal for my eating pleasure, especially when I wasn’t getting any pleasure out of eating it.
I was quite strict about being vegetarian in the early days (especially since those coincided with the eating-disordered days). As time went on, though, I found I had to make a few concessions, particularly where supplements are concerned. Many of them use gelatin to form their capsules, and if the gelatin-capsule options were the higher-quality supplement (in some cases, not all), then that was the one I’d take. I also reluctantly decided to take a fish oil supplement, as my brain really did need it, and the pre-converted algae-based ones were too expensive for me.
Food remained fairly veg-centric. I blanched if I discovered my veg soup had been stirred with the same spoon that had stirred a meat soup. I’d cringe at the thought of my veggie burger being cooked on the same grill as a meaty one. I knew, however, going travelling, there would likely be fewer vegetarian options available to me, especially in smaller towns. (One B&B owner very sweetly offered to make me smoked salmon when I told her I don’t eat meat).
I also knew that my travelling companion has celiac disease. If it came down to finding a restaurant she could eat without being poisoned, vs one where I could eat vegetarian, I knew the right answer would be for me to suck it up and bite the proverbial bullet.
I recently read a story about a family who, rather than trust local food on their vacation, packed an extra suitcase full of food from home. While they claimed to do it in the name of health, the story reminded me a little too much of my eating-disordered life – packing breakfast, lunch, and dinner for holidays, and refusing to eat anyone’s food besides my own, because I couldn’t trust them to do it to my exact specifications. So while I packed a few protein bars for emergencies, I started to seriously think about my food attitude:
- In eating disorder treatment, vegetarians are always met with questions about whether their vegetarianism is really just a symptom of the disease. While I know in my heart-of-hearts that I’ve never liked meat, I always think it’s better to test possible symptoms, just to be sure.
- I don’t have fear foods anymore. Meat is the only thing I shy away from. My recovered life is all about moving in the direction of my fears and HUNTING THEM DOWN. Why should this be any different?
- My taste buds have changed a shocking amount over the years. Foods I once hated now number among my favorites. Maybe I’m missing out on a food I seriously love!
- How can a person go on vacation and truly experience the local culture without including food in the experience?
Fish and chips. Could anything be more stereotypically British? Yes, I could eat porridge in Scotland, and amazing cheese in Wales, and Jameson Whiskey in Ireland, and ALL THE TEA in England, but without the fish and chips, I’d feel like I was missing out. So we found a gluten-free fish and chips place so we both could partake, and ordered.
I haven’t felt nervous around food in years, but ordering fish made me as shaky and shy as I’d felt on my first dinner out in recovery. I told the waiter it was my first fish in a decade, and he congratulated me. It arrived. It didn’t smell TOO fishy. I awkwardly cut into it (it’s strange how meat-cutting skills leave you over time), and it was flaky and . . . I dunno, looked like I thought good fish should look.
I took a bite. The texture felt . . . wrong. The flavor . . . still rather fishy. I’m assured by my travelling companion that it was, indeed, good fish, but I just didn’t enjoy it. I made it through more than half of the filet, then had to give in. I ate most of the rest of my chips, and a lovely rhubarb crumble, and tried not to imagine it swimming through the hydrochloric acid in my stomach.
So, I didn’t like the fish. Okay, I can live with that. Does that mean I’ll never try fish again? Nope. Change is a life-long process. Who knows where my taste buds will be in another ten years?
What I’ve learned from the experience is this: life doesn’t have to be about labels. Yes, it’s easier to say “I’m a vegetarian” to people to quickly get across my preferences, but it doesn’t mean I’m a slave to food without a face. If your bacon smells really good, I may ask to try a bite, and that doesn’t have to be a big deal.
While I honestly don’t believe my vegetarianism was symptomatic, I’ve come to realize that the fewer restrictions I have in life, the freer my life becomes. I want to travel EVERYWHERE, and I refuse to be the girl eating a protein bar and rice while everyone else is enjoying the feast. Life is a party, and we’re all invited. It’s up to YOU whether you join in the celebration.
How are your food restrictions keeping you excluded? Where can you introduce a little bit of flexibility into your menu?