To meat or not to meat, that is the question


To meat, or not to meat.. that is the question of the day.

As a fine mesomorphic Celt, I grew up eating animals. My forefathers raised sheep, trapped rabbits and I’m sure when the animals were running too fast, fish would have been on the menu. Sure we ate a lot of vegetables growing up (my parents liked their veggies mishapen and covered with dirt aka organic), but animal protein usually featured on the plate most days.

Growing up in the UK, 1984 was the wake up call for meat eaters as Mad Cow disease or CDJ made the news every night.  Footage of horribly sad and confused cows, unable to walk, howling in pain with limbs that looked like rubber was shortly followed by images of people doing literally the same. It was like watching zombies in a movie.. except these were real people.. who were literally zombified. The disease ate their brain. Evening news reports showed men and women drooling, waving their limbs around as though unattached to bone, unable to talk, mindlessly grunting and moaning. It was horrific, and very, very real to a kid.  While the numbers of people affected by the disease was fairly small – 176  (all of whom died.. eventually) – the image of those cows and those people – never really left me. We’d never eaten much beef – it was hella expensive in the UK- but I really never wanted to after that.

Which was a good thing.. because the whole country burned all their cows older than 2.

In our rural village that awful summer, every evening walk was punctuated by the horrible smell of burning flesh. Until we started importing en masse from the French later that fall, you literally couldn’t buy beef in a grocery store in the UK…. an unfeasible image for most Americas. Imagine it.. rows upon rows on empty meat shelves.

But we weren’t done. Next came foot and mouth disease in British pigs, and scared by the outrage over CJD, then the pigs were all gone. (NOTE: while the smell of cooking bacon is delightful, the smell of an entire pig being cremated is disgusting). And I was starting to forget that evening air didn’t always smell like something was being burned.

Cue my mother’s idea to send the entire family vegetarian.

After a few years of nut roasts, lentil stews and mushroom curries I headed off to college, armed with my trusted recipe book of vegetarian mush and the notion that meat was murder.

Which it was, until my college boyfriend’s parents had us over for filet steak.

I ate like a caveman. Shoving the bloodied slices in to my mouth (his parents just thought I was an  uncouth Northerner) and moaning with joy. It had been 8 years since I’d eaten any red meat and my god, what a way to dive back in. It was delicious.. like eating a hunk of heaven.

Of course my stomach had other ideas and I threw the entire thing up within the hour, but I never looked back. Beef was what’s for dinner. And if not, there was always chicken or fish (I never got over the smell of those cremated pigs).  While most of my college classmates were pouring water on noodles and soaking kidney beans, I was poaching salmon, searing fillet and roasting chicken.  That freshman 15 hit me like a brick but I was happy, hell I was just catching up on my share of the animal kingdom.

Fast forward to today and my relationship with meat is confused once again. American beef tastes unlike beef anywhere else in the world and here, its cheaper than any protein ever was in the UK.  Chicken is – literally– cheaper per pound than cereal and pork (if you eat it), comes in huge chops that could feed your average Albanian family for 3 days. There is a clear reason why so many Americans consume so much meat.. its cheap, its filling and it makes you who you are. Tall, strong and muscular. Evidence? When I came to the US, I grew 1/2 inch – all that protein had to go somewhere.

But the cheapness, the bounty got me questioning the method, and it wasn’t long before I learned that much of the reason that meat is so cheap here links back to the UK practices  (feeding cows other cows- putting sick cows into the food chain) and the use of corn as a feed and fattener. Now I don’t know about your education, but I grew up thinking cows ate grass and hay. Corn? It just didn’t seem right (how did they find the pots of boiling water? how did they get the butter on? How did they hold the ears?). Cue Michael Pollen, the Slow Food movement and after a lot of reading, my personal desire not to eat most meat. Which led to a largely fish based diet, with the occasion forays into buffalo and rabbit.

(Buffalo? Yep. I make an exception because by law it has to be pasture raised. After all this is an animal that can run 35 miles an hour and jump a 6 foot fence. That’s an animal I’m happy to eat. I like a spunky animal, even if it looks like a extra from ‘1 Million Years BC’).

But then came Crossfit. And the need for protein. Lots of it.

While I do have a job, I really can’t afford or want to eat that much fish. (I think I’d start to glow in the dark from all that mercury). And I don’t want to be responsible for killing that many buffalo (I do think they’re awesome animals). And rabbit – I don’t even know where to buy it and its hard to shoot (especially in downtown Denver).

Now I could ovary up and push some soy down my throat, but I think it tastes like something someone threw up and I gag every time I encounter it.. never mind eat it. Which leaves me… with meat. And beans.

Thank god I live alone.. that’s all I’m saying.

So the conundrum continues. How to get the protein I need, without turning into a high maintenance vegetarian (I’m celiac so I can’t eat wheat or gluten) or farting myself out of existence. I know you can do it. People do it all the time. It just takes time and energy and effort. All of which I’m sort of lacking after a day at work and a WOD that leaves me unable to lift my arms.

So until I can figure it out, I’ll keep closing my eyes and trying not to think of my stalwart buffalo out on the plains, with my name written all over his meaty butt.

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