September 28, 2006

To eat meat?

I have to rebuild my muscles, which have dwindled to almost nothing in the past year, during which my protein intake, always small, was minimal and sometimes nearly zero in a day. My backside, the gluteus maximus, one of the largest muscles in the body, has shrunk to pancake flatness, so that it is hard to find a spot for my weekly IM injection. My legs are like twigs. My arms are nothing but flab. To get any strength and tone back I need to exercise and add good quality protein to my diet but this necessitates a choice that I find difficult to make: whether or not to eat meat.

I will say at the outset that I am not categorically opposed to meat-eating in others, not on principle. I believe that our teeth, meant for both tearing and chewing, indicate that we are an omnivorous species and that our diet is intended to include animal flesh. I also believe that in the natural order of things – note that phrase, the natural order of things, because we are very far from that state of affairs now – the stronger or more advanced or more intelligent animal preys upon the weaker or less wily. I am secure in the knowledge that there is a natural hierarchy of prey and predator that starts with the bacterium and smaller, and goes up through one-celled organisms, which are eaten by tiny multi-cellular organisms, which are eaten in turn by larger ones...and so forth up through the mammals, which eat each other on a larger and larger scale, so you eventually have wolves killing sheep and bears killing dogs and so forth. It is only the next step from this, and the most natural, to find man killing deer and bear and muskrat, then domesticated cattle and pigs and chickens for his food. It wasn’t so very long ago that this was the only source of protein humans had, except for eggs and cow’s or goat’s milk. Killing animals wasn’t done as “sport” it was done for survival, out of necessity, for the winter’s food supply and even for winter clothing as well. No sentimentality, maybe, but no game-playing, no “killing for fun” or sportsmanship. Hunting was work and not always easy. On the other hand, the animals one killed had not been tortured or raised in crowded pens and force fed foods they naturally would never eat, plied with antibiotics lest their wretched living conditions breed disease, perhaps having their tails cut off or their wings clipped before bizarre acts of self-mutiliation occurred...

But, and it is a big but, today things are entirely different. Today cows can be raised on concrete stations in stalls so narrow they cannot turn around, and fed corn most of their lives, even though grass, not corn, is their natural food. Corn causes bloat, which could kill them, were they not slaughtered beforehand by reaching the desired weight younger than their ancestors ever did. Roly-poly muscled and marbly with fat, the meat is just the way Americans have been ad-dicted to like their beef. Literally, we’ve been taught by the advertisements that grain or corn-fed beef, which is by definition marbled, is the “best” beef and therefore, none but the best for America!

The same story or a similar one for chickens and pigs, but perhaps saddest for the pigs, because it is said they know more about what is going on and have “feelings about their future.”

How I wish I lived near Polyface Farms in Virginia (or wherever it is) Joel Salatin’s place, where every animal is grass-dependent and home-raised and hand-slaughtered “transparently,” so much so that you can come watch your own chicken be turned into chicken parts, if you so desire. It would be quite a lesson to watch a chicken you picked out running around in the barn or yard, look you in the eye as its throat was slit and you could see that it wasn’t suffering, wasn’t being tortured and hadn’t lived and died a horrible death. It would make you honor that chicken as you ate it, if nothing else. I would love to buy my protein from a local farm that practiced sustainable and humane “grass” farming but alas, I don’t live near any that I know of and Salatin has a No Delivery policy, believing it wrong to spend fossil fuel to ship food all across the land when it can be sold right next door.

So, what to do? I already eat eggs and use milk and soy products, but soy only goes so far when going out to eat with Joe or cooking for two. I have been eating sliced turkey, the least meaty of the meats I can find... a poor way not to deal with it yet, by dealing with it poorly. As I said, I’m not against meat eating on principle, only on the practice as it is done these days. I do not like meat much, true, and could do without. But for quick and easy protein there is nothing like it, I suppose. I’m on the fence. I think, as the Inuit used to think, that we -- every creature -- are all food, all souls, and that we should give thanks both for what we eat and for when we give ourselves to be eaten in the natural cycle of things. Unless we could do this ourselves, though, it behooves us not to expect it of other animals unless we treat them humanely and with dignity and respect as inhabitants of the same earth we all share.

Posted by pamwagg at September 28, 2006 08:56 PM


Grass-fed, humanely raised and butchered animals are availble online from many farms. You can also check to try to find sources near you. Soy has a host of health issues and is truly not the health food we have been led to believe. Clean meat and dairy products are well worth seeking out. They are healthful, sustainable, and humane. Organic is not the answer either, many organic meat/dairy animals are raised in factory conditions on organic feed.

Posted by: Michele in TX at October 4, 2006 06:50 PM

Pam, how do you feel about seafood? Fish is a great protein source, and oily fish like tuna an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.

It's easy to get adequate protein, though, from a diet that includes milk, eggs and cheese. Peanut butter, as Kate mentioned, is a fine protein source too. My daughter has been a vegetarian from the age of about 10, and I am quite sure she is not malnourished.

I myself am a farm kid, and I have noticed that people who grow up on farms amist the cows and pigs rarely--though you'd think it would be the opposite--become vegetarians. I don't know about the agricultural practices in your area, but where I live, and where I grew up, both steers and dairy cattle are routinely grazed. Of course they are fed grain, too, but nevertheless they spend pretty much all day grazing--on a seasonal basis of course. I'd say they live pretty good lives until their abrupt ends, and their suffering then is as brief as we hope ours will be. Chickens are another story entirely, but if you were to scout around your neighborhood you could probably find a source for "free-range" chicken, albeit at a hefty price.

I'm afraid I'm in the same skinniness league as you now. I went a screening Thursday and was surprised to discover that I weighed in at 98 pounds, and I am 5' 7". I was always thin but have been gradually dwindling, and this is puzzling as I seem to eat continuously. Furthermore my diet includes such fare as grilled-cheese sandwiches, bacon, donuts . . . Guess it's the extra physical work I've been doing; I suppose I'll fatten up over the winter when things slow down.

Best as always--


Posted by: Cynthia at September 29, 2006 08:46 PM

Dear Pam,

I, too, have qualms about eating meat and hope to become a vegetarian who eats eggs, milk and cheese. Speaking of cheese, why don't you eat small portions of a hard cheese? Your body could sorely use the protein AND fat. Peanut butter is another good fatty source of protein that you could eat in small amounts. Shelled nuts are good also. Be sure to keep drinking those shakes. About the exercise, I would go easy on that until you've gained some weight and strength back. I wish I could magically give you a regular, decent appetite for good food. Isn't there any drug out there to increase appetite?
Even a low dose of Zyprexa temporarily? Anorexia is a growing problem and there must be some kind of sensible treatment laid out somewhere.
Tomorrow I'm going to stop briefly at a large bookstore to see if I can get BEE SEASON by Myla Goldberg, but I'm also going to look for a book about anorexia. For the most part I am clueless about the illness. I was skinny as a kid but then average weight till I began taking the Zyprexa. Growing up my mother was a good cook and the whole family enjoyed the ritual of eating together. We also still enjoy eating out, maybe even having some wine with the meal. You, on the other hand, do not have the appetite and have to push yourself to eat. So I'm coming from the opposite direction. Instead of apathy for food, I have desire, but we both pay attention to what we eat and how much we eat. We are alike, yet very different in this area. It's hard for me imagine having little appetite most of the time. If I were in your shoes I'd be eating my fair share of pizza and ice cream. But what if I had little appetite? What would I do? I think I'd see a doctor and maybe a therapist. Do you see a therapist Pam?
I saw a therapist for around five years from five months into my psychosis and she really helped me a great deal. I just think that eating disorders are instigated by emotional disorders that become physical. In order to get physically healthy you will have to work on self awareness which includes knowledge of past patterns and honesty about present patterns. A therapist can act as an objective (as far as that's possible) witness and reflect you back to you so that you can see yourself more clearly. I get the feeling that your tendency is to want to be invisible but in order to tackle your anorexia you have to start becoming visible, if only to yourself and your therapist.

Kate :)

Posted by: Kate K. at September 29, 2006 12:22 PM

Dear Pammy,
I have been a virtual vegan for about 25 years now. I was so horified after watching a special on "60 Minutes" which exposed the completely unacceptable conditions and practices of the companies that prepared and sold the chicken consummed by Americans(and chicken was considered the least evil of animal flesh)that I stopped eating meat of any kind right there and then. I use no eggs nor milk, nor do I eat fish(another ball of wax).My protein comes almost exclusively from soy. However, I have never been protein deficient. I have also always been very active physically.I love to move, and I find it a great "high" as well.As recently as last year when I was examined by a neurologist, he commented on my "thin" but very muscular body. You are quite right that you must add muscle to your body. You will then not look bony or skinny, but slender and more filled out. It is difficult to fit soy into a normal social life that emcompasses going out for dinner, having meals at someone's home etc. I simply don't do these things, or if I go, I do not eat until I get home. This doesn't bother me at all, but I realize that this kind of behavior would call attention to you, something that you avoid at all costs. I would suggest a modest at home program of lifting light weights to start. In addition you must keep up your walking. Weight bearing exercise is essential to muscular development. Start easily. You are not competing with anyone. This is not meant to be a temporary "fix", but a permanent part of your lifestyle, if at all possible. Try it. You'll like it!

Three cheers for a strong body,
Love, Paula

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at September 28, 2006 11:08 PM

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