It was probably inevitable that I became a vegetarian as an adult.
As a child, I was revolted by any food that resembled animal flesh. Numerous times I have dabbled with veganism, and this past spring I even went full-on raw vegan for a spell.
But tonight I had meatballs for dinner.
With actual meat.
Yes, meatballs. The most un-vegetarian, anti-vegan food maybe ever.
To be clear, it was 100% organic, grass-fed beef, mixed with organic turkey and loads of organic carrots and celery. Parsley, gluten-free bread crumbs and nutritional yeast rounded out these little beef balls. And to be extra clear: I loved every bite.
As a child, I hated red meat. I refused to eat it and dinner was a battle anytime anything resembling an animal was on my plate. Steak—forget about it. Hamburgers—what is this, torture!? If something in any way contained clear evidence of its animalistic origins—bones, skin, veins, scales, fat, flesh (forget about eyes or beyond)—I wouldn’t touch it.
The only animal that passed my lips was pure white boneless, skinless lean chicken breast. Even then I carefully circumvented all discoloration—pink, brown—anything other than the pure white meat. And I only ate that because I didn’t know how to be a vegetarian. For most of my childhood, I didn’t even know that was a thing.
Vegetarian was a foreign word in my family. My meat-and-potatoes parents were perpetually annoyed by my “pickiness.” My grandparents were simply perplexed. My great-grandfather was a butcher, and when he was growing up, a weekly Sunday roast was simply the epitome of quality living. My papa reminded me of this every time I politely declined the meat. But what do you eat? I don’t know what to make for you! My grandmother would fret, every time I went to visit and a roast or ham was in the oven.
Yet there I was, stubbornly refusing to chew and swallow.
But if I’m going to be completely honest, there have been a handful of times I “cheated” on my vegetarianism over the years. And every time, it was with meatballs. Full-on ground beef meat-ness.
To be perfectly accurate, I can literally count on less than one hand the number of times I cheated on my vegetarianism over the course of eight plus years. So whenever the secret came out that I had astonishingly consumed meatballs (of all things!), people invariably inquired whether I had gotten sick. Because obviously when you eat as a vegetarian for years on end and have spent the vast majority of your life shunning red meat, your body naturally rejects it, right? Wrong, apparently.
Here’s the thing: not once did I get sick. Not once did I feel remotely bad.
I know. None of this makes sense. Our bodies aren’t supposed to work like that, right? And I just said I was repulsed by red meat, didn’t I?
Well, I still shudder at the thought of consuming a steak. Or a burger. But wait—a burger is the exact same thing as meatballs, right? Well, not exactly. Not to me. With all the extras, meatballs—at least the version I like best—are a lighter, more flavorful, less meaty form of meat. This is how my complicated mind and discriminatory taste buds work, I suppose.
Here’s another confession: while I cut into my fourth meatball this evening, I suddenly remembered what I was eating. And each bite was a bit less palatable from then on. But I will continue eating my monthly meatballs, because my body really does need a little bit of red meat on a regular basis. I have determined that even consuming red meat just once or twice a month has significant benefit to my body.
After putting myself on a raw vegan diet for life-or-death purposes earlier this year, my nutritionist recommended I add some animal protein to keep my strength up, because even my clean plant-based protein with a full amino-acid profile wasn’t quite gonna cut it. Ideally, she wanted me to add some iron-rich red meat if my digestive system could handle it. Beef and lamb. Lamb was a bit too far of a leap, but beef I could maybe do. Meatballs I knew I could definitely do.
I started with wild-caught fish and organic pasture-raised eggs, a couple days a week. Slowly, I began to feel when my body craved animal protein. I ate the occasional meatball. I was fine—better than fine, truth be told. And then the other month, I read this. My meat cravings—and my health struggles—suddenly made perfect sense.
And since I began my own journey to healing, experimenting with this food and that, I’ve learned through extensive research and through my own health coach training that there isn’t necessarily one diet that’s the best diet for everyone. Different bodies have different needs. When it comes to food, “healthy” is relative and highly subjective, and can change as the tides of our lives ebb and flow.
So as much as I’d love to be a full-time, sustainable, eco-conscious vegan, it’s simply not the best way for me to thrive. And if I’m not thriving, I can’t be of service to others.
These days, when people inevitably ask what my diet is, and what type of restaurants are “kosher” with my latest eating habits, I don’t know what to say, and words sometimes stumble out of my mouth in a confusing jumble: Well, I’m mostly a vegan, often raw, but in the cold weather warm foods are better.
Oh, but I do eat fish sometimes, so pescetarian, but I’m non-dairy, totally organic of course—when I’m at home anyway. Oh, and I do eat meatballs on occasion, only grass-fed organic of course. And I still do love cheese, so when I’m out I’ll eat that if it’s in something, so maybe paleo, very few grains.
I’m not technically gluten-free, I just don’t trust most of the overly-processed wheat products in this country, so maybe I should call myself Pegan—or “Palegan” as I’d prefer to call it because it’s more fun to say. But of course I love my dark chocolate, so uh…yeah. I don’t know. I guess I can eat almost anything these days. Pick a restaurant. I’ll be fine.
Here’s the real answer: I do my best to eat clean, whole foods and eat what feels best for my body. The vast majority of the time it’s vegan. But once or twice a month, I’m gonna eat my meatballs.
And here’s the real kicker: I now eat more mindfully and consciously than I ever have before.
Author: Amanda Kelly
Image: YouTube Still
Apprentice Editor: Christy Williams; Editor: Travis May