Omnivorous

I've gone vegetarian, and I'm taking my family with me.

Not full time.  Not vegan.  Just meatless for one day a week, and it's probably not for the reasons you're thinking.  I'm not generally a big meat eater to start with.  I have my occasional carnivorous moments, but for the most part, I prefer to keep the meat on my plate as an accent rather than  a focus.  In the past, I  have chosen to avoid meat on days when I wanted to eat lighter or simpler.  Vegetarian dishes often fit that bill.  But it's not always easy.  There's planning involved, and you have to be more aware of ingredients in prepared foods.  Picking vegetarian options at a restaurant can be tricky, and your family's not always on board with a home-cooked vegetarian dinner.  They didn't sign up for that; so, there's a little guilt involved in serving meatless meals.  When I proposed to make one day a week meat free, I expected some resistance from my husband (who is all of my family left at home at this stage and who enjoys being carnivorous on a regular basis.)  Surprisingly, he was all for it.  He felt it would be a positive move toward a healthier lifestyle, or maybe he just loves me enough to go along with my crazy ideas for a while.  In either case, I ran with it, and we've done this once-a-week vegetarian thing since the beginning of the year.

I will point out that this is not a New Year's resolution.  I tend not to do those, (see here)  and despite my January start date, I never really thought of this exercise as a resolution.  It's only a habit I'd like to try out for a while.  I don't want to feel like it's a chore or feel guilty if I decide that habit doesn't fit after a time.

So, what's the reason for adopting this new habit?  Many vegetarians choose their lifestyle from a sense of compassion for fellow living things.  That conviction is worthy of respect, but despite my love for animals, I'm not troubled by the hard fact that meat requires killing.  The natural world exists as a balance.  Living things must consume other living things to survive.  Whether those things are other animals or plants, they are still living things with their own sense of what it is to be alive. (Now, eating other living things you're on a first name basis with is still socially unacceptable, which is why it pays to introduce yourself to your neighbors.)  When it comes to eating meat, we do not condemn a bear for eating a fish.  We understand that it's what bears do, what they were designed to do.  So, again, with no disrespect for those who have chosen the vegetarian route on moral grounds, I have no guilt about eating meat.  I was not designed to be a herbivore.

Others choose to cut meat from their diet because they see vegetarianism as a healthier option.  That also doesn't quite cover it for me.  Humans are omnivores.  We're built to be able to eat meat and vegetables.  I'm no doctor, but I don't believe a vegetarian diet is inherently more healthy than one with meat.  You could call yourself a vegetarian eating nothing but chocolate and potato chips, but you certainly couldn't call yourself healthy for it.  A healthy diet takes more careful choices than simply eliminating meat.  You have to understand the basics of nutrition in order to make right choices within the restrictions of a vegetarian diet.  It's not always easy to do that, to get the proper nutrients without the benefit of meat.  That said, fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts are some powerfully healthy foods, and I think we could all use plenty of them on a regular basis.  So, while it's not my primary reason for starting the practice, I think we may reap some health benefits from being part-time vegetarians.

My decision to try this change comes back to that basic statement about human diet:  We are omnivores.  Humans are built to take advantage of whatever food source we can find.  We are not carnivores, eating meat alone.  We are not herbivores, eating only vegetation.  Variety is our survival.  There are all sorts of fad diets that either try to cut one supposedly bad thing out or focus on one supposedly good food.  Being restrictive that way may result in temporary weight loss as the dieter narrows their possibilities, but getting a healthy balance of nutrients depends on eating a variety.  It's what we're designed to do.  It's what our bodies expect to be doing.  New things all the time.

Curious, then, that I link this experiment in vegetarianism to being an eater of variety.  But this choice forces me to think in different ways, to break out of mealtime routines.  As I said at the start, effective vegetarianism takes planning and consciousness about your food.  It challenges you to discover new foods and new methods of preparing them.  Making meals without meat that are still satisfying and healthy for me and my husband will be an adventure.  Those meatless days will be a major change from the usual formula, from all the familiar recipes.  So, by restricting some of the time, I'm opening up possibilities and ensuring the variety that's crucial to our survival as well as good for the psyche.  Part time vegetarianism is very much in the spirit of being omnivorous.

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