Friday, July 18, 2008

From Carnivorous to Carnivicarious: Why I’m on a Vegetarian Diet

Most of my childhood, I grew up as a meatatarian, a total carnivore. I ate pretty much only meat and bread, and I was completely opposed to vegetables. I was an extremely picky eater, sorry Mom and Dad. My parents would joke that I would not eat anything green, so to poke fun at me they made me an all green meal: lime Jell-O, pistachio pudding, a small salad, milk with green food coloring, etc. I went to bed pretty hungry that night having only consumed the pudding and gelatin. They tried very hard to look out for my best interests, and are wonderful parents. Though, I was stubborn, and over the years, people pretty much came to accept my highly restricted diet—I remember a typical lunch in my late teens was 3 filet mignons and fries. Special orders at burger joints to not have cheese, catsup, lettuce, or tomato on my burgers. I even avoided pasta with sauce due to the tomatoes until my early teens, when I would allow a little thin sauce on it, and I began eating pizza in my mid-teens. Somehow, even with all of that “unhealthy eating” I was able to pack on muscle, have a lot of energy for sports and intellectual pursuits, and still have healthy cholesterol levels and negligible body fat. I kept this up through high school.

I left my small town of Belle Vernon, PA, a rural community about 25 miles south of Pittsburgh and moved to Boston for college. Boston is a city with a lot of culinary diversity. My fraternity house had a favorite local Chinese restaurant that the brothers and I went to a lot. I owe two important things to Hsin Hsin Restaurant – first, how to use chopsticks. My Chinese pledge brother taught me how to use chopsticks, which were pretty necessary to pull the peanuts and meat out of the kung-pao. I had to become quite adept to pick around the vegetables for the “real food.” And secondly, I eventually started to eat some of these vegetables, and they weren’t as gross as I thought. It took a while before I ate veggies outside of Hsin Hsin, but it happened gradually. And I started adding on seafood, too.

Eventually, I’d eat anything. Things that grossed other people out, no problem for me. Sushi, oishii; raw quail egg, delicious; tripe, check; chicken feet, no problem; kale, yum; sea cucumber esophagus, oh yeah! Eventually, I became a foodie, very epicurean. I sought out rare flavors, needed the freshest product from farmer’s markets, went to restaurants without menus and let the chefs go wild. You name it, I’d eat it.

I’d eat anything and everything, and I gained weight, roughly 30-40 pounds over my equilibrium state. A couple events brought this to my attention, and I started following dietary journals to inform my diet, kept off the carbohydrates and heavy fat, and worked out nearly 300 days/year. I lost all of the excess fat and got into the best shape of my life in about 18 months. My intellectual side was always developed, and there I added on my physical side, but something was missing, and I choose to explore my spiritual side.

I read into a lot of philosophy and religion, began meditating more regularly, and signed up for a week-long yoga experience run by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation. They recommended a vegetarian diet for the week, so I gave that a shot. I figured that I could handle it for a week, and I did. I don’t know if it was the yoga, the vegetarian diet or what, but I felt great, was sleeping well (my usual insomnia and narcolepsy didn’t appear—you’d think that they’re opposites and rare together, but they seem to go hand in hand), and bodily functions all went a little easier. After the retreat, I kept up with the yoga and meditation, but added meat back into my diet. Shortly, my life took on some big changes. I landed a dream job in Microsoft’s new Parallel Computing Platform group as it was forming, and I fell in love. The falling in love hit me hard, and I was absorbed in a new lifestyle.

I went overboard for a while, spending a fortune on foods, looking for gastronomical adventures. I was materialistic about what I ate and what I drank with it (mostly vintage Champagnes). I didn’t know at the time what felt wrong, but eventually, as that relationship came to an end, it became clear to me. Keeping the relationship together helped me to balance my emotional side, something that I had largely neglected, and now I had the mental, physical, and emotional aspects being worked on, balanced with the spiritual. My body was tending towards a balance. And in the balance, I began to question everything in myself, especially my “happiness.” Everything that I liked, was it bringing me pleasure at the base level, happiness at a higher level, or joy/peace at a profound level? Joy and Peace are lasting, but pleasure is fleeting and often destructive in the long term and happiness is a zero sum game balanced against sadness. So, I questioned my beliefs at a fundamental level.

Then, in April of this year, I sat between a couple of vegetarians at a dinner party. I’m a pretty social guy, and can usually easily talk about anything, though I favor meaningful discussions over small talk. My first inclination was to ask each of them why they were vegetarian and compare the differences, but I thought that they must get that all the time. I turned the question around and asked myself: “why do I eat meat?” I could only think of a few reasons:
1) The convenience of it,
2) I like the taste of meat,
3) A good way to get protein,
4) It’s a way to honor the animal that died, and
5) Prosciutto.

None of these were convincing, and all but #5 had a simple counter-argument.
1) Doesn’t apply in Seattle, you can eat vegetarian almost anywhere without even thinking about it, and cooking for myself is just easy; it’s much easier to cook vegetarian.
2) I like the taste of vegetables, too, often more than meat.
3) Protein is no concern; it’s easy to get the essential amino acids to keep my body running smoothly.
4) If the animal doesn’t have to die for my food, it doesn’t need to be honored in this way.
5) Nothing really compares to prosciutto… but there’s good fake bacon, and mushrooms and cheeses contain the complexity of the cured meats without being meat.

So, that dinner was the last time that I’ve eaten meat so far. My body just felt like it did not want meat anymore. My body felt the energy from the person sitting across from me and it really resonated; I had to bring that into my life. My brain still wants meat sometimes, so I’ve coined the term “carnivicarious” to cover that. It’s the pleasure that I get through someone else’s enjoyment of meat. But the joy that I get from not eating meat is really wonderful.


  1. Being a vegetarian is also one of the best things you can do for the environment. Environmental reasons are why I am now a strict vegetarian and 98% vegan. The amount of meat eaten in the world is the environmental catastrophe that nobody is talking about.

  2. Thanks for sharing these links, Brad.