Have you ever felt compelled to do or be something? You couldn’t say why exactly you were being called, but you heard the call nevertheless and wanted to respond? Long ago, I felt compelled to become a vegetarian.
Maybe it was because I never particularly enjoyed meat. Maybe it was because I love animals and even if it wasn’t a moral issue to me, it was a comfort issue. Maybe it was because I so easily blended into the background, and I really just needed something to make me feel different from the other drones in Warren. All I know is, when I had to right a song about myself in the 8th grade, a line in the chorus was “I want to be a vegetarian.” So, after barely touching red meat for a year, I cut all meat out of my diet completely the summer before 10th grade.
Golly, was I proud! It felt like a real accomplishment, even though my life barely changed. I still ate loads of pizza, just without the pepperoni. I still ate heaping bowls full of spaghetti, just with spicy marinara instead of meat sauce. I still ate way too much dessert. Now, I wasn’t a complete and utter cow. I also still ate enormous salads and massive bowls of steamed broccoli and cauliflower and fruit fruit fruit. But I didn’t feel deprived by not having chicken, so, I ask you, was there really any feat there?
Allow me to answer that question: No.
During this time, I had a cold perhaps 10 months out of the year. And my hair slowly but surely went from thick and frizzy to thin and wispy. And my nails yellowed. And I had a headache nearly every day. And I had awful insomnia.
Did I at any point think that my unhealth could be attributed to my diet? Never. NOT ONCE. My never-ending cold was just my POS immune system—and my immune system was clearly a genetic defect, not vitamin-deficiency related. My hair falling out (yes, it was coming out in clumps, but I still didn’t get the hint) was just the result of normal hormone shifts. My nails were from wearing nail polish with a basecoat. The headaches, well, I’d had migraines since I was 4 years old, so those were par for the course—and I never thought that maybe I could hunt down enough of my triggers that I wouldn’t have those migraines any more The sleep was stress, because I had plenty of that.
I went through life for years, thinking I was healthier than everyone else. I thought I was getting plenty of protein from peanut butter, beans, soy milk, chickenless chicken nuggets, tofu, and veggie burgers. I lived in a daze of superiority: I, the vegetarian, was being good to my body while they, the omnivores, were killing themselves.
Did you read those symptoms up there? I was the one killing myself.
Then, something wonderful happened. I mean, it sucked, but it started me out on the path to a balanced diet: I became soy intolerant. Think of lactose intolerance, but soy. I had struggling with terrible stomach aches for a few months when I finally decided that I needed to do an elimination diet to determine what the fuck was screwing with my tummy. The second I said goodbye to soy, I felt fine. Wonderful, even. So suddenly I lost a lot of the variety of my life. My main protein source was now the enemy, and I suddenly cared more for my health than I had for the previous 7 years combined. And I was suddenly afraid of having a protein deficiency (seems silly now, seeing as I had many deficiencies during those 7 years, protein among them).
Afraid that my health might suffer—HA!—I made a difficult decision: I would start eating chicken again. It was a process, but after a time I enjoyed chicken again and very much enjoyed cooking with my new favorite ingredient. Occasionally I’d try some turkey, or, even more infrequently, pork. I thought I’d fixed my problem. But after a year of eating one animal, thinking all the while that I was being good to my body, I noticed something disturbing.
One evening while getting ready for bed, I looked at my hairline, and I realized I could see the entire curvature of my skull through my hair. My hair had become so sparse I saw more scalp than tresses. IT WAS HORRIFYING.
I was 22 and balding?! No, that would not do. It’s tragic that something as shallow as my hair is what finally showed me how unwell I had been, but at least something finally woke me up.
It took one Google search to find that the main causes of hair loss are protein, iron, and zinc deficiencies. And where do you get the most of those three nutrients? Red meat.
Now, was I ready to make that leap? No. Not at the time. I started eating loads of fortified cereal and taking my multi-vitamin religiously, but I still wasn’t willing to put myself first. But then Stef told me about the Paleo diet. And one thing she told me really leapt out at me: our bodies, our skin, our muscles are made out of protein; doesn’t it make sense to eat that which we are made out of to be the strongest, healthiest version of ourselves? I was sold.
Now, let me say one thing: after years of being iron deficient, you can taste it. Oreos tasted slightly metallic a few months after I went veg (Yes, Oreos have 15% of your RDA of iron, but I do NOT recommend your supplement your nutrition with cookies). So eating red meat again was difficult. The first time I made beef stew, well, I mostly ate the potatoes and carrots. But after making an incredible batch of lamb stew for St. Patrick’s Day, I was converted. I have bought myself beautiful grass-fed beef tenderloin, I have ordered hamburgers in restaurants, and I am mastering the art of the meat ball.
I am pleased to say that my hair already looks thicker, and my nails have a distinct horizontal stripe—above the stripe they are yellow, below, clean and white.
And for the first time in years, I feel good. My never-ending cold has finally, gloriously ended. I’ve had one migraine in the last month. And I can sleep at night. Soundly.
God, does it feel good to feel good.
I don’t judge anyone for wanting to be a veg (I still hear the call now and then for reasons unknown). And if others can do it and be healthy and feel alive, more power to them. But, as for me, I believe in meat. I can’t save an animal but kill myself.
My name is Pamela Susan Wall, and I am an omnivore.
About. Fucking. Time.