Living amidst abundance, graced with super-sized supermarkets that devote an entire aisle to the vast variety of mustards and ketchups Americans supposedly crave, we struggle with the luxury of choice: What to eat?
Years ago, I decided, out of religious commitment, to follow Jewish dietary law and keep a kosher home. No more ham-and-cheese sandwiches or shrimp cocktails. I didn’t really miss the forbidden foods, and the discipline gave my life needed structure and spiritual focus. In recent years, I’ve added a new requirement: stay away from meat.
I’ve simply learned over the years that if I ate red meat, I’d wake up in the middle of the night with indigestion and reflux. Sometimes, I’d aspirate the reflux and sit bolt upright out of a deep night’s sleep, gasping for breath. Not worth it, even though I used to love brisket.
I also find red meat difficult to chew and swallow. I’ve had a few decayed molars extracted because I can’t open my mouth wide enough for my dentist to fill cavities in the back. Sluggish esophageal motility has more than once caused me to gag on meat that I couldn’t chew completely. So, dense foods are problematic. But I have zero interest in pureeing my food, as some recommend. There are plenty of creative, nutritional alternatives for these issues without resorting to pablum.
Those are the pragmatic considerations. My decision to eliminate all meat from my diet is also ethical, inspired by my daughters while they were still in high school. Mindi, our oldest, was the first to disavow meat after learning how animals are abused when raised for slaughter. Emily, our youngest, came to the same conclusion about a year later after attending a week-long seminar on animal rights.
Between hearing what they had learned and expanding my repertoire of nutritious vegetarian meals for growing adolescents, I decided they were right. The cons simply outweighed the pros. An added benefit, going vegetarian significantly simplified our kosher kitchen, since we now only needed one set of dishes, instead of separate sets for meat and dairy.
That said, I am not a vegan, nor am I a pure vegetarian. I still eat fish because of the health benefits of anti-oxidants, but I’m seeking affordable resources for fish caught in the wild. I also take fish oil every day, which has significantly helped me fight colds.
And I still wear leather shoes. My feet are difficult to fit and require custom orthotics, because the fat pads have thinned due to scleroderma. There simply aren’t enough comfortable vegan shoe options with removable insoles, made from materials that breathe and won’t cause my skin to break down. So, this remains a compromise.
For me, the shift toward vegetarian eating has been an evolving process. The first step was giving up pork and shellfish, and separating meat from milk, as a daily reminder of my religious values. This is the next major ethical step I’ve made in redefining my diet.
I have friends who are vegetarian purists, who won’t eat “anything with eyes” and who won’t wear leather. I admire their commitment.
But even as I try to honor the rights of all living creatures, hoping to do my part to create a humane world, I also need to put my health first. Without it, I’m no help to anyone, least of all myself. So, for now, I’ll stay away from meat, but keep eating fish and wearing leather shoes. Not the ideal solution. Not yet.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.