In choosing to view a panic attack that visited me last summer for my ultimate spiritual benefit, I decided in its aftermath to gently reevaluate many areas of my life.
In early September, I stopped in at Whole Foods one afternoon looking for something to tide me over until dinner. Perusing their hot bar, some Asian style meatballs caught my attention. Since I stopped eating land and air creatures about five years ago, the attraction took me by surprise. When I eliminated meat, it was with the understanding that, should my diet impair my health, I would resume eating animals. Yet, ceasing to consume beef, lamb and poultry had felt like a relief rather than a sacrifice. Even when faced with an expertly cooked Thanksgiving turkey or housemates cooking steaks, I never experienced cravings intense enough to tempt me to change my mind.
Still wobbly from the panic incident, my sensitivity heightened more than usual, standing before the meatballs I heard the faintest of whispers from my body: “Feed me this now.” Yet I refrained from buying any and simply made a mental note, wondering if I’d be drawn to meat again soon. Shortly thereafter, I attended an animal rights fundraising gala and enjoyed attractively prepared, imaginative and tasty vegan dishes. A few people I chatted with told me they credited veganism with better health and more energy. I made a mental note of that, too.
While researching the influence of nutrition on moods a few weeks later, again and again it came up that a diet that excluded gluten and included pasture-raised meats, wild fish and tons of vegetables offered the possibility of mitigating anxiety and depression, two unrelenting and sadistic opponents I’d been parrying with for much of my adult life. Since eliminating gluten had made me feel better almost immediately, maybe adding animal protein would give me even more of a nutritional upper hand, either temporarily or permanently, as I stabilized my nervous system and made other life changes.
Slightly concerned that after five years of meat celibacy I might have trouble digesting it, let alone preparing it, I looked for something low risk: small, simple to cook, less than $10/lb. I settled on a handful of spicy Merguez (lamb) sausages made in house at Whole Foods. Staring at the links in the case, I noticed no revulsion, even though it had been a classmate’s lamb sandwich that had disgusted me as a child and, decades later, put me on the pescetarian path. Instead, I appreciated what might turn out to be potent, sacred medicine. If it so happened that the smell of cooking it sickened me, I gave myself permission to dispose of my purchase.
As the lamb links sputtered in my sauté pan, they sprayed paprika tinged fat globules everywhere, as if to emphasize that eating meat is both actually and ethically messy, especially for a highly sensitive animal lover such as myself. I covered them with a lid, carefully lifting it to turn the links over. After a few minutes I cut them in half to make sure they had cooked fully. Chewing the sausages, I marveled at how delicious they were, yet I didn’t feel that refraining for half a decade had been a deprivation. Also lacking was an urge to buy more meat and binge gluttonously, bloody juices running down my chin. Nor did I imagine revisiting one of those Brazilian all-you-can-eat rodizios, where waiters present skewer after skewer of grilled meat until bellies are near bursting. My intention is to eat it sparingly, as a brain boost, to treat the meat with respect by not overindulging. And I will refrain from eating so-called conventionally raised meat, even if it’s certified kosher.
As I write, I’m imagining that some vegan and vegetarian friends might feel disappointment upon reading this and my kosher peeps might be annoyed that I won’t eat their meat, still, unless it’s organic. Having invited a panic attack in part because I cared more about others’ opinions than my own well-being, I’m not paying these musings much heed. People will react as they choose, if at all, and I will continue to practice awareness with my diet and health. Since awareness is moment to moment, it’s likely I’ll tweak my diet along the way, committing to being as present as possible to see how my system is responding. If I can wean myself from European cheeses, another childhood love, perhaps I’ll evolve to a Paleo diet (no dairy) or, alternatively, eliminate grains, which I hear is even more potent than gluten-free.
A week after I bought the Merguez I returned to the store for another half pound, enough for two meals. These were fattier than before and left a puddle of orange drippings in the pan. Not wishing to waste them, I sopped up the liquid with a slice of my very first gluten-free baguette. It was good. Damn good. I noticed I felt more gratitude than guilt. And that, too, was good.