The Meat of the Matter

So back at the end of December I came up with a list of “foodie resolutions” for 2007. While I have been fairly slack about trying to do everything on my list – I have yet to find the time to make a souffle, for instance – I did have the opportunity on Monday to cross one thing off.

Greg and I attended a conference put together by the Toronto Slow Food chapter and part of the event included a free buffet lunch. One of my foodie resolutions was to break my vegetarianism and try small samples of meat at events like this in an effort to expand/retain my palate.

Now all through the seven years that I’ve been vegetarian, I’ve still eaten fish. I try and go off it every couple of years or so, more because of the issue of overfishing than of eating an animal (I’m sorry, I know animal rights activists would call me a hypocrite, but I just can’t look at an oyster or a lobster and equate it with a deer or a cow), but I inevitably come back to it. I like to joke that you can take the girl our of Nova Scotia, but you can’t take Nova Scotia out of the girl, but jokes aside, pescetarianism was always as far as I was willing to go. However, even though I still eat fish, I was still under the impression that meat would make me quite ill.

The only other time I “fell off the wagon” was about a year after Greg and I had both gone veg. We were at a party where the host had quite obviously planned the menu and prepared the food and only at the last minute realized there was nothing on the buffet we could eat. I mean nothing, not even some veggies and dip. He whipped up some bean dip at the last minute and continued to point it out to us throughout the evening. Unfortunately, this being a cocktail party held during the dinner hour, we were starving, and it was only after I had eaten three devilled eggs that the host said, “I did mention those had bacon in them, didn’t I?” At that point I threw in the towel and ate a handful of pre-fab turkey nugget things that were passed around with some dip.

In all the advice that is offered to new vegetarians, one thing that is often repeated is how “going back to meat can make you sick”. This is a vague generalization, and if you don’t think about it too hard, you figure you’ll end up with a stomach-ache or some indigestion. No, my friends, when you give up meat, your body quits producing enough of a particular enzyme that helps you to digest that meat. This enzyme is not produced in the stomach, which is, afterall, really just a bag full of acid. If something gives you a stomach ache, it’s probably too acidic and you’ve got a little chemistry experiment happening down there.

No, the meat digestion issue happens a little further down. Way further down, pretty much at the other end. It will sneak up on you the next day, and all of a sudden you’ll be doubled over on the bathroom floor, cramps so bad you’ll think you’re dying. For me this lasted about four hours, during which I sweated, cried and finally emitted other bodily fluids that eventually took the bad turkey nuggets down to the porcelain god.

So let’s just say that when the nice chef at the Slow Food conference handed me a piece of proscuitto wrapped around a breadstick, a flash of pain blasted across my abdomen in warning before I took a big bite. I pushed the fake pain aside as I took a piece of locally-made salami. And the weird stomach thing I had all the way home was most definitely my brain playing tricks on me.

Because the next day, I was fine. Granted, it was a wee little bit of salami and one slice of proscuitto, and I did fortify myself with a massive quantity of bran both on Monday morning and Tuesday to help that proscuitto along. But there was nothing. It was fine.

Which is great because as much as I missed proscuitto, as often as I joked about becoming a “proscuitto-tarian”, the ham, I’m sorry to say, really wasn’t very good. Even after a plate of pasta and a bottle of water, the salt from that proscuitto was crusted to my tongue for hours. I’m not sure if my palate is off from not having eaten meat for so long, or if the proscuitto was just not very good, but hot damn, if I had spent four hours on the bathroom floor because of that tiny little piece of overly-salted meat that left me crusty-throated and begging for water, I’d have been one really cranky gal.

As a sidenote, Greg went to the Brooklyn Brewery dinner the next night at Beer Bistro and ate duck confit, a handmade mini frankfurter, stuffed chicken wings and a braised bison cheek. The next day – nothing. I suspect that all of his recent talk about wanting to fall off the vegetarian wagon is the guilt talking, and that he’s secretly eating burgers for lunch every day.

So why did I suffer so badly the first time I feel off the wagon when neither I nor Greg (who ate a lot more meat than I did in this recent 48-hour period), suffered any problems this time? I don’t know for sure, but I’d like to think quality was a big player. Those nuggets are made with glue and fillers and additives and anti-biotics and come from animals treated so inhumanely I can’t even describe it. The meat we both ate this week was all organic, grass-fed, and humanely slaughtered, and locally produced (except for Greg’s bison).

That’s not an excuse to go back to eating meat, and I have no intention of doing so, although my hubby is no longer with me 100% on the issue. But it is an interesting theory in terms of how the body reacts to meat and the quality thereof. Unfortunately, to really prove it, I’d have to eat a turkey nugget, and that’s definitely not going to happen.