Since I was a teenager, when I switched from my parent’s diet to a vegetarian diet complete with the world’s most religious and least healthy soy milk, So Good by Sanitarium (I know, I know), I was fascinated and appalled by our food system. I had witnessed calves being branded and neutered in my first year of high school, we visited battery farms and piggeries. I rescued chickens from the ag shed and mice from the science labs. I was heartbroken at how animals were treated. I stopped eating meat immediately.
I learned about vivisection and started learning how to look for products to use on my body that weren’t made safe for my by torturing animals. I kept eating fish until one day I was swimming in the ocean at South Mission Beach, near where I grew up, and I was surrounded by dead fish from the by-catch. I did my Year 12 biology project on GM crops - the data in 2002 was terrifying, Roundup Ready-corn and salmon genes in strawberries was a thing, and it’s all still going on. They’d just cloned that sheep, Dolly. I took a gap year and was exposed to homa farming (agni hotra) methods, which produced crops like I’ve never seen. I still didn’t eat meat, but I was eating a lot of (supposedly non-GMO) tofu. A total bypass, now I know how dodgy soy crops are, but it took me a while to work that one out.
I studied Environmental Science at uni and one of the electives I took was Global Poverty and Development. The World Bank and the way in which huge corporations were controlling agriculture in developing nations devastated me. People who could barely subsist on what they were growing for themselves being forced to produce food for us, for cash, because they were being sold sterile seeds. I saw a Four Corners report of Aussie farmers literally throwing away an entire crop of oranges because US farmers were selling them for $1/kg and Australians wouldn’t buy the ‘expensive’ local fruit. I decided to become a journalist so I could tell those stories. I ended up in non-fiction publishing. Kept learning, had fights with my partner at the time about the relevance of farmers markets (he = none, me = everything).
I worked with Bec from Estabar who is and always will be an inspiration. She was aiming for zero waste and local all the way before anyone gave a shit about that. She’d be raised in the country and knew where food came from. I started learning about meat production and the people who were doing good stuff, as well as the bad stuff. A friend had worked in an abattoir and it sounded appalling. I bought a half a cow from a guy who raised it in his paddock in Dungog, killed it himself and had a mate butcher it. I ended up feeding a lot of it to my dog, but I started to dabble in eating meat again. Now that I knew how the soy and corn crops were generating huge dollars for US govt and destroying the soil (and heavily GM), I couldn’t eat that stuff any more.
I started researching paleo diets, Mark Sisson was just about the only guy out there in those days, along with Loren Cordain (recommended to me by a guy who had been a military doctor) and Robb Wolf. Pollan came out with In Defense of Food. They were talking about getting back to a more primitive style of eating, the paleo guys like caveman, and Pollan like your Grandma. It made a lot of sense. I was still vegetarian (my acupuncturist says I was indoctrinated and he’s right; yoga, my upbringing, there are many reasons I thought of vegetarianism as being ‘better’ and healthier) but I started trying to eat paleo-ish. I hadn’t eaten gluten since I was 17, so it was pretty easy. I came off the Pill and didn’t bleed. For years. (I now know I had a Blood Deficiency and Blood Stagnation, but those ideas were still concepts that I’d never really applied to my own body at that point - Traditional Chinese Medicine was a theoretical concept I embraced but didn’t really understand as a medicine.)
I started eating fish and then meat because my naturopath suggested it might help my adrenals talk to my ovaries. I was also doing my yoga training and I felt like a fraud. Yoga is like a cult of vegetarianism. I lasted a few months and then became vegetarian again. Everything was telling me to eat meat, but my mind was made up. Minds are powerful like that.
Few years pass, a lot of reading and soul searching and some plant medicine (cactus told me to eat meat but that is a story for another day) and I meet Mase. I try on meat again; Mantak Chia told me I was an idiot for not eating meat, that when he worked on my body all he could feel was that I needed it. (My Spleen was in need of some support.) In genera,l he thinks vegetarians have weak Qi. We spoke about diet quite a bit and Master Chia, like all good Taoists, said there was no one size fits all but a small about of meat was suitable for most people. Mase was vegetarian, so it was a bit weird to be experimenting again, but he was open to my adventures and never made me feel judged or wrong. I felt good, honestly, best I had in years, and my digestion was finally working well again. But I gave it up, stopped again after things got back on track-ish. (Seriously guys, I was stuck.)
Then I get pregnant.
One day I am walking down the street in Mullum and I say to Mase, “I could slay a chicken drumstick.” I didn’t do it - despite my body telling me to - because I always thought I’d be vegetarian while pregnant. I waited for months and I cannot even remember when it happened but one day I started eating meat and my body just sang and I felt that little baby inside me and I promised to nourish her. And I still don’t know what changed but I think very very differently about food now. I missed the parts in the timeline above where I spent time on farms and saw how it could be done, real people who care raising and slaughtering their plants and animal with respect. I saw hunters and their efforts and the pride and care they take in taking life to nourish life.
More recently I have watched Daniel Vitalis transition from vegan to hunter, I think he is brave for being bold enough to change. I think a lot about the politics of food. About how “traditional” Italian food is tomatoes and wheat, both of which were brought from other places, not native to Italy, and I suspect made the powers that be a a lot of money - control the crop, control the people. Read the history of sugar (slavery, money - not just in the West Indies and Caribbean but here, in Australia, black birding and the Queensland sugar industry), of our common vegetable crops, read about the subsidies given to farmers who grow certain crops. I think about how we have literally thousands of edible plants on this island we call home and we don’t eat them because they’re not ‘researched’ or whatever and how we never even asked the guys who lived here first what was good to eat. How we’ve lost that privilege mostly now because we killed them all so we could have their land for cattle.
I think about how the only way to have a life on this planet is to take life. I don’t care if you think you’re morally righteous because you’re vegan, plants absolutely have consciousness and I’ve been told by Taoists that their consciousness is more advanced than animals, closer to ours. Animals are of the earth, plants and humans are bridges between heaven and earth. I think about how I want my daughter to learn about where food comes from (currently she thinks its from Santos and the farmers markets, mostly, and sometimes trees and plants), and I think about how much better It would be if everyone went and spent a year or two on the land and actually worked hard like farmers do to feed themselves and others.
Most of the food you eat has been bred to be sweeter, fluffier, prettier, more transportable, less imperfect, marketable, profitable. What about the food that doesn’t travel well, the food that can’t be easily mass produced, the food that is wild and seasonal. What kind of nutrition are we missing? What about the intention of the farmer, qi/prana, the water (are your plants watered with town water? Is your rain water clean?) and the soil (minerals, microbes) and the application of sprays (pesticides, fungicides, etc). I lived in banana country and I will NEVER buy a non-organic banana. Those sprays are hideous. What about the runoff that destroys the reef? What about the lack of trees and grasses causing soil erosion? What about the application of European farming techniques on Australian soil? I guess all of this has lead me here, where I eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Meat daily, but not a lot (we ate a chicken maryland between three of us tonight, and there is at least another meal or two left over).
I defer to Chinese medicine for my health information. I try to buy food that has Qi, that hasn’t travelled too far, that has been grown in the soil where I live. I wish a lot that it was food that was already here before white people came, I hope that is the next wave of agriculture. Because humans lived here a long time and ate well. I am also grateful for access to an abundance of food and I don’t take that privilege lightly any more. I had an eating disorder as a young woman and more than anything else I am sad that I didn’t respect myself enough to respect the food that I was so privileged to receive. We make soil (and feed the bloody brush turkeys) with the food we do not eat, and we try not to waste much. I am sharing this because I get asked a lot how I went back to eating meat after being a vegetarian. I fell in love with myself and this planet and I will never refuse a gift of mama Earth again. Think what you will of me but that is where I have landed. I will share some stuff about the health reasons why too, but honestly, health or not, it’s a philosophical decision for me.
This planet is one I want to remain deeply connected to and by eating of its bounty, plant, animal, mineral, fungal, microbial, chemical, I feel I participate in its life and am nourished by its life force. Thanks for reading. Hope that answers your questions. Yes, I still love Yoga. No, I am not a vegetarian.
“Books or yoga classes often give the impression that there are prerequisites for the study of yoga. We may be told that we should not smoke, or that we should be a vegetarian, or that we should give away all our worldly goods. Such ways of behaving are admirable only if they originate within us - and they may as a result of yoga - but not if they are imposed from the outside.” T. K. V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga (1995)