I became a vegetarian at 17 (ovo-lacto). At first, I was hard-core and militant about it (eating meat is murder and stupid), over the years my stance mellowed (it’s not my choice, but if you want to, that’s your decision), and then in my 40th year I went back to eating meat. It wasn’t an easy or quick decision and I’ve learned a lot along the way.
As a vegetarian I was a casual runner and a climber, and I did fine. Then I became a distance runner and gave up climbing, still fine. Then I started kung fu, kept running distances, and got back into climbing and it all went downhill. Running 60+ miles a week, kung fu 3 times a week, plus climbing 2–3 times a week was tearing me up. I had no energy, I was bonking hard at least once a week (sometime daily), and was so tired I couldn’t even trust myself to drive.
I’ve read Scott Jurek and Rich Roll, I am well aware that you can be an amazing athlete and eat a vegan diet. However, I also feel that everyone is different and what works for Scott Jurek and his lifestyle may not work for me. This lack of energy was one chip in my wall.
Another chip in the wall was that 3 people who I’d known for some time and who had never given me diet advice all gave me unasked for advice in the same month. All three said I should try eating meat; I trust all three and they are smart, healthy athletes every one. Call me superstitious, but I believe that the universe still has magic and can behave in strange and mysterious ways.
Another chip: I was doing some work for a non-profit that is restoring the world’s grasslands. Their approach is via grazing. I won’t get into the specifics, but it makes sense to me and I believe in it. Cows, bison, and sheep can save our grasslands.
So I started eating dead animals. My first long run that I did with meat (vs the traditional carb and sugar-based foods), was a profound experience. Instead of spikey energy, I had a slow, mellow burn the whole run. I felt like someone had given me new legs. I was sleeping better, in a better mood, less hungry, and losing weight.
But it still bothered me that I was eating an animal. I like animals. If I can live and survive without killing an animal, shouldn’t I? Isn’t that the ethical thing to do? I don’t mind vegetarian food, I’m a pretty good cook with vegan and vegetarian food (in contrast, I can barely fry a hamburger without screwing it up). So I went full-on vegan for a while, and that felt good, I was still losing weight (more in fact), but I couldn’t get enough calories in and was crashing hard. For the record, I should state that I do not like soy and eschew all the fake meat products — which means I got my protein solely via nuts, peas, legumes, beans, and smoothies with hemp.
And then I heard a TED talk about the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone (http://bit.ly/1rvZCTT), and how the predator didn’t just address the overpopulation of deer by killing deer, but by moving them, which in turn caused the trees and shrubs to recover, which helped other animals, and so on. It’s a fascinating talk, but my take away was this: we’re part of an eco-system, and it’s possible to eat some meat without causing harm to the environment. An eco-system is meant to work holistically. Furthermore, we might actually be able to help the environment by eating meat raised in an intelligent, ethical manner. Not every meat source is raised in factory conditions, there are still small ranches run by intelligent, ethical, environmentally-conscious families.
There are radical vegetarians who are the way I used to be. I think PETA is to vegetarians the way Westboro Baptist is to Christians. At the same time I was working with ranchers who knew I was a vegetarian and never once judged me, I was hearing things from PETA that made me ashamed to call myself a vegetarian.
It’s ok to have an opinion, but please bear in mind that you might be wrong. Pro-choice people (and I’m one) vote pro-choice because it’s a complex and personal issue without any clear answers. Some pro-life advocates insist it’s black and white, that abortion should never be allowed. I would like to respectfully remind the militant vegetarians (many of whom vote like me), that they are doing the same thing.
How you eat is a tricky, personal, and subjective issue. There are no easy answers. Nutrition is not as clear cut as gravity, not yet anyway. I love Jurek and Roll’s books, I have the utmost respect for vegan athletes, it’s just not me (not today).
I eat primarily lean meats (bison, turkey, and elk), vegetables, and fruit. I still don’t like fish (wish I did). Despite the title, I rarely eat bacon — a lot of bacon has sugar in it. I have zero respect for trophy hunting (killing for the sake of killing). I have quite a bit of respect for old-school hunters who are hiking out that elk they shot in-season with a permit for their family (and friends) to eat. Both my kids and my wife are still vegetarian, I don’t attempt to change their eating habits, and other than the occasional (eww, gross), they don’t try to change mine.