The Hesitant Herbivore

via National Geographic

I am a creature of habit, entrenched in my routines, glacially slow to alter my course. I cling to the familiar with the powerful grip of a 3 toed sloth and move toward any new direction with such incremental velocity that algae grows on my furry metaphorical coat. I don’t like change.

So for me to alter something as fundamental to my life and being as the food I eat took nothing less than years of passive contemplation and a growing a mountain of evidence that grew so high it finally fell on me. And I suddenly realized that becoming a vegan was not only the ethical thing for someone with my beliefs to do but the healthiest choice for my body.

via dummies.com

Six weeks ago, I removed dairy from my diet – a heartbreaking task for me. I believe cheese to be the glorious result of the most inspired bit of culinary resourcefulness the human race has ever displayed, a brilliant example of biotechnology born long before that term was coined. What a delightful variety of food we’ve learned to coax from the curd of sour milk – sharp aged cheddar and smoked gouda and herb infused wonders like Havarti with dill. Cheese is, quite simply, culinary wizardry at its best. And it makes the majority of the humans who consume it poot. Whoopsy.

I read an article about a recent study that found that sixty percent of human beings are lactose intolerant. Yep. Six out of ten. And here I was thinking all this time that the inability to process lactose was abnormal, and that only a few physically delicate nerdy-types can’t manage it (like the loveable but nerdy TV sitcom character, Dr. Leonard Hoffstater of The Big Bang Theory). In reality, the majority of us stop producing lactase, the enzyme necessary for breaking down the sugar, lactose, when we’re somewhere between two and five years old – presumably because we generally stop drinking our mother’s milk after that and don’t need it anymore. So the “abnormal” ones are actually those 40% who retain the ability to break down lactose and so drink milk or eat cheese without worrying about clearing the room later. Scientists call it lactase persistence and it’s the result of a genetic mutation.

Most commercial milk cows don’t get pretty meadows to roam in.

The funny thing is, I have known for a long time that cow’s milk is not a particularly healthy or logical dietary choice for me, but my love of cheese and a few other dairy delights (like ice cream!) clouded my judgment. Okay, so we aren’t designed to eat stuff made from cow’s milk, so what? It’s so good! So it’s high in calories and has a lot of saturated fat. It has protein too! And calcium that the dairy lobby says I must get from milk! And it tastes good! Really good!

But once a person hits a certain point in life (the one I’m apparently at now), digesting foods that our bodies aren’t ideally designed to process finally becomes an issue. I’ve gained weight and am having a hard time losing it. The cholesterol numbers in my blood work say borderline high and are creeping upward. And I feel bad a lot after I eat. I was tired of being tired and feeling crummy.

So I gave up dairy. I got used to drinking my coffee without creamer and actually like it that way, now. I got used to pasta not smothered in butter and cheese and am experimenting with spices and oils. I’ve found a mint dark chocolate with no dairy that I like better than milk chocolate now. And I can live without ice cream. Whoops. No I can’t!

Ice cream is right up there with cheese. I love it too much to ever let it go. And so was born the Friday exception. On Fridays, I get dairy because life is too short to live forever without ice cream and cheese. And the cool thing is that if you go six days a week without these things, small amounts of them are more than satisfying by the time I get to Friday. So my days of stuffing big soup bowls full of frozen dairy goodness are over.

But this was just the first step in my dietary revolution. Come back soon for part two about the conversion of a lifelong carnivore to a plant-based diet and get the answers to questions I know you’ll be dying to ask. How hard is it to give up meat? Is it worth it? What are the benefits? Do you have to start making your own granola, hugging trees, and/or wearing Birkenstocks?

Why I Hate My Cell Phone

An overall view of an LG EnV mobile/cell phone.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1977, Star Wars premiered in the theaters, gas cost 65 cents a gallon, Elvis (reportedly) died, and my sixth grade class hosted a student teacher with the boundless enthusiasm of a true zealot. We liked him because of his unusual lesson plans. He showed up one day, for instance, wearing a wide brimmed cowboy hat and a gun belt with an antique Colt revolver (unloaded but quite real) and reenacted the gunfight that took place at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881.

On another afternoon, he described in enthusiastic detail the technological wonder ground the world would become in our lifetime. By the time we were thirty, he predicted, we would all be carrying phones that required no wires and would fit in a shirt pocket. Because that sounded very much like Captain Kirk’s communicator, I heartily approved of the idea. I didn’t actually believe him, though. I mean, come on, no wires?

The young teacher went on to lament that the rampant changes to society brought on by the technological revolution would traumatize a whole generation (mine) as it was currently befuddling his own. He referred us to a book called Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. (Still on my reading list, for about 33 years now. See a future post for more on procrastination.) The gist, as he would have it, was that we were going to have some pretty cool gadgets but be stressed out and disoriented by the whole rampant change thing. I didn’t believe him about that either. I was ready for change.

I was wrong on both counts.

About three years ago, well after most of the rest of the country, I got my first cell phone. It was tiny, fit in a shirt pocket, and flipped open much like Captain Kirk’s communicator. I only agreed to carry it so my partner would let me go hiking alone. The problem is, when I carry the phone, I’m not alone. It can ring at any time and that’s one of the things that appalls me most about modern living. People expect to talk to you any time they want. Sometimes, they even hang up on the voice mail and call right back on the theory, I suppose, that maybe annoying the snot out of you will make you want to talk to them.

It’s that attitude, that assumption that the social contract now has a clause stipulating that you must speak to people anytime they choose no matter what you may be doing, that makes me fantasize about culling the gene pool. Because I have all kinds of reasons for not answering the phone – maybe I went hiking to enjoy the peace and solitudeand am currently sneaking up on a Tiger Swallowtail with my camera. (Actually happened. Butterfly got away.) Or maybe I’m writing and the infernal phone breaks my train of thought and makes me forget what may have been the most brilliantly conceived sentence I ever captured in print. (It’s amazing how many times my brilliance has been thwarted by a ring tone.) Sometimes, I don’t even have a good reason. Sometimes, I just don’t want to talk to anyone.

But now, even I am brainwashed that I mustn’t go anywhere without my phone or something bad might happen. What if it’s my partner or one of the boys’ schools calling? (I always answer for them.) It might be an emergency. They might need me. So I’m always on guard, ready to dash off to a loved one’s aid. But more often it’s just my dentist office calling to remind me I have an appointment or my neighbor wanting to borrow something. So I ignore it. It keeps ringing and frightens the butterfly (or the brilliant sentence) away before I can turn off the ringer, and I resist the urge to smash it with a rock. I feel stressed and disoriented. And mad at Alvin Toffler for being right.

So I really wonder how we all managed to get along for so long without being connected to everybody else all the time. It makes you wonder about the reasons that so many of us are taking antidepressants these days. Actually, I have a whole bunch of ideas about what should make that list, but what do you think? Should cell phones be on it (if only to keep people from talking on them while they drive)? Was life less stressful in 1977? Are those silly Bluetooth gadgets that people wear in their ears a sign of Armageddon? Was the original Star Wars trilogy obviously superior to the new one? (Just threw that one in for fun. My kids don’t get it.)

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