Diving deep into to heavy topics today – if you’ve followed along with the evolution of Street Smart Nutrition, you might appreciate this post. You might have already noticed there’s a few more omnivorous recipes appearing on the blog and in my social media posts. You’re about to find out why!
Where I started
I grew up in a rural community, and although my family did not “farm” we did produce some of our own beef. My father hunts and fishes and he always made sure we knew the animals he harvested each season were for eating, not displaying on a wall in the living room. From an early age I understood the fact that cows and certain other animals existed for a purpose, and that purpose was to feed us. We didn’t name our calves. They weren’t right in front of the house. And when the time came we arranged for a farm-kill, meaning they were slaughtered on our land and processed at another facility afterwards.
This is the reality I grew up with so it never struck me as odd that we would do anything differently. That was just life. It almost seems otherworldly now to be talking about this, since my life is now so far removed from that era it feels like I’m talking about someone else.
Jump forward a few years and I’m graduating college, relocating to a new city, starting a new job, living with a new roommate, working with new people and making new friends, and starting a fledgling relationship with the dude that is now Mr. Street Smart. Just a few minor life changes, no big deal.
This is also after I failed to match for a dietetic internship. That was the largest failure of my life up to this point and one I felt poorly equipped to handle. It was the first and only time I’ve experienced a legitimate panic attack, during which my arms went numb from the shoulders down and I struggled to breathe long enough to sob through the phone to my mother.
I share all of this to shape the story of why I was easily swayed – in a time when much of my life felt out of control, I could turn to food and know that I was ultimately in control. At this point I knew enough about nutrition to know better. I had already moved past my phase of bingeing and compensating with compulsive exercise and my days as a collegiate athlete were finished. I told myself a number of untruths to justify my change:
- I’m not an athlete anymore, I don’t need that much protein
- I’m on a budget, I can’t afford to buy meat anymore
- I have to cook for myself now, cooking meat takes too long
- I watched this documentary/read this book/saw this article, that’s not the way I thought meat was produced, I’m not ok with that (good-bye critical thinking skills)
- My friend is so right; I wouldn’t eat my dog, why would I eat this [fill in the blank]
- I just don’t like the way meat tastes anymore
This last one was the biggest lie of all, because I’ve always known there’s few things more delicious than burnt ends and ribeye steaks and buffalo wings and yeah, bacon grease.
But that’s where I started, over five years ago at this point, and I held strongly to that during the next couple of years and firmly believed my new identity was Cara Harbstreet: vegetarian who couldn’t say no to salmon.
Where I am now
It was hard to face this truth but ignoring it doesn’t make it go away: Vegetarianism was, and may still be, the last dying gasps of my disordered eating.
While I still firmly believe I did not have a full blown eating disorder, I do recognize my behaviors, thoughts, and reactions around food and exercise were highly disordered for a long time. So becoming a vegetarian was great because you know, vegetarians are supposed to be so healthy. Right? Not quite.
It was a label to hide behind. I was confident I was making changes to my diet for the right reasons (at that time) but nonetheless, it was a label that made it easy to avoid probing questions about why I wasn’t eating something. It became part of my new identity as I went through a major transition in life, and it only seemed to make sense to overhaul another aspect of my life at the same time.
As things started to fall into place I realized I didn’t need to rule over my diet with such tight control anymore. I was back in the driver’s seat, making decisions I felt content and at ease with. There were still rugs being pulled out from under me but I had the coping skills to deal like a well-adjusted adult. And hanging out with foodies, family, and friends helped me realize how much I missed out on when I excluded an entire food group from my diet.
“Oh my god, I’m such a hypocrite,” I thought to myself. What did I always tell clients? Oh yeah, don’t eliminate entire food groups…unless it’s meat, then you’re OK. But in my case, I wasn’t. I craved a taste of the BBQ platter my husband ordered, I wanted to take a bite of the juicy burger my co-worker was digging into. I even remember wanting to eat bacon – I didn’t even like bacon that much before I became a vegetarian.
**To clarify, I said bacon – I didn’t say bacon flavor. So a little bacon grease goes a long way for me and everyone else can fight over the actual bacon.
Even though I was more than willing to walk clients through the steps of intuitive eating, I wasn’t ready to walk the walk myself. And that just didn’t sit right with me anymore.
Mr. Street Smart has been privy to this slow transition in real time. It started with being highly selective at the farmer’s market, doing my due diligence to talk to the farmer who produced the ground beef I would sparingly use in multiple recipes to justify the cost. I became Cara Harbstreet: proud supporter of the local food movement and frequent flyer at the farmers market (though both of those things are still accurate).
Eventually I became more relaxed at potlucks and family functions. The family I married into has a tradition of spaghetti and meatballs when everyone gets together – I missed out on that tradition for the first few years we were dating because I’d serve mine from a separate saucepan that my mother-in-law made sure was there for me. Introducing Cara Harbstreet: appreciative fiancé and meatball eater.
Then I got to the point where I’m not anxious if the restaurant we decide on isn’t known for having great veggie options. Or if we’re at someone else’s house for a meal with food I didn’t prepare. I can accept a boxed lunch at the office with a deli sandwich and not meticulously pick off every piece of sliced turkey and pretend I’m full.
I guess now I’ve simply grown into the most intuitive eater I ever have been. Just Cara Harbstreet: no labels or expectations, just someone who fully enjoys food.
And you know what? It feels good.
Where I’m heading next
This doesn’t mean I’m abandoning a plant based diet. Not in the least. In my journey with intuitive eating and mindfulness, I find I still gravitate towards meat-free meals the vast majority of the time. I feel full, I feel satisfied, and I feel happy when I eat that way. But I can also feel full, satisfied, and happy when I eat grilled kabobs with my husband, or grab carnitas tacos and margaritas with my dad, or take my sister out to a cajun restaurant on one of the few times of the year I get to see her.
Any fears (unfounded though they were) I had when I avoided and restricted meat in my diet did not come true. The untruths I told myself have revealed themselves to be just that – an inaccurate interpretation of facts. I’ll be sharing more in the future about what I’ve learned about our food system, but that’s another post for another day.
You can still expect to see plenty of plant-based recipes popping up on my blog. You’ll also see some that aren’t – my decision to share a recipe or post a photo on social media is in no way designed to influence anyone else’s decision about what to eat. It’s simply a way to share and connect. I’ve always tried to be authentic and real in what I share, that’s not going away. It just might look a little different now.
As in, there might be a little bacon grease drizzled over something delicious.