Confessions of an Ayurvedic Counselor: Part 2, Meat

I eat meat. I know that may not be very shocking since most Americans also eat meat, but there is a perception that people following a healthy diet tend to be vegetarians, and that those who eat meat have little concern for their health. More specifically, many people link Ayurveda to beans and rice type meals, and while I do eat beans and rice that is definitely not all I eat. Before we begin I want to be clear that the purpose of this post is NOT to debate whether or not to eat meat. I know that vegetarians have strong opinions on the subject, and I respect their position, but this post is focused more on HOW to eat meat if that is the choice you have already made.

First, let met start with some personal background information. Like most Americans I eat meat, but that is where any similarities end. I have not ordered from a fast food restaurant in 15 years, in fact I rarely order meat from any restaurant, fast food or not. The reason for this is that when you order meat at a restaurant you rarely know where the animal came from, however what you do know is that it probably did not come from a good place. Most of our meat in this country comes from giant factory farms, and the reason for this is simple, economics. While I think we all like to save money whenever possible, most of us understand that cheaper is not necessarily better, especially when it comes to your health. Lately I’ve noticed that some of the better restaurants are starting to advertise where their ingredients come from, or how they were grown and raised, but these restaurants are definitely still in the minority. So where do I purchase my meat? As much as possible I try to buy from small local family farms that give their animals plenty of access to sun, fresh air, clean water, and spacious green pastures. This of course can be found at your local food cooperative or farmer’s market. Recently I took it a step further and purchased my first whole animal. Well, actually it was half of a pig, and I eventually split that half into thirds, so I really only purchased one sixth of a pig, but it was a step in the right direction. Ideally you would own a chest freezer to store your quarter or half animal inside, but for those of us living in apartments we will have to settle for a small refrigerator freezer for now.

There is an increasingly popular trend towards buying beef and dairy products from cows that grazed on pasture and ate grass rather than grains like soybean and corn. I’d like to believe that this is more than another dietary trend that will fade away over time like many of the others. One of the goals of Sattvic Planet is to avoid following the newest trend or scientific study. Instead I hope to reread these posts 10 or 20 years from now and find that my statements survived the test of time. I suspect that the trend towards grass fed beef and dairy products will survive that test because these are natural methods that have been practiced for as long as we have had domesticated cows. Cows are evolved to eat grass, not grains, and there is evidence that eating food from grass fed cows is more nutritious. In addition to being a more nutritious and natural product I think we can all agree that raising an animal on a spacious open pasture is much more humane than raising an animal in a small cage. All this talk about caged animals and factory farms can be heavy, so now might be a good time to inject some humor into the conversation. Check out this short episode called “Is it local?” from the show Portlandia if you have a couple minutes.

portlandia_meat

Welcome back, now that we’ve lightened up a little I want to spend a few minutes talking about how to eat meat and maintain that light feeling. Diet is one of the most important components of Ayurveda, and digestion is one of the most important factors of having a proper diet. Meat can be heavy and difficult to digest for some people, so if the meat in your diet is causing inefficient digestion then some changes need to occur. These changes can be broken down into three categories: preparation, quantity, and frequency. During preparation I like to let the heat from my appliance do more of the work so that my digestive system has to do less. An example of this would be using a Crock Pot to slow cook a roast for 10 hours at low heat. It is also important, and delicious, to add digestion enhancing spices such as black pepper, ginger, garlic, cumin, or clove. For the quantity I would recommend smaller servings paired with many vegetables and perhaps some type of grain. When you think of eating meat, forget the picture you may have in your head of a giant steak covering most of the plate with a little space around the sides for some ketchup and potatoes. Instead imagine a quarter of the plate covered with meat, half the plate covered with various steamed, sautéed or roasted vegetables, and perhaps a quarter of the plate covered with some rice or quinoa. The frequency of meat consumption will depend on the needs of the person, but I think it is safe to say that meat does not need to be eaten with every meal, and probably does not need to be eaten every day for most people. I often think the message of PETA would be far more effective if they focused their efforts on convincing people to eat less meat rather than to never eat meat. This all or nothing mentality has the effect of instantly turning people off and making them think that such a major change would be impossible.

In summary, vegetarian, vegan and raw food diets are all popular diets typically associated with good health. However, simply adopting one of these diets doesn’t automatically make you healthy, just as eating meat doesn’t automatically make you unhealthy. If you do choose to eat meat then consider the source and be thoughtful about choosing a humanely raised high quality product. Though as you saw in the Portlandia episode above, don’t spend too much time thinking about it!

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