Can You Help? My Third Attempt At Vegetarianism Goes Down In Flames


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Can you help me? I've just violated my third pledge to myself and to the planet to forsake meat and become a vegetarian. I don't want to eat meat any more--mostly as a political act, but also for health reasons--yet my head and my stomach have been forced into a civil war over what I consider to be my responsibility to the world and the creatures that call it home. Each time I've entered in this pact with myself, I've come out of it not for gastronomic reasons, but because I've felt sluggish and weak. Do any Treehugger readers have any advice? Oh, one more detail, I have Crohn's Disease, an inflammatory disease of the intestines that interferes with the digestion of essential nutrients. I gave up meat this last time this past month, after digesting Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma." I know that Pollan is not a vegetarian and that his book doesn't call for us to become one either, but his stunning glimpse into the agriculture business was more than enough to take away my appetite.

As an avid cyclist and one who is already dealing with some of the side effects from Crohn's (e.g. iron deficiency, anemia, abdominal swelling), I was already concerned that taking out animal protein from my diet would leave me weak on my long rides and slow down my recovery between them. My anxiety turned into reality when I bonked hard on an easy climb last week, leaving me limping home after just an hour on the bike.

So now I've made a new deal with myself, choosing to have meat--chicken and fish--only on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but I'd like to give it up for good without feeling weak. Since getting back on the meat train his week, I've already felt stronger. Of course, this article from yesterday's New York Times about a woman paralyzed by a reaction to E.coli from ground beef turned my stomach enough to make me question my choice:

Meat companies and grocers have been barred from selling ground beef tainted by the virulent strain of E. coli known as O157:H7 since 1994, after an outbreak at Jack in the Box restaurants left four children dead. Yet tens of thousands of people are still sickened annually by this pathogen, federal health officials estimate, with hamburger being the biggest culprit. Ground beef has been blamed for 16 outbreaks in the last three years alone, including the one that left Ms. Smith paralyzed from the waist down. This summer, contamination led to the recall of beef from nearly 3,000 grocers in 41 states.

Ms. Smith's reaction to the virulent strain of E. coli was extreme, but tracing the story of her burger, through interviews and government and corporate records obtained by The New York Times, shows why eating ground beef is still a gamble. Neither the system meant to make the meat safe, nor the meat itself, is what consumers have been led to believe.

The article is a dazzling bit of journalism that's a real eye-opener for anyone uninitiated into Cargill's business practices. Please check it out and let me know what you think and, if you can, pass on some on some helpful nutritional advice. My body needs it.

More In Going Veggie:
Try a Weekday Vegetarian Diet: Eat Green Food without Taking the Plunge
How to Become a Vegetarian