In February 2013 I struggled to run up Alger Alp…and Little Mountain, Oyster Dome, Fragrance Lake. After a month of training on hills I was still struggling to run up them, gasping, feeling a dead ache in my quads. I was coming home from a 4 mile run ready for a nap, despite having slept 10 hours the night before. Worn down from being abnormally cold and tired all the time I finally got another test.
24 out of a possible 200. After a whole damn year of taking massive doses of iron supplements my number was exactly the same as it had been 12 months prior.
I cried. I wanted to hit things and scream. Instead I found myself peering into the fish case at the co-op.
When I was a child my mom and I went fishing together whenever we could. I remember rising early and driving to Lake Huron, casting from the pier into the cold, massive lake. I had a collapsible rod and reel and my mom taught me how to bait, cast, reel in, and clean the catch. On our vacation in Florida we sat along a canal with our floppy brimmed hats and loads of sunscreen. Two white women in a row of African American men with their cane poles. They were getting a kick out of the 10 year old who brought in 20 sunfish in one day.
One summer day friends and I were fishing in her grandfather’s pond. We were 13. I caught something and we brought it in, but the hook was tangled. We couldn’t get it out. The fish writhed and fought. I was horrified by its death throes. I wanted to stop its pain. We panicked at our inability to free it and together she and I started running to where her grandfather was for help. Amidst the bouncing the hook ripped free and the fish fell and flopped until with a splash it was again in the water.
I became a vegetarian a few months later.
I paid for the halibut and ran from the store before my eyes could overflow. My stomach was in knots as I drove home. Confronted with the white flesh sitting on my counter I realized I didn’t even know how to cook meat of any sort. I tried to peel off the skin and nearly vomited. I turned away and saw the 8 bottles of supplements on my shelf. Real nourishment comes from whole foods, not from bottles. I turned back to the whole food and put it into my skillet.
The first bite was not what I anticipated. It was delicious. I whispered thankful prayers for the life that I was about to consume to maintain my own and let the tears flow. Seldom do I, or many others I would assume, experience true heartfelt gratitude for our food—for the plants and animals that sustain our lives as well as bring us pleasure. I hope that this lesson remains with me.
My stomach was raging for over an hour at the unexpected substance. I anticipated it coming right back up, but it didn’t. Eventually the nausea subsided and was replaced within a few hours by a strange sensation:
The fog of fatigue I’d been stumbling around in all day subsided as though I’d been hooked up to a caffeine IV. I was soon bustling around the house doing 10 things at once like I used to.
When I finally did sleep that night I dreamt I was in dark water darting amidst a vast kelp forest. The water was cold, but I was comfortable and content.
For 19 of my 31 years I have been vegetarian, vegan since October of 2010. Suddenly I am neither. This was not a moment of weakness when there’s nothing on the menu, nothing at the aid station, or nothing in the tiny mountain town. This was planned and purposefully executed. The identity I have carried for nearly 2 decades is gone and the emotional struggle pursuant is confusing. The one thing I know is that my body and blood do not lie. I started my journey of solely plant based eating nearly 3 years ago as a way to be healthier, to lower my carbon footprint, and to protest industrial agriculture with its attendant sins. But, if health is not the result then I must try and find another way.