What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Up until three months ago, I had spent the last six years living and loving as a vegetarian. I realize that's nothing compared to some of you –- those who have been vegetarians their entire lives or just about -– but for me it was kind of a Big Deal. I transitioned from happily munching on a grilled cheese with added bacon from Sonic or macaroni and cheese (with bacon) from a box, so to suddenly and happily jump into vegetarianism headfirst was gigantic.
I don't remember how the decision to become vegetarian played out –- I'm sure it was some combination of a sense of morals and social ethics that coincided with my third year of college. I have never been fond of beef, and dropped it altogether at some point. Chicken wasn't too hard to phase out once I read the smallest bit about how the poor animals are regularly mistreated. But fish: fish took forever to kick.
I remember the last few weeks of life pre-vegetariansm: They were basically a cycle between “I won't eat any fish today!” to “Oooh, but tuna sandwiches are so easy to make!” or “We just learned how to cook tilapia and have it taste good!” Eventually it had to be done, and my husband and I both dropped our slippery friends from our diets cold turkey.
I was very loud and boastful about my vegetarianism for awhile –- probably too long. As most people who make a big life decision that they feel very passionately about do, I constantly railed against the diets of my meat-eating friends and family, and chose the most inopportune times to let them know just how fucked up the food they were eating was.
Instead of just keeping to myself and feeling silently smug, I felt the need to share all of this new information about the terrifying state of American meat supply. Needless to say, I was That Vegetarian, the one who you kind of hate.
As I became more comfortable with my vegetarianism and actually paid attention to the kind of food I should be eating to make up for lost nutrients (I basically just dropped meat and didn't add anything at first), I kind of stopped talking about it. I had no problem discussing it if someone wanted to, and every so often I couldn't resist doing something like jotting a note on Facebook with a passage from Jonathan Safran Foer's "Eating Animals." But I mostly tried to stay out of talks about MY vegetarianism as much as I could.
That is... until three months ago, when I started eating fish again. It started innocently enough: I noticed I was more lethargic than usual, that my hair seemed to be getting thinner. I had switched to a less expensive, grocery store brand of Omegas around that time, and began suspecting that this new bottle of vitamins may be the culprit. I spent one very harrowing night reading article telling me that Omega supplements don't actually work, and that when they do they usually have a pretty hefty price tag to go with.
I had a borderline tearful conversation with a fellow vegetarian on the way home from a wedding we both worked: If my Omega supplements sucked, what could I do? She suggested chia seeds, which seem to have all kinds of benefits and add a healthy dose of Omega-3 to your diet, so I was curious: Could Chia seeds do the trick?
I was geared up to start researching the seeds to find out which brand might actually do something magical for me (and my hair) when I came home and discovered my husband had given in to the urge and bought tilapia. Ohhhhh, tilapia: our favorite.
I had been talking the issue over with him for a few weeks, and this discussion combined with his very natural affinity for fish (not to stereotype, but dude is part Hawaiian, and his family loooooves some fish) added up to a happy math equation in his head that was basicallly something like this: Stephanie cares about keeping her hair + We both like fish = We're eating fish again!
And just like that... we were.
I thought I would have all of these awful feelings after taking the first bite, but I had only happy, warm feelings that come with eating a bit of food you have really missed. Since that first meal, we've taken advantage of our state's many delightful fish and chips offerings (especially after a particularly delicious meal off the coast of Oregon), but generally keep our fish consumption to once or twice a week, max: enough to get nutrients, but not so much that we're eating it all the time. We mostly stick with tilapia and cod fillets, with the occasional fish stick sandwich thrown in when we're in a rush.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I discovered that I really don't care much about how other families are talking about Santa: to each their own. I've discovered I hold a similar sentiment when it comes to what people eat: I actually just don't care anymore.
I've been on both sides of the meat-or-no-meat coin, and I've been happy on each of them. Ultimately, what I've learned is that there are simply many more important conversations to have with people -– friends, family, and strangers alike -– and alienating others based on diet isn't a road I want to travel on.
I do sometimes pause mid-bite and feel a liiiiittle bad for what I'm doing –- after all, fish are horribly overfished and many animals had to die for my meal to be on my plate. I understand that. I still read the same books and seek out literature and articles about the pros of a vegetarian diet, and I'm not opposed to dropping fish again.
For now, I'm going to keep on keeping on... at least until all of these baby hairs grow out.