I have been eating meat during Advent.
If I ate a typical American diet, that might not be such a big deal. But I don’t, and it is.
I wrote my first essay on Eating Vegetarian in fifth grade. Among my motivations: a) trying to rationalize with my classmates who teased me for bringing soup, yogurt, hummus on a pita and an apple for lunch almost every day while they were packed with ‘Lunchables’ or sent to school with a package of cookie dough or cream cheese, and b) hoping that in my rational and strategic demonstration of the personal and social health benefits of various degrees of vegetarianism, my classmates would join my enthusiasm and eat beans instead of pepperoni. It might be a surprise to hear that I didn’t convert anyone.
I have read lots (and write lots) on eating meat, not eating meat, ethical meat eating, high protein diets, etc. I am not about to write you a dissertation on sane eating. But I will share a few thoughts on eating meat during Advent.
First, let me come clean: I am not ‘A Vegetarian,’ and haven’t been for some time. I do happen to be married to ‘A Vegetarian’ which is kind of nice, seeing that I rarely eat meat (there were a few years I ate it about once a week, now it is closer to once every month or so.) “Meat” here means meat. Fish, chicken, beef, etc. If it is the flesh of an animal, it is meat. It is also nice to be married to A Vegetarian because I am not confident with my meat-preparation skills. However, I did happen to make a turkey for Thanksgiving and it happened to be the best-tasting turkey I have ever tasted (it just so happens).
I am not ‘A Vegetarian,’ but tend to eat vegetarian. One benefit of eating vegetarian is that it is really easy to lose weight! Unfortunately, if you are a person like me, with a relatively high metabolism, who doesn’t eat a lot of sweets (or a lot of anything, in general), you may find yourself losing lots of weight without wanting to. And then, once underweight, feel so weak it is hard to walk up the stairs. At that point, you might find yourself craving steak in your sleep.
Everyone needs a certain amount of protein, and really, despite the trendiness of eating protein bars and shakes, there is rarely any reason to eat more than a normal amount of protein. If you’re trying to build muscle in the beginning of training for something you’re not used to doing, then you might need it. If you’re really overweight and making your body use its fat for fuel (which is dangerous, but less dangerous than obesity), then you might need it. If you’re underweight (which can be more dangerous than even obesity), then you definitely need it – to gain muscle mass. Anyhow, it’s probably best to consume protein in the form of God-given whole grains (yes, real, actual whole grains in the form of grains!), beans, eggs, dairy, nuts, and lean meat before reverting to a totally unnecessary Man-made processed and packaged snack.
Well in our diet we’ve been running very short on protein. I’ve doubled the protein we eat, but I am unable to build muscle mass on it. So I’m eating meat, too.
I keep thinking about the old French Christmas carol, “The Friendly Beasts.” In the song, the animals of the stable each give something to the baby Jesus. The donkey carried his mother, the cow gives him his manger, the sheep gives him wool to keep him warm, and the dove sings him to sleep. I have eaten meat about twice a week during Advent. And I think about the Friendly Beasts, and about our friendly beasts, the dogs that share our lives with us, whose personalities sometimes seem so human… I think about how each animal has something more to offer than just his meat, just like each person is worth so much more than simply what’s in his bank account. Okay, the song is often sung by little kids, and seems a little cutesy. But I am being completely sincere and am not wearing a little donkey tail while I sing it. I’m moved by this carol, which reminds us that God is with us and that even the animals know what reverence is. So, we can afford to be a little reverent, too.
I am eternally grateful for the leftover beef I just ate for lunch, and for about the fifth time I have prayed for this animal: wishing health and happiness for the cattle whose body is helping my body to heal and grow. I am grateful for the rice and lentils we’ll eat tonight, but I can’t help but feel humbled and honored when I eat meat during this Advent season.