Thursday, January 25, 2007

On Being an Omnivore

One look at Baxter's or Kirby's teeth and it's quite apparent they were designed to rip through meat and crush bone. Quite dramatic compared to our omnivore human teeth with a few rippers and a lot of grinders. I've been reminded a lot lately of my omnivorous human nature because I've been on one of those detox/allergy elimination diets, which has put me in an entirely herbivore state for nearly three weeks. This is not a place in the food chain where I like to reside. It's ok for a visit, but I wouldn't want to live here permanently.

Now I'm no stranger to vegetarian eating -- I was a vegetarian for a couple of years (not because I think there's anything wrong with being an omnivore, but because I disagree with animal factory farming techniques). At that time I made up for the meat by eating a lot of dairy and eggs. My cholesterol jumped from a healthy level to over 200 in no time. Eventually I realized I wasn't being a very good vegetarian, eating the proper foods to make up for the meat protein I was lacking. So I brought meat and fish back into my diet, this time focusing on free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free meats and poultry and wild-caught fish. I felt better and my cholesterol went back down to a happy, healthy level for me.

This time it's different. I've been eating a diet that looks limited even to a vegan (no sugars, no wheat, no corn, no processed foods, no caffeine, not even fruit other than pears and apples). At one point in the diet I ate nothing but cruciferous vegetables, greens and apples/pears for three days. Fortunately, that's over, and I had a detox protein shake that helped keep me from collapsing. I'll spare you the rest of the details, but I will say that I have come to appreciate the taste of vegetables like never before. I never realized just how sweet a sweet potato can be. Or a squash. Or a simple bowl of greens. I usually slather these things with herbs and spices, but eating them in a more natural state has been a real gift. And rice - boy, that's good stuff. I don't need coffee to wake me up in the morning and I'm expanding my repertoire of vegetable recipes. It's all good.

Now I want my meat back. I have another week and a half to go and my inner carnivore, the owner of those few pointy tearing teeth, is manifesting herself in the strangest ways. Even the dogs' Merrick Thanksgiving Day Dinner canned food smells good to me. I've never been a huge meat eater, but when I want it, I want it. I need more balance in my diet, and when it's tipped so far in one direction, I really do feel off-center. That's the nature of the omnivore. We're made to eat what's available and seek out what we need to eat to balance it.

It amazes me that some vegetarians and vegans try to impose their diet on their dogs and cats. Being the flexible, omnivorous eaters that we humans are, we can get by just fine without meat. But depriving a carnivore of the mainstay of their existence is like a human only eating meat and nothing else. Sure, some of them adapt (like the Inuit in the Arctic). And granted, dogs are also scavengers, so they can eat a lot of things and survive. But for the most part, anyone foisting a vegetarian diet on a dog is working against their nature, and I find it hard to believe their dogs are as healthy as the meat-eating ones. As I noted previously, even changing Baxter to an all meat and vegetable diet (no grains) has improved his health dramatically.

I look forward to being a full-on omnivore again. It's the blessing of human existence that we get to eat such a bountiful variety of foods, and I don't think I've ever appreciated that quite as much as I do right now.

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