an old friend of mine used to be a dedicated carnivore. brazilian barbecue places with heaping, endless piles of steaming meat were her delight. when she & another friend went to vegas, they both returned gushing about the place they had been to, how much meat they had eaten, how often the staff reloaded their plates and how deliciously and perfectly the meat had been cooked.
[as a preface to the rest of this: other people eating meat doesn't bother me, unless they're being snotty about it (it's the flipside to the preachy self-righteous vegetarian, the status quo carnivore who gets angry about being asked to think about their eating habits). i appreciate the art of well cooked meat, and am actually a pretty damn fine carver. i carve the meat at christmas, and take an anatomically curious delight in it despite not partaking.]
said friend recently has gone veg, and i just went back to eating vegetarian* in may of last year. i stopped eating vegetarian when i was 23 or so, i was in a period of pretty awful self esteem, depression & really bad self care, and, for me, reclaiming a conscious vegetarian diet was a huge step towards regaining my ability to care for myself in both basic day-to-day ways and overarching emotional ways. returning to a vegetarian diet was really about reclaiming aspects of myself i had shut down for a long time; i was trying to say something about myself and who i wanted to be by my dining choices. a vegetarian diet is a statement, and one that generates a LOT of questions about why you are making it. it can kick off some really frustrating conversations, and some really good ones, but frankly those are a bit rarer.
my friend made a great point in an e-mail exchange about the discussion aspect, "It's also amazing how polarizing a subject this is; people get so defensive about what they eat and why, and their case is usually boiled down to "but I like how it tastes" or "it's always been this way." It's like yes, I smell fried chicken and I salivate; I so totally want it. But I'm not going to eat it. That's what I decided and all it takes is making a decision."
that decision brings our choices in eating away from habit (if we're switching to a veggie diet), convenient food options, and ease of access into a more conscious, aware way of eating. admittedly, you can definitely eat junk & comfort foods while eating veggie (hello, seven layer dip, my old friend) but you have to think about your diet a lot more often than otherwise.
we can't always choose how much we have to spend on food, or what we're craving, or what's available to us, but within these boundaries we do have choices. for me, eating consciously--even part of the time!--and with awareness of my decisions makes me more aware of my physical & emotional needs in terms of what i consume
it hasn't been easy for me. i do salivate when i smell fried chicken, and when i'm low on protein i crave steak tips, but what i've been learning about my body in the process has been remarkable. i didn't realize that my blood sugar crashes so easily before, because i wasn't paying attention to it. switching to a veggie diet hasn't increased the crashes, everyone who was around me prior to the switch can attest to that, but it has made me more aware.
it also has made me aware of the emotional component to eating--and made me realize that there should be one! eating is pleasurable, eating is nurturing our bodies and our spirits, and eating & cooking are so fun when shared with friends or family. being aware of this allows me to enjoy my delicious food decisions more--although sometimes it makes getting through a bowl of canned split pea pretty difficult. heightened awareness makes dealing with boring, super cheap food just that much more fun.
at any rate, i'm not at the point where i'm able to engage on this immediate, aware level of consumption on a daily basis but it is something i think about a fair bit. i think the more i'm able to observe & consciously participate in my daily life choices--without involving judgement--the better i'm able to make positive decisions and enjoy myself.
*i saw eating vegetarian because i haven't really made the commitment to living vegetarian at this point, i see them as being different because, well, i haven't gotten rid of leather shoes & haven't decided whether i'll buy them again or not.