Back when I was a vegetarian - a die hard, dedicated, well-balanced vegetarian, may I add - I would have never, ever thought that I would prepare the meal I ate tonight for dinner. I can not stress that enough. My former self would be horrified at my current self.
My current self, however, looks back with respect. In fact, sometimes, I wish I still were vegetarian. Living a meat free life, in theory, is so much more in line with my general philosophy of non-violence and respect for all living things. I enjoyed living low on the food chain. I don't like American meat-centric culture and the grossly huge portion sizes. From a culinary point of view, cooking meat is way more complicated than cooking vegetables. You have to worry about bacteria and food poisoning. And if you are a responsible meat eater, you have to do your homework. Why? You don't want meat from an animal that has been treated with antibiotics or hormones or raised in cramped conditions eating unnatural feed. The commercial cattle industry feeds cattle corn, which is silly - ruminants shouldn't eat corn, they should eat grass. This topic leads into a discussion of the horrible use of land by the commercial cattle industry. The amount of farmland dedicated to growing corn and soy for animal feed is staggering. This land is slowly being stripped, because these commercial crops aren't being properly rotated. That land could go to growing food for people, rotated with using it for grazing cattle. But instead is going to grow food (corn and soy) for animals (cattle) that shouldn't eat that type food anyway. I could go on about commercial food production forever. But I won't. There are lots of books, films, and studies out there from authors and filmmakers and scientists who are far more educated about this topic than I. So, moving on.
Why don't I eat vegetarian anymore? Because despite my fairly well-balanced, 10 year vegetarian lifestyle, I was unhealthy. I was overweight. I had terrible acne. I had really bad atopic dermatitis. I had a hard time building muscle, despite going to the gym and leading a really active lifestyle (training for and completing a triathlon!). I had a really hard time lostig weight. My digestion was a disaster. Then, back in 2006, I got sick for about 3 months and just couldn't get better. I was doing everything right - I worked out, I ate a ton of fruits and vegetables, didn't drink a lot of alcohol, and had a whole bunch of natural remedies I'd employ for all sorts of things. But nothing worked. I got antibiotics from the doctor, and still couldn't get better. They tested me for anemia, and it turned out I was, in fact anemic. After some soul searching, I took the plunge. I started eating meat, influenced by my own intuition and reading Dr. Peter D'adamo's Eat Right for Your Type. He recommends O blood types eat meat, and avoid vegetarian diets. While I don't buy into D'adamo's recommendations 100%, from my experience and the experiences of many others who have read and followed this book, I think there is definitely something to his overall philosophy.
Eating meat again was the best thing I could have done. I gradually introduced the meat, and found my body handled it like a champ. And darn if I didn't get better real fast. Seriously, the 3 month period of illness ended within weeks. I was shocked. The anemia went away. I felt stronger. I was able to build muscle. I started losing weight, without changing anything else about my life. My energy went through the roof. So, I completed another triathlon, and then a 300 mile bike ride around Minnesota.
What does this have to do with liver?
It doesn't just have to do with liver, or even just with meat. It has to do with the universally accepted notion that vegetarianism is a "healthier" life choice than living as an omnivore. I don't agree with this notion. In my opinion, your diet needs to be an individual choice. Just like some of us can't eat gluten and others can eat all the gluten they want, some people do well eating meat, while others just plain don't. In fact, some people thrive eating meat, while the next person finds they feel totally disgusting eating it. You need to make the decision that is best for you. And when you find the diet that works for you, do your best to eat as consciously as you can within that diet.
If you choose the life of an omnivore, choose quality meats and seafood, and be moderate with your portions. Don't make it the focus of your diet; just because you eat meat doesn't mean you should sit down to meat, meat, and more meat. Try thinking of yourself like a meat-eating vegetarian, and shift the focus of your meals to vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fruits, with meat and other animal products on the side. And by choosing meats from producers that raise hormone-free, anti-biotic free, organic meats you are supporting responsible, sustainable agriculture.
If you choose to be a vegetarian or a vegan, or choose to live raw, or choose a fruitarian lifestyle, or liquitarian, or whatever, the same thing applies. Choose whole foods that are organic and responsible, focussing on whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. I think a lot of vegetarians - my former vegetarian self included - get hung up on vegetarian convenience food. Heck, it is possible to be a pretty junky vegetarian, living on processed veggie burgers, protein bars, microwaveable meals, canned soup, packaged rice mixes, and fancy snack chips and crackers. While they might be meat free, and might even be organic, they are still highly processed food items that have been stripped of their nutrients and take up lots of resources in the production, packaging, and shipping processes. Truthfully, I am of the belief that making choosing a responsibly raised cut of meat, especially from a local farmer, is a more sustainable choice than purchasing a processed vegetarian "burger" anytime.
I've been on a Weston A. Price Foundation kick the last couple months, delving into Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions and her collaboration with Dr. Thomas Cowan on the The Fourfold Path to Healing, and learning about about the benefits of old-fashioned, traditional foods and preparation methods. Bragging about the benefits of raw dairy products, butter, cod liver oil, coconut oil, meats, and lots of cultured foods this is the exact opposite dietary philosphy of the book I was toting around last summer, Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford. He suggests a nearly fat free, vegan diet centered around a lot of macrobiotic principals and traditional Chinese dietary therapy. While these books differ in a lot of things, they share the philosphy that ultimately, a diet should based around vegetables and include lots and lots of cultured foods. I passionately love both books, and see a time and a place for the information in both.
Anyway, back to the subject of this post: liver. On that note, I've been reading a lot about organ meats and the incredible nutrition they boast. Liver is chock full of vitamin A, iron, and essential fatty acids. In fact, organ meets are a particularly high source of DHA, EPA, and AA, which are all required by the body, but are often only acquired from food sources. The World's Healthiest Foods website has a great write up about liver, check it out
. So, when I was at the co-op, and saw that the responsibly raised beef liver was only $1.99/lb (what?!?!?!!??!?
), I had to try it. I got a just under a half pound of liver for $.92. You can't get a can of decent tuna for $.92. Hell, you can't get an organic nectarine for $.92. Did you know that 4 oz of raw liver has a whopping 22 grams of protein? Based on what I payed, this protein was about $.025 per gram. That is the most nutritionally dense $.025 I have ever seen.
I cooked it up old school, using a recipe from Sally's Nourishing Traditions, a.k.a.. my favorite cookbook. And damn, this liver was good. Seriously. It was delicious. Although, in my opinion, if you cook up just about anything with butter and loads of onions and it would be delicious. As I sat down to my tasty liver and onions, I gave thanks to the animal that died to give me the nutrition. Sure, sometimes I wish I were vegetarian. I really wish I could be happy and healthy eating nice little salads and tempeh and all sorts of nuts and seeds and sprouted grains. But it wouldn't be healthy for me. I do better with some animal protein in the mix. My skin is softer and smoother, my hair is healthier, my muscle tone is much better, and I have more energy. And besides, it turns out I'm allergic to many of those delicious vegetarian protein sources (soy, eggs, most nuts). God, how I miss tempeh, you have no idea (or, maybe you do). In fact, I would almost kill for a tempeh, avocado, sprout, and tomato sandwich on the amazing sprouted wheat berry bread I used to buy. With the exception of the sprouts, I'm allergic to all that stuff (seriously). Sad. Sure, I could try surviving on beans, cashews, sunflower and hemp seeds, goat and sheep yogurt, and the protein from whole grains, but it wouldn't be worth it to me. I just don't think it is what my body needs.
The lesson? Make the dietary choice that is right for you; listen to your body and make responsible choices. As time passes, your body and nutritional needs might change, and you need to honor those changes by making the appropriate dietary adjustments. For me right now, it means eating a modest serving of meat most days of the week. For you, it may mean something else. Bottom line: find the foods that nourish you, and have the strength to nourish others.
LIVER AND ONIONS (gluten free)
adapted from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions
1/2 pound sliced liver (sliced in 1/4-inch to 3/8 inch slices)
1/3 c gluten free flour of choice
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 T butter or ghee
2 cups onions
1 T olive oil
- Rinse liver and pat dry. Dredge in a mixture of flour, salt, and pepper.
- In a heavy skillet over high flame, saute the slices in butter, flipping as necessary. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, until liver is just cooked through.
- Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat olive oil, and saute onions until carmelized and soft.
- If liver finishes cooking before onions are done, keep warm on a platter in the oven.
- Serve liver hot covered with onions. I recommend eating it with a side of tasty sauerkraut. Yum!
OTHER LIVER RECIPES: