Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Extinct Carnivore

This is how the conversation always goes:

ME: I'm not eating meat anymore.
SOMEONE I'M TALKNG TO: What?  Why the hell would you do that?
ME: Because... (then I list off a bunch of reasons that are vague enough to prevent too much conversation on this topic; I don't really want to talk about why because I am not entirely sure).
SOMEONE: Well whatever, good luck with that.

Three days later:

JUSTIN: So, you're not eating meat?
ME: Nope.
JUSTIN: Okay, that's what I thought so I made you some chicken.

First, chicken IS meat.  Second, I cave and eat the chicken. 

In the past, I have tried this "not eating meat" thing various times.  I usually make it four days at the most before I give up.  I have given up for a variety of reasons: it's difficult to find vegetarian options in a lot of places, it makes it challenging when other people (who do eat meat) cook dinner; meat is a good source of iron and protein, which I need as a runner.  Mostly I gave up because I like the taste of meat.

Or at least, I did.

This year, finally, I have managed to stop eating meat for long enough that I no longer want it.  In all those diet articles they always tell you: if you can go two weeks without something, you won't crave it anymore.  Of course, what they don't tell you is that those two weeks are really freaking hard to get through!  As soon as you give something up, that is all that anyone around you is eating, and their food always looks better than yours.  It is also THE thing that your body starts screaming at you about.  Okay, maybe I should be speaking in the first person here--I don't know about other people, but that is how it has always been for me.  And so I have always caved under the pretext of "listening to my body, because it knows what it needs."  Yeah, right, just like it "needs" tater tots and cheese sticks and beer.  What is warning from Portal that they made into a slightly humorous Woot Shirt?  "The cake is a liar."  So is my body.

Finally, though, I have made it through nearly three weeks without any form of meat other than fish.  Yes, I do still eat fish, which is why I hesitate to call myself "vegetarian."  But I don't feel bad about it because, as I said before, I need the iron and protein and I really like tuna melts.  The amazing thing is that I really don't miss eating meat.  When my husband gets a burger, I don't look at it and think "I have to have that right now, even if it means clawing his eyes out to get to it."  And when people invite us over for dinner, I have no trouble saying "Just so you know, I don't eat meat anymore."  Yes, that is annoying.  But, I don't mind bringing something for myself: have box of mac-n-cheese, will travel.

Obviously, this change has brought with a whole slew of dietary obstacles.  I have to be careful to get enough protein and iron from non-meat sources, which is not always easy or tasty.  I also have to be especially vigilant about not just replacing meat with cheese, because that sort of undoes any health benefits that my no-meat diet might afford me.  But these are "good" challenges.  They make me think more about what I am putting in my body when I make food choices.  Without getting too soap-boxy (I like to save that for face-to-face conversations), I think an essential part of any meal should be thinking about where your food came from and why it--of all the things you could have had--ended up on your plate; and when you answer these questions, you should feel good about your choices.  I didn't feel good when I looked down and saw meat on my plate, and so I stopped putting it there.

So, after a few weeks of battling the little voice inside me screaming "Get a cheeseburger, STAT!" I have finally been able to move on and become a non-meat eater.  Am I saying that I will never again eat a piece of meat?  No, of course not.  But, I am saying that I don't want to eat meat anymore, and that I am happy that I don't.

And the next time Justin asks me if he should make me chicken "instead" of meat, I will be sure to say "No thanks, I'll just bring a PB&J." 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Post-Doctoral Education

People always ask me why I study reading, and the easy answer is "because I love it."  And I really do.  I can spend an entire day just sitting and reading, and I am perfectly happy.  When I have free time, I enjoy loitering in bookstores and reading errant chapters of unfamiliar novels.  

Of course, reading in graduate school is not the same as reading for fun.  Over the past seven (yes, seriously, seven) years that I have spent as a professional student, I have read thousands of pages.  I have read books, journal articles, reviews, drafts of my peers' and my own essays--so much stuff!  When I look through my filing cabinets and bookshelves, I am astonished to think about the volume of text I have interacting with, and the amount of time I have spent doing so.  And it is all academic reading, things that were given to me, assigned to me, or chosen for their utility in my field of research. It was all (well, mostly) very interesting, but not exactly what I would categorize as "fun" reading.  

So, naturally, when I finally completed my dissertation a few weeks ago, the first thing I thought about was reading for fun!  For years I have been unable to spend the time I would like on pleasure reading, and because of that I am very behind in what I see as my "must read" list for my life.  In order to get moving on that list, I sent an email out to three people whose taste in literature I trust and asked them for recommendations.  

What I got was a little more intense than I had expected.  I had expected one or two titles, and because these three guys are pretty similar in their tastes and world-views (total nerds) I figured that they would all pretty much send me the same titles.  Instead, I got somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 titles in response to my initial email, and have been pointed towards at least another 10 books in random conversations.  

The majority of the books fit squarely in the sci-fi and fantasy realms, with a few outliers in Russian literature and the classics.  I happily accepted all of these recommendations, dutifully writing down new titles as they are sent to me, and blissfully filling the memory banks of my Kindle when I should be graded papers and working on my revisions.  

In the past few weeks, however, I have begun to feel that this is not, in fact, the pleasure reading book list that I had intended it to be.  For one thing, it is HUGE.  And I, having poor time management skills and almost no ability to focus on a single point for any length of time, am finding it almost physically painful to read a single book at a time.  I want to read them all, right away, today in fact.  Currently, I am in the middle of two books, and that doesn't even include at least four other books that I was already reading before this list came into existence.  
The other alarming development is the inconsistency of my nerdy mentors.  They, like me, seem unable to agree with a reasonable order for my book list.  Somedays I need to be reading Cryponomicon.  But, well, no, don't start there because you just read Stevenson's other book and it will be too much.  Read The Wise Man's Fear first because I want to talk to you about; but that's a sequel so make sure you read the first book again so you remember all the details.  No, start with American Gods because you loved Percy Jackson and we all think it is trash.  Okay, guys, seriously...just pick something already!!  But they won't, so I am reading two books at once, trying to get to a third before someone adds anything else to the list!  

And, they are becoming a little persistent about my progress.  Mostly, it is gentle reminders and questions, such as "So, where are you in [that book] now?"  "Oh, you haven't started it yet?"  Disappointed look heads my way.  "Well, I was really hoping that you would read that because A) I want to talk to you about it; B) HBO is making a show about it and we all need to watch it together; C) I told you to read it, why haven't you done it yet?"  And then the prodding becomes slightly less subtle: "So, now that you are done with school, exactly what are you doing all day?"  

I find that I have created a situation for myself here that is not entirely unlike my previous, academic situation.  I have a lengthy, challenging syllabus in front of me; I have spent an unreasonable amount of money on my textbooks; each of them has their own agenda for my reading; and they don't seem to understand that I have other things to do in my life than my reading list!!  And when I pointed this out to one of my nerdy mentors, his only response to me was...

"Ah...well we're each of us teaching a grad class. You're just the only chump to sign up for all three at once."

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