Damn You, Sanjay Gupta!

It’s nothing personal and I’m sure if we were ever to meet, we would get along like a house on fire, it’s just that your CNN special, “The Last Heart Attack” with Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., and your interview with the now heart-healthy and skinny vegan, former president, Bill Clinton, inspired my husband to make some changes. For those of you who missed it, Dr. Esselstyn promotes the “heart attack free diet,” which in his interpretation consists of no meat, no eggs, and no dairy.

“I think I’ll do that, too.” said the husband.
“…What… become a vegan?” I cringed, thinking of what an act of culinary acrobatics dinner time would become, feeding a vegan and two occasionally picky not-so-small children. Was I going to feel like a short order cook at mealtime? No cod fish for the girl, no cauliflower for the boy, no lovely spaghetti Bolognese for the man, and no fun for me.
“No, just a pescatarian.” he assured me. Ok, I thought, fish,  I can deal with this. Yet for some reason, this change of routine, as healthy and honorable as its intentions were, irked me a little. On top of that, I was ashamed that I was irked!

I have to confess. Unless health, ethics, or religion requires it, I am not a fan of extreme diets. I am all about balance. Variety is the spice of life! Eating is such a joy. I don’t see evil lurking in sane quantities of carbs and sugar and I believe moderate amounts of animal protein can be alright.

Eating less meat is not exactly a total tragedy in my house. Our diet is varied and pretty healthy.  We don’t eat meat every day, and when we do, it’s almost always the grass-fed variety. There was even year when I only ate fish.  I was living in Italy at the time and spending the holidays at my brother in law’s farm in Tuscany. On Christmas morning, a beautiful little calf, Natalina, was born and we went down to see her. She looked at me with her big brown eyes and licked my hand.  (I grew up in New York City with little direct cow contact, so this was pretty special.) When we returned to the house, Christmas lunch was on the table. What was it, you ask? A roast.  I pushed it around my plate, thinking of poor Natalina, and reached for the vegetables. It is an odd thing, and surely horrible thing, to like animals but then eat them, and yet my reserve lasted for about a year. I was seduced by a grilled hot dog, and I fell off the wagon.

Last year my family gave up meat for Lent because my son decided that he wanted to give it a try (we aren’t even a Catholic family, but the kid always gives something up every year anyway.) My husband had been flirting with the idea for years and it turned out he didn’t miss it -- at all. He said that he even felt better. I did fine, most of the time, but occasionally, I missed it. And, truthfully, I didn’t really feel any better. After the 40 days was over, I realized that while I was quite happy to eat less meat, I honestly didn’t want to say no to my Sunday bacon (Flying Pigs Farm…hello lover), my monthly  Shackburger, or the occasional treat of Di Palo’s prosciutto. (And, OK, even a rare I-don’t-know-what’s-in-this-but-love-it, Gray’s Papaya hot dog.) My somewhat carnivorous kids didn't want to give it up either. My daughter, who is all the width of a pencil and has to eat, or she’ll vanish, will pull me to the side and plead, “Meat tonight. Please.”

Here we are, about four months later. I stand by my man, and his heart. I’m glad he’s doing what he feels he needs to do to stay healthy, and I am very grateful that he hasn’t become to preachy or smug about his new diet. For my part, it has made me more thoughtful about choosing meat, and I do try to find other alternatives when I can. Still, on some days when I’m not feeling creative in the kitchen, I curse Sanjay under my breath.

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