“Oh my gosh, I would die if I couldn’t eat a steak.” “Do you miss hamburgers?” “Did you get this from a tick bite?”
These are some pretty common responses when I tell people I can’t eat beef. I don’t just say I can’t eat beef because I don’t like it or because I’m vegan, I’m pretty sure eating it could kill me. It sure feels like it has come pretty close a few times.
I grew up in cattle country and my mom married a cattle rancher when I was a teenager, so I get a lot of flack for my food choices. Most of it is in good humor, but sometimes it can be hard. I want to help normalize listening to your body and learning to feed it what it needs and what YOU feel like is best for your body. Not just what everyone around you is eating.
Let’s start from the beginning.
I grew up hunting. Why? Well, my grandmother is allergic to beef, and in her words, “there are only so many ways you can cook a chicken.” I remember eating deer, pork, turkey, and other game we brought home. I saw the whole process, from field to plate, starting at a very young age. (By the way, I can confirm that I did not want to eat sausage after seeing it made.)
Hunting means a lot to my family. It taught me about the circle of life, anatomy, biology, conservation, ecosystems, parasitic and symbiotic relationships, and so much more.
My grandpa was a geneticist and a biology professor. I learned more about science and the world just by hanging out and listening to him while we put a puzzle together than I did in 4 years of high school. My grandma would constantly tell me how much she hoped the food allergies skipped me. She hoped I got my mother’s genes. I didn’t. If I had, I’d be naturally thin with curly hair and 20/20 eyesight. Your girl is thicc with straight hair and blind as hell.
My grandpa would listen to her worry then just look at me and smile. We both knew I had those genes. We both knew they would express themselves one day. He got a front row seat when her beef intolerance made its appearance and he knew it wasn’t pretty.
Now at this point, you may be asking yourself, “Why didn’t she just give up beef before the problems started?” Good question. I just asked myself that. I’m not sure, but I’m sure it had to do with me eating what my family was eating and not wanting to cause any problems. It would have been smart of me to quit eating beef sooner, but hindsight is 20/20. Plus, my mom made some amazing beef burritos.
The problems may have started slowly, but I didn’t listen. Then one day it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was 18 and took one bite of my friend’s beef enchilada. 2 hours later, I was sick. It was the day before spring classes started and a group of us were eating out and catching up. Not to be too gruesome, but I hope that is the first and last time I vomit in a restaurant bathroom, in a parking garage trash can, and a dorm bathroom where you have to type a code to get in… imagine the worst. It’s probably accurate.
From that day on, I had an internal signal if something I ate was contaminated with beef. The good news was, I knew what to look out for. My grandmother, great aunts, and female cousins have come before me and helped guide me through this beefless life.
I was good for a few years. Nothing else seemed to bother me. Then when I was 22, pork started to fight back. Then it was dairy. Chicken started to taste like it was raw no matter how it was cooked. I was sick all the time. To top it off, I was in grad school and I needed all the energy and brain power I could get.
This was new. When I talked to the women in my family with the beef allergy, they all said they could eat anything else they wanted. We have now learned this is not true. They were having some issues, but it wasn’t super in their face, so they brushed it off. We all are learning to listen to our bodies better, it is a journey - not a destination.
When my other food issues came up, I hopped on professor Google just like any good journalist would. I started searching for reasons why this was happening and what I should do to fix it. Almost everything I read suggested going vegan.
I ran across a vegan food blog that started with a blurb like, “I never thought I’d go vegan, then I watched Cowspiracy and now I’m in a ball on the floor crying and questioning all my life choices.” Personally, I thought it was dramatic, but when I watched that documentary, I went plant-based basically overnight so… *shrugs*
When I suggested this diet change to my mother, she looked at me like I was growing a second head. It felt bizarre to even mention it around my family, so I didn’t. I lived in Austin and could eat how I wanted. If I told you that family meals (or any meal with a big group of people) are any easier now than they were 2 years ago, I’d be lying. I’m self conscious of my food choices, I have to explain them over and over, and I hear a lot of vegan jokes.
All of that being said, I completely understand where they are coming from. I never thought I’d be vegan. I grew up hunting. My mom is married to a man who used to be a cattle rancher and now makes ranch toys. I am what you would call The Black Sheep of my family. I’m learning to embrace it.
If you want the science as to why my body doesn’t produce the correct enzymes to break down these foods, you’re going to have to talk to someone else. I have no clue. I know it wasn’t a tick bite. It is a sex-linked gene - meaning it affects the women - on my biological father’s side of the family, and I know it gets worse if you ignore it.
I started eating plant-based and started feeling better almost immediately. I have more energy, I’m not sick all the time, I am able to actually eat again. Life is good.
Plus, some of the vegan food I've found has been truly amazing!!
This doesn’t mean that I never find things I can’t eat, but now I listen to my body a lot more. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t like the taste of something, that is your body’s way of telling you it doesn’t like it. (Do I need a disclaimer here? Imma put a disclaimer here: I am not a doctor. Please contact a medical professional if you have any health concerns.)
I am also a firm believer that we should normalize the fact that everyone has different health needs. Just because someone else is eating it does not mean you have to eat it. If you’re feeling bad and want to see if changing your diet can help, I say go for it! (Again, not a doctor - not even the PhD kind.)
I’m so glad for my food experimentation and can honestly say I will be continuing to learn and grow in this food journey. Next year, I want to plant a garden like my grandparents used to have. This way I will know exactly what I’m putting into my body. Plus, I really like playing in the dirt and growing things.
What about you? Are you going on a food journey? Are you the foodie black sheep in your family? I’d love to hear about it. Hit me up, let’s talk.