As a kid, cheeseburgers were always my first choice. When I started oncology practice and could finally afford steak, I knew the long years of medical school and residency had been worth it. I considered the addition of lobster, shrimp, and scallops as the just desserts for long hours of training and middle of the night phone calls. I still have happy memories of Saturday morning jaunts with the kids to McDonald’s for pancakes and sausage patties.
So in 1984 when Jean read Diet for a Small Planet and became vegetarian, I was less than pleased. Suddenly, after setting up my life perfectly, I was married to a lunatic. I found restaurant questions about beef broth and vegetable soup particularly jarring to my concept of a romantic night out.
However, our world did not stop with her becoming vegetarian, and I gradually developed tolerance to her peculiar food choices. By 1986, as concerns about red meat became more prevalent, I noted the hypocrisy of advising patients to cut back on their red meat intake while daily treating myself to a burger or steak. I switched to more chicken and fish as a concession to consistency.
In 1992, both Jean and I began a meditation practice. As a result, I also became vegetarian and widened my goal from ‘be a caring physician’ to ‘embody compassion for all creatures’.
Once I adopted a vegetarian diet, I read the medical literature differently. While still eating meat, I had minimized the statistics that implicated meat as causing cancer. After becoming vegetarian, the same scientific data now represented largely ignored and unnecessary deaths.
Since I continued to consume dairy products, I was a somewhat lukewarm disciple to healthy eating. However, the handwriting was already on the wall once I learned that dairy products were also neither healthy, nor kind, nor necessary. In 1998, I finally decided to give up dairy products. However, that decision turned out to be a struggle, and it was not until 2001 that I finally gave up cheese.
Occasionally I remind myself of my own slow, seventeen-year change process as I encourage other people to move toward healthier eating. Expecting dramatic changes from the cultural status quo defies logic. However, as the Bob Dylan song goes, ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’.
Jean realizes that the quote is over forty years old and advises me to be content planting seeds.