Our Evolving Diets

150 150 Kristin
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Dear Kristin,

I passed a chicken truck when I was driving to Atlanta two weeks ago. It was crammed full of caged birds, feathers flying, little red combs a-flapping. The sight made me sad; those chickens did not appear to be living their best lives. I’m never eating chicken again, I told myself as I sped up to get past the truck, but even in the moment I knew I didn’t mean it. 

Over the years, we’ve cut way back on meat, red meat especially, and have tried to up the number of vegetarian dinners we eat over the course of the week. I have to admit that this past year has been a lot meatier, mostly because last summer we did some serious low carb eating for weight loss. Having (mostly) met our goals, it might be time to revisit how much meat we eat.

When conversations with Jen in Atlanta prompted you to explore veganism, I was fascinated. Kristin give up her tri-tips? But while over the years I’ve joined you on all sorts of interesting culinary and dietary adventures, this is one food journey you may have go on alone (well, alone with Gary).

It’s true, neither Clifton or I do much dairy. We don’t drink milk, and when I started intermittent fasting three years ago, I said goodbye to half and half and learned to drink my coffee black. There’s not a lot of recreational cheese eating around here except during the holidays. 

But we’re both meat-eaters and will most likely remain so. I do worry about animal welfare, so my focus over the last couple of years has been to find ways to source our meat locally (or as locally as possible). I buy chicken that was raised on a farm outside of Winston-Salem (about an hour away from here) and get much of my red meat through Firsthand Foods, which is a distributor for North Carolina farmers. It costs more, for sure, but a) I like supporting small farms; and b) it tastes really, really good. 

Over the years, I’ve come to believe that our individual dietary needs are more idiosyncratic than most nutritionists would have us believe. I seem to function better on a lower carb, higher protein diet. Sugar does all sorts of bad things to me–I don’t have to eat much to feel horrible, and if I overdo it by the tiniest margins my weight immediately goes up. Bread is also tricky, so I keep that to a minimum as well, usually only indulging on Saturday nights, which is our homemade pizza night. 

My current diet could use some tweaks. I’m definitely making a concerted effort these days to get more greens in on a daily basis. But I’m maintaining a weight that I’m happy with, and perhaps most importantly, I feel like most days I have a healthy relationship with food. Not all days–I still use food as a drug when I feel stressed–but most days. This comes after a lifetime of dieting, which as you know, messes with your head. 

So, while veganism strikes me as an attractive option for all kinds of reasons, I know that putting restrictions on what I can eat (even sugar) is not an option for me. That’s why I like your exploratory approach to veganism–you’re not saying you’ll never eat meat or dairy again. You’re just trying to increase the number of plant-based meals you eat over the course of the week. I’m looking forward to seeing where it leads you–and to getting some tasty vegan recipes in the meantime.


Dear Frances,

I couldn’t agree more that different things work for different people when it comes to diet. And some of us have more baggage around it than others (ahem). Last week I mentioned that Jen inspired Gary and me to watch the documentary Forks Over Knives, which presents a very compelling case for the health benefits of veganism. Before we even watched it, Gary admitted that he was feeling conflicted about how meat is raised in this country and that we should think about cutting back. After many years of trying to eat a “lower carb” diet (if not actually low carb), we had really fallen into a “meat and veggie” style of eating.

I had assumed that now that it’s just the two of us, we would start buying higher quality meat (local, free-range, grass-fed, etc.), but somehow I haven’t taken that step. It’s just so easy to keep doing what we’ve done for so many years—buy our meat at Costco. I really admire that you have overcome this hurdle and buy locally-raised meat.

Since changes are so much easier to make when both of us are on board, I said, “OK, let’s commit to eating a vegetarian dinner 3-4 nights a week, and when we feel like we have a good repertoire, we can think about increasing that.” That plan has been working surprisingly well, at least for the last two weeks! I’m excited about digging further into my favorite cookbook, Moosewood Cooks at Home, and adding to the dozen or so recipes that are currently in the rotation. There are still a lot of recipes to explore! Cauliflower Paprikash! Chickpea and Artichoke Heart Stew!

I also dug out Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison (another of my vegetarian gurus, along with Molly Katzen). When Chloe went through her vegetarian phase early in her college years, this cookbook was a savior. It’s a treasure trove of delicious meals. And of course, there is the internet! No shortage of inspiration there!

As if that was not challenging enough, I remembered a book that I read many years ago called Vegan Before Six by Mark Bittman. I’m sure you know that Bittman is a food writer (How to Cook Everything, among many others). About ten years ago, he wrote Vegan Before Six because when he turned 57, his doctor told him that many of his labs were going in the wrong direction. (Coincidentally, this blog post is going live on my 57th birthday!) His blood sugar was high, his cholesterol was high, and he was about forty pounds overweight. His doctor could have put him on medication but instead told him, “you should be vegan”. But as a food writer, Bittman looked for a compromise. He decided to be a strict vegan before dinner—eschewing not only animal products but ultra-refined foods and alcohol. After 6 pm, he could eat whatever he wanted. The fact that the rules let up every evening helped him stay the course during the day. Of course, over time, healthier choices made their way into the evening meal. But the rule was that he could eat whatever he wanted. Ultimately, the experiment worked, and his weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol all got back into normal ranges.

There are a few things that appeal to me about this. I already do intermittent fasting–so I really only need to be vegan for one meal a day! How hard could that be? I also don’t really want to be vegan full-time, so the fact that anything goes for dinner helps with the mental aspect. Right now I’m experimenting with a Vegan Before Six diet with plenty of vegetarian dinners each week. Lunches are a little tricky since I can’t always rely on leftovers anymore. But I’m learning what I need to keep in the fridge to make lunches easier, like plenty of salad fixings, and the components for grain bowls (brown rice, veggies, and a delicious sauce).

The fun part is that the rules loosen up at dinner! I will not be giving up my tri-tip, thank you very much! Ben came home last weekend, and we made some very nice burgers with goat cheese and caramelized onions on brioche buns. They were delicious! And I really appreciated it because I know it’s now a rare treat. (I just didn’t get to eat the leftovers, which was a little disappointing.)

I’ve flirted with both veganism and vegetarianism at various points in my life for one reason or another, but it never stuck for the long term. A big part of that was cooking for a family and trying to please five people, including two active boys. I would have had a much harder time with these changes when the boys were both at home. I think it will be a lot easier in these empty nest years.

Maybe experimenting with this new style of eating will give me the health benefits I’m looking for without deprivation. The key word here is “experimenting”. Really my goal is to just lean more toward a whole-foods plant-based diet. But I’m keeping an open mind. I’m reminded of that Michale Pollan quote on how to eat: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I love that as a measuring stick. I’ll keep you posted! (And thanks for the inspiration Jen!)


  • Audrey

    Firstly, Happy Birthday, Kristin!

    I’m a Michael Pollen fan too (sometimes). I like his quote, “If it’s a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.” This most Times resonates with me and something we do try to follow.

    Cutting out foods groups or sub-groups hasn’t worked for me, but sometimes I go back and give it another try. I tried to keep a balance of all things good, but know that our time on earth is short so there’s that! I don’t like tracking everything or restricting myself. Making me having to battle the 7-10# I’ve had with me for too long bothersome.

    I’m going to end with balance being key for me. My husband is much older than I am and I may have a different take on the “life is short” thought.

    Another interesting post, Thank You Both.

    • Kristin

      Thanks Audrey! I agree that balance is key! I think that looks different for some people. I have found that what works in one season doesn’t necessarily work in another. The first time I tried intermittent fasting it didn’t work at all! But I tried it again a few years later and it was easy! But I think we can all agree that eating lots of plants is a good thing. 🙂

  • Robin Leftwich

    Happy Birthday, Kristin!
    We are sort of drifting into eating less red meat, almost never have it. My son is really into nutrition and I make a lot of pastas for him, but healthy pastas. We do eat a lot of chicken, but I try to get free range and organic. And always get cage free eggs. My husband hates fish but could live on lox and bagels. I eat their leftovers and feel like a short order cook!
    Since we are retired, tho, we have a different pattern of eating. A substantial breakfast, then an early dinner. I like it!
    Have a good week.

    • Kristin

      Thanks Robin! Isn’t it interesting how our patterns of eating change in different seasons of life! When the kids were little we ate early, when they were teens it moved later to accommodate activities, and now I feel it drifting earlier again. I’m a little surprised, given where we live, that there are not better choices for locally grown meat around here!

  • Bekah

    For a variety of reasons, I had made the goal to eat more nutrient dense foods as well as more protein last fall. This means more dairy and meat for me. I have felt really good since I made this decision, and have found myself reaching less and less for ‘junk’ foods or foods that just do not hold much nutrient value. It hasn’t felt like a diet, because I haven’t cut anything out. It’s been the opposite, I have added more things in. But I’m doing so, the unhealthy foods I had been drawn to have not found their way back to my pantry or fridge. I have been reading a lot about how meat and dairy have been raised, and those chicken trucks are such a sad sight. We have access to many local farms in our area, so finding well raised meats has not been difficult.
    I think it’s good that each person explores what works with and for their bodies. We are all unique individuals, and I can’t imagine that one size fits all approach really works for all.
    Happy Eating 😊

    • Frances

      I really like this approach, Bekah! I feel like I’ve let some junk creep back into my diet recently, and I’m trying to cut it out again. Would someone please remind me in December that the less I indulge over the holidays, the fewer bad habits I’ll have to break (yet again) in the new year?

  • Debbie

    Your comment about making meals that included two active boys reminded me about a story my friend told me. When her boys were little she thought she would try to have a few meals a week that didn’t include meat. The first night she tried this her five year old looked around the table and said, “Where’s the meat?!” Her two boys wanted their meat for dinner! 🤣🤣

  • Tracie

    Happy birthday, Kristin!

    I grew up on a farm in the 1960s when everyone raised their own meat, dairy, vegetables, and fruit. Now I’m back in cattle country where I daily hear and see herds of cattle grazing in beautiful pastures. I think that it’s a luxury to be able to choose what foods we eat, and I’m very thankful that I have a choice!

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