@

One morning in early September I developed a small pain in my left foot while walking in to work. It felt like nothing more than one of the brief aches a habitual ambulator like myself occasionally experiences, and I figured it would subside after I’d sat at my desk for a bit. I was wrong. By mid-afternoon the pain was so intense I couldn’t keep a shoe on without wanting to scream. Aside from some very slight swelling above the arch there was nothing visibly wrong, but what felt alarmingly like a protrusion of bone had formed just under the skin. The slightest touch on the area sent fresh lancets of pain up my leg.

A friend drove me to an urgent care clinic after work, where the doctor on duty gently poked and prodded at my foot while I flinched and yelped. After x-rays and a blood test he concluded that the bones were fine, and diagnosed my ailment as a sprain of the joint between the metatarsals, exacerbated by a slight excess in body fat. He gave me a prescription for anti-inflammatories and some information on joint pain and sent me hobbling on my way.

Though I was relieved not be to suffering from something more severe, the treatment was hardly the cure I was hoping for. The medication (2400 milligrams of high-grade ibuprofen daily) did little for my immediate pain and, as an initial side effect, gave me indigestion and some deeply strange dreams. The only shoes I could wear with any degree of comfort were my Converse Chuck Taylors, but walking anywhere, for any length of time, continued to hurt. Despite this I started hitting the gym with regularity, as losing weight was an imperative part of my recovery; with some disciplined exercise and calorie-cutting I dropped about eighteen pounds between my initial diagnosis and the end of October. Until I became acclimated to the pain, that first week on the elliptical was a study in agony.

It worked, to a degree. The swelling subsided some, as did the pain. But not enough, and after seven weeks I went to my primary care physician for a follow-up exam. She concurred with the urgent care doc’s diagnosis, though she had me leave another blood sample with the lab for comparative analysis.

She contacted me less than a day later with the test results and a new diagnosis. My foot pain hadn’t been due to an injury, but rather was a symptom of a larger issue: hyperuricemia, elevated levels of uric acid in my bloodstream due to my kidney’s failure to excrete it out properly. These elevated levels can – and in my case, did – cause an attack of gout.

Uric acid is a waste product created by the digestion of purine; uric acid levels in the body are raised by the consumption of high-purine foods: meat, certain types of seafood, fructose, and alcohol. No problem for a normal renal system, which then filters it out, but with an under-performing one like mine, the leftover uric acid crystallizes in the joints and tendons. In the majority of cases hyperuricemia is genetic, so while the symptoms are preventable, there is no cure.

This diagnosis meant that I had to make some lifestyle changes, and quickly. Unless I want to suffer another one of these attacks, I have to switch to low-purine diet, meaning that I am now, for all intents and purposes, a vegetarian, and quite possibly a sober one at that.

This, to use the vernacular of our times, really fucking sucks the big one.

It’s been about a month now since I received this diagnosis, and my emotional response has alternately been one of depression and one of resentment, both due to my body having made such a determination without my input. At the risk of sounding petulant, the entire matter struck me as simply unfair; I was already exercising regularly, had been cutting back my meat consumption, and have never been a particularly heavy drinker. For fuck’s sake, I didn’t even start drinking until a few weeks shy of my twenty-first birthday.

I was in too much of a funk to even write for a while, and turned my attention instead to researching my affliction. There’s a maddening amount of conflicting information on gout nutrition out there, and parsing through it just increased my depression even more; the websites of major medical institutions like Kaiser-Permanente, Johns-Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic all contradict each other. Plus, there’s no way to determine what specifically triggered my attack, as unlike an allergy, there’s no clinical test for susceptibility. Tolerances vary from person to person, so avoiding an attack is pretty much an all-or-nothing deal.

It could be worse, I know; as annoying as it is, hyperuricemia isn’t fatal, and once my foot heals won’t impair my day-to-day activities. And technically speaking, I do have a choice in the matter: I can keep eating what I want, as long as I’m willing to live with the pain. But that doesn’t really amount to much of a choice, does it?

Understand that I have nothing against the vegetarian lifestyle, save for a small measure of scorn reserved for those who embrace it solely because it’s currently trendy to do so (this is exponentially increased in the case of trendy vegans). Several near and dear friends – not to mention a couple of past girlfriends – are vegetarian, and out of respect I’ve generally abided by their diet when around them. But I’ve never wanted to be one, cheerfully preferring the options available to me as a dedicated omnivore. Hell, I’ll admit it: I really, really enjoy eating meat. I can’t look at a pig without craving bacon.

Ultimately though, I’m too much of a Darwinist at heart; adapt, or die.

It’s been an uphill battle so far, mostly because the learning curve is pretty steep, and I’m proving to be a genuinely terrible vegetarian. I’ve never really cared much for vegetables, and know almost nothing about creating a balanced meal out of them. I make salads so dull even rabbits find them uninteresting, and a couple of weekends ago I managed to create an inedible mess out of a very straightforward recipe for butternut squash soup. My digestive system, long accustomed to extracting nutrition from bits of dead animal, is only begrudgingly adjusting to the increased amounts of plant matter I’m now consuming.

I’d be in even more dire straits if I weren’t graced with some very cool, very generous vegetarian friends both locally and abroad, all of whom went above and beyond in response to my clarion call for aid, providing me with advice, recipes, cookbooks, and some much-needed moral support. Thanks to them I now have a small (but expanding) repertoire of dishes that I enjoy eating, and have so far managed to avoid malnutrition.

I do have some flexibility in my diet: eggs are fine, and low-fat dairy is encouraged, as lactose helps neutralize the presence of uric acid. It also looks as if white fish such as mahi mahi and cod might be safe, though the ever-present threat of mercury poisoning that comes with eating too much seafood still remains. Recent research suggests that white meat poultry might be all right, if servings are kept small and infrequent – say, five ounces or less twice a week, though again this varies from person to person.

I’m not going to chance it, however, as I hope that by going the full vegetarian route I can continue to enjoy the occasional drink. I genuinely enjoy the taste of beer, and I live in a city that has seen a massive rise in excellent microbreweries in the last decade; to cut myself off from enjoying their wares just seems masochistically cruel.

And, more importantly, I’m not going to push the threshold of my diet because I’m still in pain. Three months have passed and my foot is not healing correctly. The initial teeth-clenching hurt has diminished but never completely dissipated, and the mysterious bony protrusion remains. The recent seasonal drop in temperature has caused the joint to ache in a myriad of new and unpredictable ways, and on the worst days, I limp. My doctor has effectively shrugged her shoulders and referred me to a specialist, who is not available to see me until two days before Christmas.

I’ve become acclimated to this ever-present pain, but I’m weary of it, and I’m beyond ready to wear shoes other than my Converse. If giving up meat – and if necessary, even alcohol – is what it takes, then so be it. I’ll take my place among the herbivorous, begrudgingly though it may be.

I really am going to miss bacon.

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Matthew Baldwin MATTHEW BALDWIN is a writer, martial artist and all-around misanthrope living in San Diego, California. He's published fiction and poetry in several small literary journals, most of which went out of business soon after. Make of that what you will. He currently holds a fourth-degree black belt in karate, a B.A. from the University of California and an M.F.A. from the University of New Orleans. In his free time he serves as a professional martial arts instructor, working mostly with teenagers. He's currently at work on both a first and second novel, and can be followed/harrassed on Twitter. And please, call him Matt.

106 Responses to “The Reluctant Herbivore”

  1. Dana says:

    And that my friend, is why I eat Fake-on. (It’s an acquired taste though.)

    Soyrizo is my savior. For a super simple (+tasty+filling meal) prepare a box of Zatarain’s (or your favorite) rice and beans and when it’s done stir in half a package of soyrizo. “Recipe” courtesy of Joe Daly.

    Good luck Matt! Hope you’re feeling better soon.

    • Matt says:

      I haven’t tried any of the faux-meats yet, as I think they’d probably just be a grim reminder of what I can no longer eat. Best to stick with actual ingredients that I cook and prepare myself, at least for now. I am learning some interesting stuff to do with tofu, though.

      Yeah, Joe was one of the people who helped me out, and he sang the virtues of soyrizo. I’ll give it a try on of these days.

      • Tawni says:

        The cool thing about the sausage-type faux-meat products is that they can use all of the same herbs that make sausage taste good. Since sausage is all about the spices, they’re pretty close to the real thing. The Morning Star Farms breakfast patties make a decent “sausage” muffin too.

  2. Irene Zion says:

    Matt,

    I don’t believe your doctors.
    I usually don’t believe them unless they are specialists.
    You need to harass the desk person until they let you in sooner.
    This is untenable.

    On the bright side, there is a wondrously funny commercial for a gout medicine that has a guy walking everywhere with an enormous beaker, half his size, half full of splashing green liquid. The beaker has no top and it’s quite cumbersome. Then they show his toe all full of green liquid. I know it’s not always in your toe, but I don’t think you have gout.

    (But I’m certainly no doctor, I’m just lacking trust if the doctor doesn’t make your pain go away.)

    • Matt says:

      What do you expect? The American healthcare system is crap. My current provider (through work) is Keiser-Permanente, who won’t even let you make an appointment in person anymore; you have to do it with either an automated phone system or over the computer. I can’t even call my doctor directly, either, since they make us use a company-specific doctor/patient e-mail system to communicate with each other. If I actually DO harass a receptionist at a clinic, I’ll probably just get arrested.

      The only saving grace with KP is my copay is low, $15 per visit. But per clinic/lab visit, that’s still adding up fast.

      People keep telling me about that commercial, but I haven’t seen it. Can’t even find it on YouTube. That my attack WASN’T in my toe is one of the reasons it was wrongly diagnosed for so long.

  3. Tom Hansen says:

    Bummer dude. I’m a Darwinist too, and combine that with New Age crap and ignore ailments, trying to ‘think’ them away. Most of the time it doesn’t work. Actually I’m not sure about that, since I haven’t been to the doc in over a year. It didn’t work with my ‘Warthin’s tumor’ a benign thing that started growing on my neck. It didn’t work with my kidney stones either. Both were no fun lemme tell ya. The human body. What a mess. Luckily my ailments allow me to eat bacon still. Hang in there man

    • Matt says:

      I’ve been very lucky, health-wise, for most of my life. I’ve never broken a bone, have no allergies (that I know of) and have never had to be hospitalized. So this has been a double-dose of shock for me.

      Fun about hyperuricemia is, it can also cause kidney stones! And I’m honestly glad I discovered my condition before I passed one.

      • Tom Hansen says:

        Do you know how they get rid of kidney stones these days? They shoot you up with Propofol, that drug that Michael Jackson was hot on (and is very cool BTW) then they strap you onto a table that can raise and turn in the air, and then after you have semi-passed out they zap your side with sound waves something like 40,000 times to break the stone into dust.

        And for the next week you’re pissing blood and your side hurts like hell. And that doesn’t even take into account the flexible shunt they stick up your you know what to keep the passage clear so the stone fragments can pass, and which removal of hurts like hell too

  4. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Shocker indeed, and I can understand why you’d be upset. If there’s any good news, at least you found out rather quickly what you were dealing with.

    I’ve had enough bad experiences with allopathic medicine that I rely on it only for diagnosis, if even that. The body WANTS to be healthy, and there are lots of ways to get there. I’ve used the following book often: Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, now in its fifth edition. I cured/healed myself from hair loss (which two dermatologists said I couldn’t fix with diet and supplements and wanted me to go on Rogaine–they were wrong), bronchitis, and poison ivy, just to name a few. Frankly, I trust good reference books and my intuition to guide me.

    Hippocrates said, “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” Sounds like you’re doing just that.

    Oh, and as a vegetarian, I have some excellent recipes. If you’re into ginger and miso or cilantro and lime, do I have some goodies…

    • Matt says:

      I have an averse reaction to the notion of being on daily medication, which many gout sufferers are, frequently for the rest of their lives. And which my doctor wanted to go ahead and put me on as soon as those second lab results came in. I said, “No. Not yet.”

      I wasn’t terribly thrilled that they misdiagnosed me, to be honest, especially since no one bothered to extract any fluid from the injury site and test it, which would have been a dead give-away right off the bat.

      I’m still figuring out exactly what I like or can eat (discovered the hard way: more than 1/4 of an avocado gives me indigestion), so please, send on as may recipes as you like. I need ‘em.

  5. Slade Ham says:

    I can say with absolute certainty that if I were told I could only eat vegetarian from here forward, I would be dead in seven days.

    Or however long the body can live without food.

    Ugh, dude. Ugh.

  6. Jessica Blau says:

    Bum-mer! I know that people who love meat, really, really love meat. I think I would feel the way you feel if I were told I couldn’t eat cheese. I love cheese. And bread.

    I didn’t eat meat as a child. Ever. Just hated it. Still don’t like it. Not vegetarian, just flat-out don’t like meat. Unless it’s disguised as something else. Like a Slim Jim. Hmm hmm. Love to have me a good Slim Jim!

    • Matt says:

      Lucky me, cheese is OK, though I’d better stick with non-processed whole cheese.

      One of the things those websites were in contention about was whole wheat. One would say to avoid whole wheat because of its purine content and to eat only refined grains, another would say NO, it’s refined grain that’s bad, whole wheat is good. A massive scientific survey in 2004-2005 showed that the “whole wheat is bad for you” bit was a total myth. Yippee!

      With all the chemical additives, I’m not sure a Slim Jim even counts as actual meat. Hey! Maybe that means I could eat one!

  7. Gloria says:

    Like I said – there are some great vegetarian recipes. Imma collect a bunch of them and send them.

    I’m sorry you have to give up bacon, but I’m stoked that you get to keep on living.

    Feel better, man!

    • Matt says:

      I dunno. I think the whole dietary switch-over has bollocksed up my immune system. I’ve caught a really nasty cold that I just cannot shake.

      Yes, please, send me recipes!

  8. Morning Star Farms makes amazing fake bacon – our kids actually ask for it!

    It takes a while to find what you’d like to eat without meat. You have to experiment.
    I have some great lentil recipes that at Totally Killer Greg loves.
    I was a vegetarian for years – I started eating meat more when Greg and I started up.
    But now, we don’t have meat very much – mostly fish.

    Anyway – good luck to you -can I still send you pumpkin bread? There’s no meat in it.

    • Ugh – I sound like an infomercial for Morning Star Farms – but it’s true!

      • Tawni says:

        I love all of the Morning Star Farms products too! I’ll be in the infomercial with you. (:

      • My kids love the Morningstar fake sausage patties. LOVE them. They used to like the links, too, but the patties have won out. The corndogs from Trader Joe’s (soy) are really good, too, and normally, I wouldn’t like stuff like that. They truly are decent.

        • Tawni says:

          Sooooo good. I like them with maple syrup. YUM. (:

        • Matt says:

          Ah, but I have to be careful about the syrup, as a lot of it contains the dreaded HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, and fructose is now even worse for me than it was before. Luckily, the Trader Joe’s brand doesn’t have any, though it will go bad real quick if you don’t refrigerate it.

        • Tawni says:

          No, REAL maple syrup, I meant. I avoid HFCS too. Blech. That shit is in everything.

          I miss Trader Joe’s so much. They make healthful food shopping so much easier. *sobs*

    • Matt says:

      People keep pimping Morning Star at me, so I guess I’ll have to give their stuff a try.

      I doubt a loaf of pumpkin bread will survive longer than an hour in a room with me.

      And I love lentils. Luckily!

      • I have a great sweet potato, lentil, kale recipe.
        Also a lentil, red pepper, feta cheese one – let me know if you want them.

        • Matt says:

          Yes, please. Send ‘em all.

          I’m still in the experimentation phase, figuring out exactly what I like & don’t, so I’m trying out all sorts of different recipes. It’s a good thing I like to cook!

          One upside to all this: I’m mostly buying nothing but fresh vegetables from the store now, which is a lot cheaper than meat and processed food. It just doesn’t keep as long.

    • Amber says:

      I can attest to the awesomeness of Morningstar Farms. My husband is highly carnivorous and prefers the Morningstar sausages and bacon to the meaty kind. Even my step-son loves them. They are truly tasty. And expensive enough that you aren’t tempted to overeat.

  9. Greg Olear says:

    As a guy who also has a problem with pain in the foot — my right “great” toe has decided to fuse itself to the bone, resulting in a ridge of solid stuff beneath the skin — and a guy who loves a good burger, you have my sympathies.

    I recommend reading FAST FOOD NATION again, just to get in the spirit. And stay away from all that faux-bacon crap…you’re better off eating Indian food and other ethnic cuisine that comes from a vegetarian tradition (Steph’s recipe, above, rocks). That’s what I’d do, anyway.

    Feel better, and take heart.

    • Matt says:

      Ahhh, I know someone else that happened to. Really damned painful.

      I miss burgers. I’m hoping, once everything is resolved, I can treat myself to the occasional meat on special occasions. A double-double from In-N-Out once a year on my birthday, for instance.

      Strange that you mention Fast Food Nation, as I’m about 100 pages into The Omnivore’s Dilemma right now, and I watched the documentary based on Schlosser and Pollon’s work, Food, Inc right before this happened. That movie made me want to give up eating entirely.

      I’m learning a great deal about nutrition – not to mention the American agricultural system – but I’ve had to hit the ground running here, and it’s sure a lot to take in.

      Three weeks until my specialist’s appointment. Keeping my fingers crossed…

  10. You can’t beat the smell of bacon first thing in the morning. Mmm. Good stuff. Ever read Diet for a New America by John Robbins? I was 80% vegetarian for two years after reading that. I need to read it again for the inspiration. If you want a hearty salad though, add some raw, unsalted almonds. Heck, add them to your spaghetti or pasta. They go great with about everything. I eat 1 1/2 cups per day.

    • Matt says:

      Poppa Jethro (Daddy Pillow?),

      No, I haven’t read that, but as I mentioned to Greg above, I’m currently reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I’ll add Robbins’ book to my reading list, for sure.

      I’ve become all about the nuts. Almonds, peanuts, cashews. Adding them to just about everything. A friend gave me a recipe for a really good homemade peanut sauce pad thai, which I’ve made twice now and really enjoy.

      • “I’ve become all about the nuts.”

        That’s what she said.

        Nutella is one sweet spread. If you’re a chocolate and nut butter fiend like myself, you’ll love that.

        re Diet for a New America: Robbins was ahead of the game on exposing what really goes down on factory farms in the U.S. His book makes the doc Food, Inc. look like child’s play. I need to read it again myself. It totally screwed with my head years ago when I read it. I was oblivious to the food and ag biz then.

        re The Omnivore’s Dilemma: I might have to check that out. I’m always up for questioning my dietary/health and well-being habits.

        - PJ/DP

        • Matt says:

          I love Nutella, possibly a bit too much. Whenever I have a jar of it in the house, I find an excuse to put it on EVERYTHING. Spread on toast. As a dip for pretzels and chips. Even a spoonful mixed in with my breakfast cereal. It’s like spreadable, yummy crack.

  11. Don Mitchell says:

    Matt, when you lived in Hawai’i, did you try poi? Liked it? It’s very nutritious and I’d guess that it’s benign. Yeah, it’s an acquired taste.

    See if you can find some taro, also called yautia, in the market. Bake it as you’d bake a potato. It’s very dense and it fills you up. If you don’t overcook it, you need a knife to cut it. Vegetarian foods aren’t all soft or leafy. Well, of course not. But most of us, when thinking vegetarian, think salads and the like.

    I just finished David Mitchell’s latest (“The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet”) in which one of the semi-bad guys (a British sea captain) is troubled by gout. At least no one was bleeding you.

    I have a great udon-tofu salad that isn’t mine, but I’ve made it so many times I think it is. I have the receipe typed up and can send it to you if you want. Or, you could buy “Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home,” which is where I found it. That’s a great vegetarian cookbook.

    • Matt says:

      I tried poi, yes, and I remember not liking it, but then I was a stupid teenager back then and a much picky eater. I’d certainly try it again.

      I’ll keep an eye out for taro/yautia. We’ve got a lot of specialty markets here, so I might be able to find it. Is it anything like sweet potato? Those used to be one of my most hated foods as a child, but I’m really falling in love with them now.

      I’m in some famous company with the gout sufferers, at least: Teddy Roosevelt, Benjamin Franklin, Richard V, Otto von Bismark, Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex…

      The Moosewood books have come highly recommended; I’m planning on buying one as sound as I have the funds available.

      • Don Mitchell says:

        Taro isn’t much like sweet potato.

        Sweet potato is Ipomoea batatas . There are many varieties. The one you’re most likely to find in the US is the yellow-fleshed soft one — these are the ones people feed you at Thanksgiving, baked in the oven. They are often called “yams,” but they aren’t. If you like those, fine. But I’m suggesting you might like the purple-fleshed ones, or the white-fleshed ones. These are often boiled, but they can be sliced and stir-fried, or roasted. They are dense, unlike the yellow-fleshed ones. If you have a market with a Caribbean section, you’re likely to find them and they might be called “batata.”

        True yams, of the genus Dioscorea are hard to find in the continental US. I’m sure that Uche knows various West African names for them and can tell you what to ask for — if you can find a W African market. They are really tasty, but they tend to be large (in some parts of the Pacific, people grow them to be as large as a person, shades of pumpkin-growing contests here).

        There are several kinds of taro, most commonly in the genus Colocasia . The classic is the Polynesian taro. I mentioned yautia, which is actually Xanthosoma and is also sometimes called “Hong Kong taro.” It’s much easier to find than regular taro, but that might not be true for San Diego. Any place you have a Polynesian population you should be able to find it. I like to roast the corms in the oven. It takes longer than you might think. You can mostly roast them and then slice and used in stir-fry.

        I think the best root crop meal I ever ate was taro lovingly roasted in an open fire by an old woman.

        Why am I nattering on about these things? Not just because you should be introduced to new root crops, but because I’ve been working on material from my old fieldwork among sweet potato, yam, and taro growers. Some anthropologists do fancy symbolic cultural anthropology. Me, one thing I did was count and weigh more than 100,000 sweet potatoes, one by one, over the course of a year, in order to quantify agricultural production. It was not unpleasant.

        • Matt says:

          This is pretty interesting, actually.

          There’s a local market right near my hosue that sells both sweet potatoes and what they’ve labeled as yams, so I hope they’re true yams. I’ll have to buy some and give them a try. And will definitely hunt around for yaro.

  12. Aaron Dietz says:

    Can you eat those fake meat alternatives? Like the fake bacon from Morning Star? Or the fake chicken-y stuff from Quorn? Those Quorn products are amazing. Of course, I haven’t really had meat for over 10 years, so my taste assessment could just be lack of experience.

    If anything, at least you can rub it in people’s faces if they try to make fun of you for being a vegetarian. You really DO have health reasons for doing this. Immediate and convincing reasons that most of us don’t have.

    • Matt says:

      Yeah, for the last couple weeks when I’ve mentioned I’ve gone vegetarian, an exchange like the following happens:

      “What?! What the hell’s that all about, dude?”

      “Kidney problems.”

      “…oh.”

      I haven’t really tested the waters with the meat substitutes yet. I have to be careful with the processed food, as high concentrations of fructose (in just about everything sold in the states) causes uric acid as well. Luckily, I’d developed a taste for veggie burgers before this happened, so I’ve got that going, too.

      • Aaron Dietz says:

        At least you can survive in most brew-pubs, then. The ones that have veggie burgers, anyway.

        You won’t be too crippled socially that way. Maybe this sounds funny coming from a guy who weighs 145 on a good day, but I always breathe a sigh of relief when I show up somewhere where I’ll be hanging out for a few hours and I know there’s a veggie burger or some other option available. I need to eat often or I will die. Or else blow away in a wind.

        • Matt says:

          One lucky part of living in SoCal is just about every place you go to has a vegetarian option, so the odds of my starving while out & about are slim.

          145? Whatever you do, never, ever stand in front of the amps at a heavy metal show. One strum of a power chord will likely blow you into orbit.

  13. Zara Potts says:

    A few years ago, I would have sworn I wouldn’t have been able to do without a good rare steak – but these days I very rarely eat it. I think it’s just a matter of getting used to it. The same with milk. When I started drinking low fat milk, I couldn’t stand it – it tasted like water to me. Now, if I taste full cream milk, it tastes like it is rotten and I can’t stand it.
    But, yes. It’s shitty when you are TOLD that you can’t or shouldn’t do/eat something. It only makes you want it more. I’m sorry about the gout – that is not fun at all. However, as you mention in your piece, people live with chronic disease and illness every day and it’s just a matter of adjusting to it. But still, it sucks. No argument from me.
    I must send you those recipes I told you about!!!

    • Matt says:

      I was talking about this with a friend the other night, and one of the things I realized is one of the big reasons – if not THE big reason – this was so upsetting is it’s the first real sign about what age might do to my body…much more so than the white hairs I found in my beard this summer. It’s a pretty firm reminder of my own mortality, more a blow with a hammer than a slap in the face.

      I’m drinking more milk now than I have in years. It’s becoming my best friend. Yogurt, too, which has become my go-to snack food. Couple of scoops in a bowl, but some grapes, cherries or blueberries on top….good stuff.

      You must! Every day you don’t, I die just a little bit more.

  14. Dude. Bacon and alcohol?

    My sympathies run deeper than if you had told me a pet had died.

    My sister is a dietician. Registered nutritionist. Something like that. She’s very smart about foods and the like, works with various programs to design menus. She eats stuff like Chik’n and Fak’n and other things with apostrophes that approximate other foodstuffs, and she doesn’t drink much except some fruit wines.

    And she seems really happy.

    (Sorry. I figured I should say somethinghopeful to ameliorate the idea of giving up bacon and alcohol. I hope it worked.)

    • Matt says:

      Yup. Bacon and alcohol. And most especially, bacon-flavored alcohol! No more pork daiquiris for me!

      Aside from my foot (and this lingering cold) the rest of my body is getting healthier. As I say, I dropped a lot of weight, though I’ve put a little back on since I added weights back into my workout. Drop 18 pounds of fat, put on five pounds of muscle? Fair trade.

      But goddamn, I’d rip the throat out of a living pig with my teeth right now if I could.

  15. D.R. Haney says:

    I’m with everyone who’s said they can’t live without meat, though I limit myself as much as possible to poultry. I don’t trust red meat, with all of the hormones pumped into it, though every once in a while I go for a steak or some such.

    And then there’s alcohol. Everything bad that was ever said about alcohol turns out to have been true. When I stop drinking, the weight immediately starts to fall off. When I have a few drinks, it shows in the mirror the next morning. It’s fucking poison, and it fogs my brain and dulls my senses, yet it’s hard for me to go entirely with it. I notice that people in New York — my friends who live there, at least — have a healthier relationship with alcohol than the people I know in L.A. It’s better integrated into social life. People stop off at a bar on the way home from work, have a beer, and that’s it. I see more drinking to excess out here, though, again, that may be a reflection of the company I’ve kept.

    Good luck with the bans. You’re a braver man than I.

    • I will agree with the “alcohol is poison” idea. I drink very, very little really–but if I have two glasses of red wine (not big glasses, short pours), then the next day I have horrendous dark circles under my eyes. It is not worth it. I think about “clean” drinks now–vodka, perhaps. I make beer sometimes, but I only have one when I drink it.

      Anyway–for what that’s worth. It does show in the mirror. When you get to a certain age, you decide you don’t want to look any older, if possible.

      Best,

      Liz

    • Matt says:

      Part of dealing with this has been coming to grips with how large a percentage of my diet meat previously constituted. Far, far more than I would have guessed.

      If you can find a place around you that sells it, you might want to look into bison (www.healthybuffalo.com). It’s grass-fed instead of corn-fed (most domestic cows are, which is actually toxic to them, and by extention, us), and very low on fat and cholesteral content. Comparable to poultry in terms of healthiness.

      Yeah, alcohol’s no good. I’ve never really been more than a social drinker, and aside from a few social binges, am not really given to drinking to excess. I’d rather order a beer I enjoy the taste of and nurse it for a while than get completely blotto. My tolerance has always been low, and is now ever lower for my having abstained for several months. Simon and Zara could probably drink me under the table with ease. They very nearly did, if memory serves.

      • Richard Cox says:

        You’re still sticking with that story, despite vehement denials from our friends Down Under, eh? Hahaha.

        • Zara Potts says:

          HOW MANY TIMES… Etc etc.
          Matt, for the final time – Simon and I are total lightweights. TOTAL LIGHTWEIGHTS.
          The end.

  16. Simone says:

    Matt, I think you and I have been hobbling around in pain on our left feet/ankles for more or less the same time, for different reasons of course. But in the interim your situation is far more dire than mine. I’m sorry that life has slapped you with a reality cheque without any warning.

    There’s a recipe book that’s on its way to you. I posted it off at the same time I sent your drawing. So keep an eye out for it. It’ll be great for getting creative in the kitchen!

    ***

    “We’re the only creature God ever created that doesn’t want to adapt. We want to make it stand still. And one thing that’s constant is nature is constantly changing. ” -Don Young

  17. I had a similar issue after a visit to the doctor where my blood pressure was higher than it should be for a fellow my age. He told me to watch the alcohol and red meat. While I haven’t cut either out completely I did drastically reduce my consumption and added a lot more fresh vegetables, nuts and grains to my diet. I have to say that my general sense of well-being has improved since. So you have at least that to look forward to.

    Good luck and stay healthy. Meanwhile, there’s always ganja. I’ve heard that does a body good.

    • Matt says:

      Wait just a damned minute – aren’t you French now? Aren’t the French famous for being able to eat/drink/smoke whatever they want and still be healthy – and their total disdain for those who can’t? Does not compute.

      I think my body is still pushing out all the various chemical residue that comes from being carnivorous, and adapting to getting it’s protein from things like nuts and soybeans. I’m sure I’ll feel better once all is said and done. At least, I damn well hope so.

      • I believe the doctor over here told me to lay off white wine, but that red and porto were, of course, fine. He stopped just short of prescribing a nice beaujolais.

        I think I’m still evacuating the high-fructose corn syrup from my body that I ingested for the first thirty years of my life. When you’re away from US food for awhile and then come back to it, you immediately notice the taste and texture that this substance creates. And as you mentioned to someone above, it’s in everything. Take baby food for instance, the pureed peas over here taste and look like peas mashed with a spoon. In the US the Gerber pureed peas have that unmistakable glaze to them. So here’s to being done with our contribution to the corn lobby.

        • Matt says:

          Haha, I’d love to see someone walk out of a doctor’s office with a medically-prescribed bottle of wine.

          I actually made the descision to go cold turkey on HFCS about this time last year. I tossed everything in my kitchen that had it as an ingredient (which was about 99% of the food in the house) and started buying my groceries from places that didn’t use it. Within three days I was having what can only be described as withdrawl symptoms: rising & crashing energy levels, savage headaches, the shakes, massive gastrointestinal upset…it was deeply unpleasant, and quite frankly scared the shit out of me in terms of how our food/ food products effectively drug us. I’m glad I went through that back then, as I wouldn’t want to deal with it on top of figuring out vegetarianism.

  18. Simon Smithson says:

    On the plus side, I’ve heard that turning vegetarian unleashes a tidal wave of energy and vitality. Have you experienced anything like that?

    Also, man, my heart goes out to you. When your body turns against you… that’s always bad news.

    • Matt says:

      I’ve been fighting off a lingering, very nasty head cold for the last week, so energy & vitality are in short supply at the moment. Though losing all that weight has made me feel better, so there’s that.

      I promise you this much, though: when I finally make it down to Australia, I am going to eat the living hell out of a kangaroo steak, gout or no gout. And I’m going wash it down with a Blue Tongue.

  19. Oh my, I would be doomed doomed doomed if given this verdict. I attempted to be a vegetarian once, and then I realized you have to like vegetables to be a vegetarian.

    Sorry to hear this, though! Life-style overhauling medical news is rough. Best wishes adjusting and, most importantly, feeling better.

    My grandmother swore that a bar of Ivory soap (no other brand, mind you!) tucked under the sheets at the foot of one’s bed cured her gout ….

    • Matt says:

      Doomed? You mean like this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_49iNqxOnH4

      Yes, I’ve never like vegetables. Part of this process has been learning to embrace a food source I’ve long considered mostly abhorrent.

      It’s been interesting parsing through the various common-knowledge/folk remedies for gout. Don’t know about the Ivory soap one, but there’s medical evidence that cherries/cherry juice and coffee help combat the symptoms of an attack. Another one I’ve heard (but not tried) is soaking my foot in apple cider vinegar. Because quite frankly, ew.

  20. Tawni says:

    I am so, so sorry to hear about your slap in the face with mortality. You seem too young to be dealing with such a health issue. Stupid mortality! I’ve had a similar face slap for the last three months, dealing with peroneal tendonitis in my right foot, wearing the Aircast boot and doing physical therapy a few times a week. Apparently, if I exercise too hard and I’m OLD at the same time, I hurt myself now. Aging is so not cool.

    It sounds like you are handling the diagnosis really well and adapting beautifully, though. Is cheese okay? I’ve never been much of a meat fan, but eliminating cheese and bean burritos would be my dietary widow-maker. You will pry my bean burrito from my cold, dead hands.

    A tip for you if you take the leap into soy/textured vegetable protein/meat replacement products: don’t compare them to the meat they are supposedly replacing. Think of them as healthy, cholesterol-free, low-purine sources of protein. Give them their own categories in your head as you try them. It will be much less disappointing if you view them as new foods you’re trying, rather than replacements for the meats you can no longer eat.

    Sorry you’re hurtin’, brother. I hope your foot pain goes away quickly, along with the meat cravings. xoxo.

    P.S Thank you for not posting pictures. (:

    • Matt says:

      Ah, I had tendonitis in my right shoulder when I was fifteen. That shit hurt like hell, and for much of the time I couldn’t move my arm. Hope you recover soon!

      Aging blows. We really should just stop doing it.

      Cheese is OK, I just have to make sure it’s actual CHEESE, and not the processed stuff. I just have to be careful about quantity, as keeping my weight down is important as well.

      I’m saving the pictures for when I want your burrito. Because those’ll make you drop dead right away.

  21. Hey, Matt,

    My sympathies with the gout thing. Ouch! I always thought gout was due to drinking, but that shows what I know about it. I will have to do some research. I have right toe pain myself, sometimes, but I think it may be a bunion. Gout sounds far more painful.

    Now, having said that, can I recommend THE CHINA DIET (book)? If it’s good for former President Clinton (and you know that man loves a hamburger), it is good for you. It turned that man practically vegan and he lost a ton of weight. I almost think he looks a bit gaunt now, maybe, but at least he is much healthier.

    The most fabulous cookbook i’ve seen for vegetarian recipes is Deborah Madison’s…I think it’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.” Every dish I’ve made from that book has been extra-great. Try that, if you feel like cooking.

    As for bacon, well, even die-hard vegetarians cannnot resist bacon. If you don’t have it in your fridge or smell it cooking, you will be okay without it. Just like a breakup, you will someday forget.

    Best,

    Liz

    • Matt says:

      You know, I actually met Bill Clinton something like three days before he had the heart attack that led to him getting healthy. He was doing a signing at the book store I was working at at the time.

      Beer is one of the big causes of gout; the fermentation process with yeast causes the formation of purine, and excess drinking can set off an attack. One of the first things the urgent care doc asked me is if I’d been driking heavily the night before.

      I’ll look into those books.

  22. Joe Daly says:

    Matt,

    I give you mad amounts of props for making some pretty radical and difficult changes in your day to day. Even when I made a choice to go vegetarian, that first year was still beset with cravings for the carnivorous meals that I had enjoyed so much. The fact that this decision was effectively made for you is a bitter pill to swallow, indeed.

    That being said, it’s very cool to see that while you may not dig this current hand you’ve been dealt, you’re moving with solutions, reaching out to your friends, and not backing down from the more painful aspects of exercise. I’ve got to think this is going to serve you well.

    Hit me up when you’re looking for a new (and easy) recipe and I’ll be happy to send you some more ideas. Thankfully here in San Diego, we’ve always got a happy retreat with Mexican food.

    Rock on, Matt.

    • Matt says:

      Well, it’s do or die, yeah? And I’ve always held to the credo that if you’re going to do something, learn to do it right.

      More than just acclimating the taste, I think the biggest issue is rewiring my brain chemistry to eat this way. As I’ve been reading up on nutrition and the agriculture/agribusiness industry, one of the things I’m learning is how severely we’ve trained our brains to accept the chemical rewards of things like fats and sugars; hence why fats and sugars are in so much of the processed food available in the modern American gorcery store.

      Plus there’s the way my body stomach is adjusting to consuming so much veggies. Like, I know I’m getting all the nutrients from the tofu pad thai and rice I just ate, but I don’t physically feel full in the way a steak and mashed potatoes used to make me – even though I know that feeling isn’t something a healthy body should feel on a regular basis.

      Cheese enchiladas are lifesaver right now, for damn sure. And once the holiday nonsense is over I’m going to take the time to learn to cook Indian cuisine, which I’ve always liked, and is mostly vegetarian to begin with. You’ll have to swing by after I master whipping up some masala lentils and homemade tandoori naan.

  23. Jude says:

    Mortality. I was 26 when I confronted the big M. Diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, mum to 7 year old Zara. Not a great way to start the day! I realized at that point that most humans never get the chance to view their life as being finite unless afflicted by some disease, or god forbid, some nasty person or some whim of nature exerting some sort of crazy fuckedupness over you.

    The betrayal of the body is just that – a betrayal. I was a vegetarian when I was diagnosed. I lived what I thought was a very healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately my name came up from within the gene pool and when that happens, there isn’t a lot you can do about it, except accept. Acceptance is a great theory, but you know I still (after 30 years of living with this disease) feel a lot of dis-ease with it. I still hate it. I still get pissed off about ten million times a day… I still try to ease myself by telling myself to ‘accept’ it. I still get pissed off when I look around and see all the people who abuse their health, and nothing happens to them. I think it’s very ‘normal’ for every person who suffers from a chronic illness to often think ‘why me?’

    So when I feel that way, I have to take myself back to the time I was diagnosed, when I was in my hospital bed trying to come to terms with what I had just been told. I remember feeling very sorry for myself, until I had the epiphany that at least I didn’t have cancer, that at least with diabetes I had a chance. Ups and downs along a very bumpy road at times but you do it because it’s your body that you need to carry you on… I always think of it as I do a car. You need to put the right fuel in it that will help the car perform to the best of its ability. And you dear Matt, will have to find a diet that will suit you, and more importantly that you like. You can’t approach food with resentment – you have to enjoy what you’re eating, otherwise you’ll fade away into a little puff of smoke, and I don’t want that to happen to you.

    I came across a book the other day called “The Accidental Vegetarian” (great title), and from what I’ve seen of the recipes so far, they look delicious. I’m going to try a few this weekend. Bugger that you don’t like veges that much, but that may have more to do with the way you’ve previously had them. Perhaps a good recipe book may help.

    Matt, I am sorry to hear of your ailment. I wish you well and hope you will be bouncing around once again, painfree, on those little tootsies of yours.

    • Matt says:

      Yeah, Zara mentioned you diabetes in conversation once or twice. Major stink. I can say, in all sincerity, having tasted the wonderment of Pineapple Lumps and Buzz Bars, I don’t know if I could manage having it down there. I completely understand getting pissed off at the schlubs who are just taking their good health/dietary omnipotence for granted.

      It’s funny – I’ve had a few brushes with genuine death in my life, and I’d always thought they’d given me a healthy sense of my own mortality. Now I wonder if it wasn’t in face the opposite, if they weren’t actually reinforcing that my sense of immortality; “haha – I faced this and lived. I can do anything!”

      The “at leasts” are a comfort, if only sometimes a small one. My condition can cause kidney stones, and I’m really glad I didn’t discover I have it by passing one of those bastards. This would’ve been a vastly different essay if I had. But it’s hard not to be frustrated. Between this and the other genetic mutations that have popped up in my body – degenerative eyesight, the extra set of teeth – it’s a wonder I wasn’t born with a bifurcated penis.

  24. J.E. Fishman says:

    Nicely told, Matt. I once had a friend with gout. It’s not fun, but it can often be managed.

  25. Yeah, this is a bad hand to be dealt. I wonder if you will experience “Phantom Bacon” like people do when they lose a limb, having the sensation that it’s really still there. Not to make light, though. I empathize fully.

    • Matt says:

      I’m totally having Phantom Bacon Syndrome (PBS, not to be confused with that other one). My desk is not too far from the cafeteria at work, and I can smell them cooking breakfast every morning. That shit it haunting me.

  26. Sorry to hear about the problems, Matt. Next time you come to L.A. I’ll have to take you to M Cafe and treat you to the kale with peanut sauce. I’m telling you, after eating it you’ll feel pretty darn good about eating your veggies.

  27. Life is a cunt, huh? Between the ages of 17 and 23 I was pretty much in a lot of pain. I’ve never actually been able to put into words just how bad the pain sometimes got, and in my last few months in Scotland it was at its worst. I went to doctors in Scotland, America and Korea and everyone gave me the same story: Stop drinking.

    Problem was, I couldn’t stop drinking. Drinking killed the pain temporarily. Besides, if I didn’t drink I’d just be sitting at home on my own… in pain.

    Years and years of painkillers did little, but eventually I had a strange idea, gleaned from the internet: Don’t stop drinking alcohol; stop drinking coffee.

    And I’m cured. More or less. For one and a half years I’ve been doing well. The only time I’ve been in pain are those days after I lapse and drink coffee. Never thought I’d miss the stuff so much. It’s a lot harder to get up in the morning without it.

    But a life without pain is worth so much. Misery of agony is something you should do whatever it takes to avoid. Bacon is great and there are some decent fake meats out there. I personally love cooking and have found that it’s more fun to create crazy new meals with vegetables – who likes cutting up flesh and bone, anyway?

    Best of luck with your new found vegetarianism, dude. Get well. Stay well.

    • Matt says:

      Damn, man, that’s harsh. What sort of pain was it, if you don’t mind my asking?

      Makes me wonder if you have some sort of caffeine allergy. Funny enough, I avoided drinking coffee for over thirty years. Didn’t like the taste, and never had the interest in acquiring one. Turns out, the antioxidant properties of coffee (but not tea) help alleviate my symptoms. So I’ve been making myself drink a few cups a week. Still can’t get used to it, though.

  28. Matt, sorry to hear of all the pain and crappiness you’ve endured of late. Hope you continue to heal but that the rate speeds up and that the specialists determine the trigger and treatment conclusively. I eat a ton of veggies and, as your friends have advised, you’re going to find all sorts of tasty concoctions that boost your immunity and fit w/in your prescribed diet. The trial and error is the sucky part, but you’ll pull it off. Sending you the good thoughts.

    • Matt says:

      Thanks, Litsa.

      Luckily, I do like to cook and concoct my own recipes, so I’m happy this at least gives me the opportunity to learn to do some new things in the kitchen.

  29. J.M. Blaine says:

    I read somewhere that pain teaches
    us things
    but if you’ve ever had that kinda pain
    you know that whatever it is that you learn
    you can damned well live without.
    Screw pain.

  30. Richard Cox says:

    Man, I’m sorry to hear about your dietary challenges. A good steak with a few drinks is among life’s great pleasures. But being healthy is the most important pleasure. Good luck.

    • Matt says:

      “A good steak with a few drinks is among life’s great pleasures.” Oh, thanks so much for reminding me!

      You’re a real dick, Cox!

      (Heh. Been wanting to drop that one for over a year now.)

  31. Quenby Moone says:

    Holy crap! You’ve got gout! I’m familiar with gout because my father was briefly diagnosed with it on top of everything else. Truly a fickle adversary. And so quaintly “Olde Worlde.”

    Good luck, my friend. Booze will never quite be the same.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Also, I was a terrible vegetarian as well so I can relate to this particular fly in the ointment. I just couldn’t make food interesting enough without some sort of savory meaty thing in it.

      But bacon is overrated, I promise.

    • Matt says:

      Now kidding on the “Olde Worlde” thing. One of my first thoughts when they gave me the new diagnosis was, “didn’t we get rid of this around the same time as smallpox and polio?”

      I risked a tiny, tiny amount of turkey on Friday (having convinced myself that my lingering head cold is the result of my immune system being depressed because of lack of protein) and had a pain flare-up this weekend. Am wondering if that might be one of my triggers, since a beer and shot of whiskey a few weekends ago did nothing at all.

  32. Mary Richert says:

    I, too, am a terrible vegetarian, even though I supposedly want to do this. The trouble is that I can’t find time to cook (or decline to do so), and my husband who really likes meat, is willing to step in and cook when I don’t feel like it, except… it’s likely to be a meat dish of some kind. I have not even attempted to give up fish, and frankly, I hate explaining myself to people, so I’ve been known to occasionally have a bit of meat in order to avoid the awkwardness. Last week, my company had it’s annual holiday Christmas party at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian style restaurant that has a massive, glorious salad bar and serves meat to no end. It’s generally accepted that if you’re serious about your meat, you’ll skip the salad bar, which many of my coworkers did. I loaded up at the salad bar, but accepted a couple slices of (very delicious) beef on my plate because it just didn’t seem like a good time to explain why I’m not eating meat anymore. I realize this is a cop out, and next year, I promise I will stick to the salad bar. I think this is something I’ll work on during 2011. It could be a fun experiment, actually. You will certainly have my support!

    • Matt says:

      One upside to my condition: when people start to give me the third degree about going veggie, I just say, “kidney problems.” Really makes ‘em feel like an asshole.

      Goddamn meat eaters get so judgemental, don’t they? “Whaddya mean you’re not eating meat anymore?” Chill, dude – it’s just means there’s more steak for you!

      I ate a tiny (about 3 oz) of white turkey last week. Sick to my stomach for days. Guess all my gastrointestinal flora are adapting faster than I am.

  33. [...] My friend and fellow writer Matt Baldwin, who I “met” through The Nervous Breakdown, has recently become a vegetarian, and he wrote about it in his latest TNB essay, “The Reluctant Herbivore.” [...]

  34. angela says:

    matt, i’m there with you on having to make unwanted to dietary changes. i found out my cholesterol was higher than it should be, and i worked really hard to change my diet to low-fat. i cut out red meat, high fat dairy, egg yolks, and most cheese. i was able to lower my bad cholesterol from 137 to 88.

    but then my doctor said my blood pressure is higher than it should be. i *do* eat tons of asian food, which is high in sodium. so if i cut out fat AND sodium, what the hell am i supposed to eat all day? lettuce leaves?

    i actually LOVE veggies, and tend to go for weeks without eating fruit. i don’t cook much so the most i do is stirfry some baby bok choy or romaine lettuce with ginger, garlic, and a little salt – it’s surprisingly delicious.

    • Matt says:

      That’s pretty much my response to my salads. Lettuce leaves. Chopped celery and carrots. Maybe some radishes, if I have any. Really? This is what I’m supposed to eat, after experiencing the awesomeness that is a teriyaki bison steak?

      Good luck with your cholesterol – my grandfather has had a lifelong battle with that, and it hasn’t been pleasant.

  35. Dawn and Jan Moisanen says:

    My hubby Jan has been diagnosed with gout. Sucks. Didn’t realize he couldn’t have salmon until I cooked him up a huge salmon steak my dad had caught in Oregon. Seeing all the meats on the don’t lists and the differences in list to list, we were wondering about bison. Do you know if that is high in purine? Maybe out of respect for my hubby, we all need to be vegatarians (I can eat meat when I’m not with him). Any help would be great. Oh yes, one more thing, he quit drinking beer, which he loves, and is now on wine. Any difference in those two? Thanks again, and I will chaw on a strip of bacon for you next time I have it :-) Dawn

  36. Jeff says:

    Matt: great article…. somehow I get the feeling like the ghost of Christopher Hitchens lives in you my friend (sarcasm and writing style, whatever you thought of his politics).

    I, too, am dealing with the grief of being a gout-induced “begrudgingly near vegetarian” or “BNV”. Reading your piece here gave me great encouragement. Thanks. Good to know I’m not alone out there.

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