This is a guest blog post by Lior Torenberg
Being a 16-year-old girl, I have a seemingly unlimited threshold of energy befitting my age group, but this is a relatively new thing for me. Two years ago, I was constantly worried about having enough energy to get through a day without pick me ups such as coffee, sugar and naps. I have been a vegetarian for the past 6 years of my life. Given my low level of energy, it was everyone’s first guess that I was lacking in some vital nutrients that could only be supplied through animal protein. Now, my personal belief is that animal protein is overrated and can be readily replaced (4 oz of tempeh = 22 grams of protein! Pass the soy please!), but, as this specific instance occurred when I was 14 and therefore my opinion rendered invalid, I was forced to venture into the world of chicken, beef and pork for a while to see if my energy improved.
I conceded, or rather, I surrendered, not wanting to lose my 10 pm curfew or weekly allowance. Imagine a nervous high school freshman, walking into her school cafeteria straight towards the sandwich stand for the first time in her life. I was intimidated but determined; I was going to try chicken. I ordered my sandwich (whole wheat roll, Swiss cheese, chicken, hot sauce, lettuce, tomato) and maneuvered to meet my friends at our table. I took one bite, and my life (or rather my stomach) was quite literally flipped upside down.
It was rubbery…and I remember thinking, “Was I chewing gum before I took a bite?” and with the realization that I wasn’t came the understanding that:
a) I could never not be a vegetarian,
b) my school has the most inhumane lunches available to man and
c) this is not how chicken should taste.
Not only was it reminiscent of rubber, my friends, but it was grey. Yes, it was absolutely positively grey. The mix of black and white was present in the very last place I ever wanted it to be. My food. I know what you’re thinking, is that legal? Well, it is. When companies want to increase the weight of meat products in order to charge you more, they “enhance” them.
“Enhanced” chicken? It sounds like it would have superpowers, or taste super-delicious when in fact, the reality is quite the opposite. Some meat products are listed as enhanced with “broth
” which can mean a number of things. The “broth” your chicken or steak bathed in might be hydrolyzed vegetable protein
(huh?), autolyzed yeast extract (what?) or, most probably, MSG
. The f-bomb of the food industry, monosodium glutamate is basically an umami-flavored additive rumored to cause headaches, heart palpitations, chest pain and nausea among other symptoms. Scarily enough, the FDA allows broth to be listed without further explanation as long as its ingredients are “derived” from natural sources. “Enhanced” chicken, when cooked, can turn out grey and, yes, rubbery.
But why does chicken even have to be enhanced? Other than the money-grubbing, the fact that your chicken’s flavor had to be enhanced should make a statement all on its own. It is actually very simple; chicken is enhanced to give it flavor and weight. It is given flavor because it lacks flavor, and it lacks flavor because it is bred and raised in such a way that causes the chicken to be dry and bland. The chicken’s life span is six weeks in these cases. It is kept in a tiny cage with no room to lift its talons and often fed a non-vegetarian diet, meaning it is fed parts of, yep, other chickens. After six weeks, the chicken is killed using extremely controversial methods, soaked in MSG and monotetrasomethingorother and injected with water and sodium. Fast forward and I am biting into my first piece of chicken to find it rubbery, grey and surprisingly bland.
Regarding my energy levels, I realized I was a dumb vegetarian. Although eating pasta and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for every meal is animal-friendly (and delicious), it does not make for a happy body. Substituting raw, locally grown food and other clean products into my diet gave me more energy than I’ve ever had before, I no longer feel bloated for days after a big meal, my skin has cleared up and I have no problem getting up in the morning or going to sleep at night.
The grey chicken fiasco was a parable for me to make changes in my diet; read labels, research ingredients you aren’t sure of (if you can’t pronounce it, your body probably doesn’t know what to do with it), and overall be kind to your body and it will be kind back. It’s the only one you have, and it doesn’t want “enhanced” chicken.