Don’t be a “Dumb” Vegetarian

Enhanced Chickens Bathing in Hot Tub

photo: funnyscrapsorkut

 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.

Lior Torenberg

Lior Torenberg is a high school Junior, avid foodie and health-fanatic. She runs her own blog focused on yoga and the power of clean eating. Her goal is to present the new generation’s voice on health and wellness.




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  • Jen

    What about genetically modified fruits and vegetables? Pesticides? There are many flaws with our food and it is absolutely NOT restricted to our meat supply. And there is plenty of responsibly raised meat out there. Being a vegetarian is a personal choice and I’m in no way saying that it’s a bad one. I just think that if a vegetarian is going to try and eat meat for its health benefits (of which there are many), she should choose a better option than the garbage they serve in schools these days. You didn’t give yourself a chance to be a healthy omnivore. But having said that, I’m glad to hear that you have cleaned up your vegetarian diet. It makes me crazy when a vegetarian diet is nothing but pasta and peanut butter and jelly and the person thinks they are doing something awesome because they don’t eat meat.

    • Cassandra

      She did mention eating local vegetables. As a vegetarian myself, I can vouch for the health benefits of switching over and my “grocery runs” mainly consist of going to a local market and buying fresh produce. Meat which is humanely raised isn’t going to be available at the local grocery store and the animals from farms are expensive because of the amount of land used to keep the animals in the environment they deserve. As humans, it makes sense that we should all be concerned with what is best for our environment and best for our bodies. There are many studies which have disproven the “need for meat” propoganda that is so heavily embedded in our culture as to blind us from eating the best food from our bodies.

      - Namaste

  • TiggerToo

    Your journey has been enlightening and will inspire many. As a holistic health counselor, I come across many “vegetarians” which are really “carbotarians”. Your message is needed by many of your generation. Understanding whats in your food and how the government allows packaging to be labeled is crucial to good health. And unfortunately what is taught and served in the schools is the same the USDA recommends which isn’t the best future for our children. Bravo for speaking out and taking charge of your own health. I’m sure you will empower others to take your lead too.

  • April

    Good for you, Lior; I very much admire what you are doing. It took me until I was 26 to figure all this out!

  • M

    You’re not going to link to her blog?

    • Fooducate

      It’s a private/personal blog for the time being…

  • Brian

    The pasta, peanut butter and jelly diet plan is probably not as animal friendly as you think. You may not be eating animals, but many a rabbit, squirrel, etc is being eaten by a combine in the wheat field. I’d say that’s less cruel than the chicken you describe, which is downright shameful that people are allowed to “raise” chickens that way, though. There are much better “clean” options than most cafeteria/restaurant chicken… And it’s much more flavorful. And it’s not grey and rubbery, either.

    • RidiculousIsRidiculous

      Man you guys crack me up. So what? You shouldn’t eat wheat? Or you should grow and process it in your own rabbit-friendly backyard?

      I’m sure the way more rabbits get run over by cars than combines… are you avoiding automobiles as well?

  • malachite2

    Chickens are not vegetarians. Non-factory farm chickens eat almost anything and that includes, sometimes, each other. Sometimes several chickens will turn on another & literally peck it until it bleeds (and then there’s how roosters can behave). But a “natural” diet for chickens includes grubs, slugs (small slugs), ants, all sorts of insects, pretty much whatever is around and that the chicken can catch, so while it’s very reasonable to object to factory farmed chickens, to insist chickens be fed a vegetarian diet isn’t necessary or preferred by the chickens.

    Not quite sure what is meant by “clean products” when talking about food. Soil isn’t all that “clean”–the soil of an organic or IPM farm should have a substantial biota, and soil is after all, dirt. Life/living things tend to be messy.

    • Brian

      I think clean might mean not soiled by the hands of human intervention. If we were back to hunting and/or gathering our fodd, if most certainly would not be clean.

  • Jan

    A tiny point, but one worth making: meat birds are not kept in tiny pens, they are usually raised in huge buildings. They do have quite a bit of room to run around until they’re older, but by then most of them don’t do much but lay around anyway. It’s egg hens that are kept in tiny pens.

  • Mary

    I switched to a plant based diet several years ago because I was disgusted with the whole idea of animals raised in CAFO type environments. I was pleasantly surprised to realize several months later that I had lost weight and all those numbers that the doctor gets from blood tests at annual checkups had improved significantly. And then I realized that I had more energy and felt better than I had in years. I do eat some animal products on occasion from local or organic sources. I discovered that just about all the nutrients you need are available if you eat mostly plant based whole foods. Beware the standard American fare of white sugar, white flour, salt, french fries, iceberg lettuce, too much dairy and hydrogenated fats. I can’t undo over 50 years of the standard diet on my health, but I can be healthier going forward than I would have been without the switch.

  • SD L

    I think it’s great. As a 45 year old woman who has toyed around with vegetarianism for years, I’m finally taking the plunge. I lost almost 100 lbs 30 years ago and have kept it off. I never ate much meat but, after seeing some of this tripe packaged, labeled and sold as meat, I don’t have a problem not eating it. Yeah, there are ins and outs and pitfalls to securing produce but that’s life. There’s simply not much money in fresh, untreated chemical free produce- it takes longer and the big corporations don’t want a dent in their pockets. Sadly, it takes work to eat healthfully but its worth it. It’s hard to believe that she’d lose her curfew and allowance because she wouldn’t toe the line and eat metat.

  • Jake

    ‘(if you can’t pronounce it, your body probably doesn’t know what to do with it)’. Ha! Sorry, but you’re still a dumb vegetarian…