Not-So-Vegan Pregnancy Cravings
I'm pregnant and in the throes of first trimester nausea and fatigue, but it's the food cravings that have me swearing I'll never do this again. A slideshow plays in my head of Carrow's Family Restaurant: plates overflowing with vegetables dripping in butter, garlic bread and (God help me) breaded steak. Bob's Big Boy hamburgers. Grilled fish. Cheese sandwiches on white bread.
by Caity McCardell
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Big deal, right? Pregnant women typically have food cravings in the first trimester - pickles, ice cream, dirt. I'm vegan, though, so craving meat and cheese goes against my fundamental beliefs- like a MacIntosh user buying a PC, like a Boston fan calling their kid The Babe. It just ain't right for a vegan to want animal products.
Right now cheese, eggs and all meat are a siren song. I strap myself to the ship's stern to resist Jack in the Box breakfast sandwiches. In my mind, I can taste the cheese, feel the warmth of the croissant and ham. What I really tune into is the texture. I haven't had a breakfast sandwich from that factory farmed hell-hole since I was in high school, but I remember the way the croissant resists my teeth gently, the texture of the cheese, the paper it's wrapped in, the feel of the sandwich in my greasy hands.
It's not a sandwich assembled by underpaid teenagers in sweaty polyester uniforms out of beautiful, tortured beasts. My pregnancy brain tells me it's a single unit of delectable flavors magically appearing just for me, created in another land by laughing, dancing elves. I try to talk myself into believing that the sandwich isn't unknown ingredients genetically modified, slaughtered, frozen, transported and nuked.
Four years ago I learned about the impact of factory farms and decided it was time to quit the animal habit. Two weeks later my adult acne troubles went away - a nice bonus. My two-year-old daughter is a lifetime vegan, and my husband is an in-your-face vegan ("Do you know how long it's going to take your body to digest that?").
Compassion for animals is a constant thread in our lives and we're a united front of veganism - until now.
People have plenty of theories about why a pregnant vegan would want animal products. My best friend insists, "Maybe you're not getting enough protein so your body's craving meat. Our bodies are very wise, you know." My mother-in-law says, "Maybe you haven't been expressing your needs and pregnancy has brought out the strong, meat-demanding woman in you." BabyCenter.com tells me, "Studies show no link between cravings and nutritional requirements." My heart says, "You're seeking comfort, and comfort food was everywhere when you were young." Maybe I just miss home.
I miss watching my mom stir a big pot of pork stew, sampling it from a big wooden spoon, tossing bay leaves in, more pepper. I miss throwing together tuna casserole from cans with my brother. I miss mornings with my dad, watching him dip toasted bread fingers into runny boiled eggs freshly laid by our chickens - eggs with blue or brown speckled shells.
Produce memories have also crept into my food cravings. I remember afternoons with Mom, eating beefsteak tomatoes whole like apples; juicy orange-eating contests under the tree with my brother; the efficient way my dad would cut open and pit a freshly-picked avocado. I eagerly eat these vegetables and fruits. In my last pregnancy, I craved bicycle tire rubber - the smell soothed my nausea and took me back to uncomplicated times: Christmas, laughter, warmth, a new bike. I'd stand in the door of a Schwinn store and breathe in the relief.
My mom is a cooking teacher, so we always ate amazing home-cooked meals, but the treat we looked forward to was Taco Bell: massive burritos and crunchy, perfect taco shells dripping with oil. Can I have that now? I drive up to the window and place my order with the talking box. "No cheese, please." I hesitate. "But if, for some reason you forget – you make a mistake - and add cheese, it's really no big deal."
"Ma'am, do you want cheese or not?"
The Pregnancy Cravings Devil whispers, "Just get the cheese. Those cows are hamburger by now anyway. Who are you hurting?" The Vegan counters, "You know those bad nursing days you have? Well, that ain't nothin' compared to what those cows go through - just so you can have a little more flavor in your burrito. Do you really feel comfortable with that?"
I hit my hand repeatedly against the steering wheel. "OK, OK, OK!!! No cheese. NO-CHEESE-NO-CHEESE-NO-CHEESE!" I'm going insane. The tacos taste bland; the burrito is missing that je ne sais quoi. Could it be HOT BEEF AND GRATED FRICKIN' CHEESE? I want to be Sam Kinnison, yelling and smashing bean tacos.
Nothing is the same as when I was young. Maybe that's my real problem. Like in “The Matrix,” I took the red pill so I know the truth about food animals and I can't go back to ignoring where a burger comes from. Right now, I'd go back if I could, even to the acne problem, just to have a knowledge-free Burrito Supreme with all the fixin's.
The Standard American Diet: vegans call it SAD. My pregnant brain calls it YUM, EAT, NOW.
I post my woes on an online vegan parenting board, praying that someone out there understands. "Hang in there," one response urged. "Eating the things you crave may make you even more nauseated. Cook meat substitutes," she suggests. I hate to sound so resistant, but meat analogs don't show up on my slideshow. It's like suggesting to a heroin addict that she cool off and have a cigarette. A Boca Burger might taste OK, but every cell, every tissue in every organ in my body is begging for Filet O' Fish Sandwich with fries, drenched in catsup. And right now I don't care what the “Natural Flavors” really are in Heinz.
On good days, just visualizing food makes me feel better. I carry around a chocolate catalog and I just look at the light brown, nutty morsels to take the nausea edge off. A bus drives by painted with a five-foot Big Mac and I'm briefly soothed. More texture memories come up. Pickles. Lettuce. Cheese. Sesame Seed Bun. Suddenly my eyes are unfocused. I stare off into the distance. I'm diving into a pool of Special Sauce.
One day I'm desperate. I drive to a huge natural food store and talk to the cheese department manager. "I need some cheese that comes from happy goats," I beg.
"Look, the truth is that none of the goats are really happy. They'd much rather be nursing their kids than providing milk for your yuppie lifestyle."
He's right. I cry all the way home, but I'm not giving in. Most women let their bodies guide them, like my vegetarian friend who ate meat during her pregnancy because her craving was so intense she wanted to chase down a cat and skin it alive. For me, there's more at stake than my cravings. I've made a commitment to animal welfare and I'm determined to live up to that stand. I know from experience and research that my body and my baby don't need animal protein.
I soon learn that the neighborhood is in cahoots with the Pregnancy Food Cravings Devil. My neighbor, the guy who thinks I won't live past 50 because I don't eat meat, is delighted to hear I've been craving meaty fast food. I'm in his back yard, picking beefsteak tomatoes with my daughter.
"McDonald's has the best breakfasts," he says, "I'll take you there. Remember Pigs in a Blanket?"
God, do I remember - sausage, eggs wrapped up in a pancake, smothered in butter and syrup. Pigs in a Blanket is probably the reason I mix together all the food on my plate.
"They have sausage, eggs and pancakes for only $2.99," he continues. His eyes sparkle, mine glaze over.
I try to ignore him and think to myself, "I could make a ton of organic bean salad for $2.99." My neighbor's heart flutters, mine slows. I'm practicing Pregnancy Craving Avoidance Hypnosis, picking tomatoes, minding my breathing, relaxing.
In my mind, I am walking in a forest near a stream. Pigs in a Blanket floats by on its Styrofoam tray, down, down, down the river. I'm eating organic beans and my skin glows. I am healthy, I am strong, and my body is one with the red of beefsteak tomatoes. My growing baby gurgles with pleasure inside my energized body.
"I'll even pay," my neighbor is saying, "You don't even have to tell Stefan. We can wait until he leaves for work one morning." Are we still talking about eating at McDonald's? I put the last of the ripe tomatoes in our basket and thank our generous neighbor.
My daughter and I sit on our front yard grass, looking up at the sky through tree branches, eating beefsteak tomatoes whole like apples. I remember one reason veganism is great - fresh produce tastes so darned good. Juice drips down our chins and we laugh at each other, sucking the seeds out, making funny noises. We look for an early rising moon and tell stories about flying to the stars to dance and play.
I hope, years from now if my daughter decides to get pregnant, that she has food cravings from great memories in her childhood, too. Oranges fresh from the tree. Organic bean salad by the pound. Beefsteak tomatoes, eaten like apples.