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Cutting animals some slack

My decision two years ago to slowly cut meat from my life was not backed by any grand, honorable cause, just several little, trivial ones.

What initially got me started was one simple thought: If I can't pronounce the ingredients in what I am eating (like chemical-filled products) then how can I possibly expect my body to know what to do with them?

This idea was boosted — to my utter shock — by some literature about the food industry.

Becoming hyperaware of what my body is expected to digest was sort of a new concept for me. I am not doing this to lose weight or because I have to maintain a strict diet. I am doing this because I expect the best out of my body. I expect my body to last a long time, to be able to run and play for years and years to come. How can I have those expectations if I fill it to the brim with sugars, salts and ultraprocessed meats and foods?

I can't.

I knew it wouldn't be realistic for me to follow through if I quit meat cold turkey (pun intended), so I laid out a plan. No red meat, pork or other processed and unidentifiable meats, such as hot dogs, pepperoni and some sausages. Shortly after that, increase vegetable servings by double and decrease meat servings by half (and nothing deep-fried); then make the official switch to organic chicken and low-processed turkey.

A major complaint against organic meat is the price, but I've learned that meat bought in bulk lasts a long time if you don't eat pieces the size of your face.

By the time I achieved this stage, my thought process had changed drastically and I began to make a face at what little meat there was on my plate, covering it up with broccoli or potatoes before consumption.

Some tricks that helped me along my journey included using the word "carcass" instead of "meat." (Seriously, think about it. Nasty.); remembering that our bodies are not made to ingest large meat portions (our alkaline saliva and short colons are not conducive to breaking down animal protein); realizing what a bite of chicken truly is (muscle).

If you tell yourself "no more meat" with a convincing finality, it becomes much easier. Your body and mind fall into sync. After about a month, I started to cringe at any and all fast-food commercials.

I read somewhere that when you close yourself off to meat, you open up to a new world of tastes and a new mindset; so far this has been true. I have always been a hugely picky eater. Now I find myself lunging (literally) at the opportunity to explore new flavors and innovative recipes — things I would have crinkled my nose and furrowed my brow at before.

Even before entertaining the idea of vegetarianism, I found myself getting excited about meals with no meat at all, such as a nice veggie wrap with alfalfa sprouts, avocado, cucumber and cream cheese, or a new pasta dish with pesto and cherry tomatoes.

At the beginning, the road seemed long and filled with temptations at every turn. After some time, though, the metaphorical car kind of drove itself, making for a smooth journey.

I feel I should end on a positive note: "Here's to never looking back" or something. But I am going to look back.

The blissful aroma of every pulled-chicken, barbecue sandwich I pass or the sight of the perfectly melted cheese slice on a hamburger will compel a glance from me for a long time.

But in looking back, I also can see where my body could have been. And with that I turn forward and look with excitement at a healthful future, filled with new cuisine and fresh beginnings.

Joy Reader Rachel Strickland is a University of Oregon graduate who lives in Medford.