Since Swimming To Nirvana -- which included a recommendation to supplement with fish-oil -- I've received several email inquiries regarding vegetarian or vegan alternatives to fish-oil, many of which include questions about my own relationship to vegetarianism. Instead of responding individually, seemed like a good idea to post this here, so others might benefit also. So here goes ....
First of all, I've recently discovered what seems to be a great vegan alternative to fish-oil: a product called Ovega-3, whose DHA and EPA Omega-3's are drawn from algae, rather than from fish-oil. It was initially developed in conjunction with research exploring ways of supporting astronauts in long-term space flight -- and boasts DHA and EPA quantities (per capsule) equivalent to or even greater than most fish-oils. So ... check it out!
And just to emphasize, once again: these essential fatty acids (DHA & EPA) really are essential to a human body's functioning (particularly the brain and heart), and for all practical purposes are never produced internally, which means that we need either to eat foods that contain them, or take a supplement. Generally speaking, I'm not big on supplements, but this (along with chlorella) is an exception. Unless your diet includes large quantities of fatty fish (e.g. tuna, salmon, mackerel, trout, anchovies and sardines) please consider, if you don't already, adding a fish-oil or Ovega-3 supplement.
[For salmon oil I recommend New Chapter Wholemega, and for krill oil -- which has the added benefit of offering great support for the body's joints, including reducing joint-pain of all sorts -- NOW Neptune Krill Oil.]
In relation to the question -- am I a vegetarian? -- the short answer is that my diet currently includes small amounts of red meat (a couple of 2-3 oz. servings per month) as well as fish, once a week or so. I also eat quite a lot of eggs, and a fair amount of mostly-cultured dairy products, e.g. yogurt, kefir, creme fraiche, etc. So I'm definitely not vegan, and not technically vegetarian, either -- though six days out of seven my diet is a de facto vegetarian one.
The longer answer should probably begin some time around 1987 .... when John Robbins first published Diet For A New America. Reading this, along with similar material, convinced me, without a shadow of a doubt, that -- for all kinds of very good reasons (social, ecological and moral, not to mention nutritional) -- being a vegetarian was simply and obviously the right choice. So thus began a ten- or perhaps closer to 15-year period of strict observance of a vegetarian diet.
But then ..... one day -- I believe it was in Santa Fe, New Mexico -- when I was grocery shopping, I passed by one of those "samples" tables, which happened on this particular day to include a plate of seared steak. Now of course this wasn't the first time, in my years of being a vegetarian, that I had been exposed to the smell or sight of meat -- but for some reason, on this particular day, I responded in a most visceral way, with an intense desire to reach out for one of those sample-bites of steak.
I paused -- there with my shopping cart (filled with fruits, vegetables and whole grains) -- and noticed that I was salivating, and that every cell of my body seemed to be saying, imploring, crying: "please eat that steak!"
Now this was a very strange moment, to say the least -- to notice my physical body responding in utter contradiction to my conceptual framework, my moral and intellectual convictions. It seemed clearly to be a case of my body's physical needs overriding (or at least attempting to override) my very well-thought-out and heart-felt commitment to a vegetarian diet.
So I had a choice: to honor what would seem to be a bone fide need, for Elizabeth's body to eat some red meat; or to basically ignore that need, in favor of maintaining my commitment to being a strict vegetarian. After some deliberation, I chose the former -- chose to include a bit of red meat, and then later also some fish, in my diet.
What I eventually learned, was that for women in particular, a strictly vegetarian diet can easily produce an imbalance known within Chinese medicine as "blood deficiency." This can be remedied, at least in part, via Chinese herbal therapy -- but nevertheless most women still, from a TCM perspective, benefit from including at least small amounts of red meat in our diets.
Having said as much, I'll also add that I totally honor the choice to prioritize global social and ecological considerations over the health of ones individual physical body. And yet .... what's also true is that our seemingly "individual" physical body is actually a part of the "global social and ecological situation." Compassion in relation to our physical bodies is not separate, ultimately, from compassion directed more universally -- and actually can be a very good starting-point.
In any case, whatever your diet looks like, please do take care to include sufficient amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids -- DHA and EPA in particular -- and consider adding, if you haven't already, a fish-oil and/or Ovega-3 supplement .... to encourage and support your brain and heart both to function to their gloriously full capacity :)