Monday, June 1, 2015

From Dairy and Egg Free Vegetarian to Bow Hunter

This has been a blog that has taken me over a year to write because I wanted to do it once and I wanted to do it right. I've have been taking notes for months in my phone about different ideas and different thoughts. 

I fully understand and expect some people to not understand why I made the switch and that is ok, but I needed to write this blog- for me. I also hope to provide some education about hunting and conservation as well. I want to preface that this was my personal experience. I am in no way generalizing vegetarians, vegans, meat eaters, etc. This was MY experience. Thanks for reading.

Ok, here we go...

In early 2012, I made the decision (based on a few months of research), to try out a meat, dairy, and egg free diet for 21 days. The only animal by-product that prevented me from classifying myself as a vegan was honey (darn bees and the wonderful treat they create). Those 21 days changed the way that I look at food, the way that I cooked, the way that I ordered at restaurants, and the way that I felt. The 21 days turned into roughly 2 and a half years of a dairy free/egg free vegetarian lifestyle.

During this time, I was also competing in my first year of NPC shows. That's right, I competed in six shows in 2013 as 100% vegetarian- so it IS possible. I didn't get sick (very likely when you are competing as you push your body past its limits and get very lean). I stopped breaking out. I also saw a decrease in muscle size. I was very tired (combined with a lack of animal protein and competing). I also felt deflated. I had a hard time getting all the nutrients that I was lacking, I'm not saying that it's impossible as a vegetarian to get all of the nutrients needed but for me- I was not absorbing vitamins like I needed to be any longer (notably, iron).

I went into my 2013 "off" season small. And deflated. And tired. And hardly any muscle mass (which was "the look" for bikini 3 years ago- very different today but I no longer compete and that's a different topic). I was wrestling with the idea of adding fish back into my diet because I knew that in order to continue on my fitness journey, I personally couldn't live off of beans and tofu and boca burgers. In January of 2014, I had my first bite of "ethically" raised fish. My first taste of meat in over 500 days. It. Was. Hard. It sat in my kitchen on a plate and I stared at it for over an hour. I cried. I balled. I knew what that fish had went through, I knew it's entire life was meant to feed me. It's entire life was created to be killed. I'm pretty sure I threw up that night after eating 1/3 of it. Slowly but surely, I added fish back in, day by day and bite by bite. It tore me up because of my deep conviction against eating slaughtered animals. I was selfish. Eating an animal for my own personal gains, literally.

For two months I went back and forth between pescatarian and vegetarian. Slowly adding eggs back in as well even though eggs are pretty gross too when you really look at the mass producing egg industry. When I decided to start prepping again in February, I knew I needed a small amount of fish protein on my diet. I did my best to do research on companies, buy local, and buy as organic as possible- because, let's be honest- meat at the big chain grocery stores are pumped with hormones, antibiotics, steroids, and live under extremely stressful living situations (which means you are going to eat their cortisol too).

When I met Josh at the Arnold in 2014, we were sitting at the food court in the convention center and I remember telling him that I don't eat any meat except fish. And I will never forget the look on his face (at this point I did not know he was a hunter). Conversely, I know Josh will never forget the look on my face when he told me that he was a hunter. Mind you- up to this point, I hated hunters. I hated that they took pictures with dead deer with the bloody tongue hanging out, I thought they were all hilly billy red necks who shot up the forest, I thought they left the animals for dead, I thought they were murders. I was ignorant. I was purely uneducated when it came to hunting. I was close minded and I was so turned off by the fact that Josh hunted that I was unsure if I wanted anything to do with him (mind you, he thought the same thing about me not eating meat).

So what did he do? Instead of getting frustrated with me or let his emotions get in the way, he EDUCATED me on conservation. He educated me on what hunters do with the animal after they harvest it. He told me story after story about how being in the woods isn't always about the kill itself, it's about appreciating the beauty of everything that God created.

Here's some pretty mind blowing stats that really slapped me in the face with reality:
Here are the numbers, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and other public sources:
** $746 million — Annual amount of money spent by hunters in the United States on licenses and public land access fees alone. Sportsmen’s licensing revenues account for more than half of all funding for state natural resource agencies
** $300 million — Additional monies contributed to wildlife conservation every year by the more than 10,000 private hunting-advocate organizations, like the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
** $4.2 billion — Amount of money sportsmen have contributed to conservation through a 10% federal excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, and gear since the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act established the tax. Millions of acres of public-use land has been purchased, preserved, and maintained with this money.
Not to mention, hunters (through the funds mentioned above) provide more than 500,000 jobs across America. The funding money results in conservation for hunted and non-hunted animals. The funding money provides parks, and trails, and public land preservation. I am not here to bash PETA or any animal rights groups but do you know what they do with their money since they are a non profit? Ads, TV time, etc. Guess how much land they preserve each year? ZERO acres. 
Hunters (not poachers) harvest animals to feed their families. In my mind, I was getting away from eating meat because 1- the animals were living to be killed and 2- they were pumped with more chemicals than a pharmacy counter. But guess what harvesting an animal provides? It gives the hunter the opportunity to fill their freezer with the most organic meat you can find from an animal that lived an amazing life provided. That animal lived its life to the fullest. The ancient native americans believe that eating an animal you harvest will be with you forever because that protein is used to repair your own muscles- making you one with the animal. For me, that was a no brainer when it came to hunting. 
The fact that pushed me over the edge: I am an animal lover. That's right- I LOVE ANIMALS. I volunteer at a humane society, I rescued my cat Tom, I am OBSESSED with animals. What does hunting allow me to do? It allows me to get within yards of many animals, 99% of which I am not hunting- simply observing. But guess what? Without hunters, many animals (such as the whitetail) would become over populated and sick. 
Let's simply use deer for this example. Herds of deer co-exist. However, what happens if a male becomes too dominant? Food is limited and if there are too many deer in that area, guess who could end up killing/hooving fawns? That's right- the mature buck. He will run younger bucks away and into a new location- hence car accidents when deer are trying to cross the road. He will run smaller fawns and does off food sources. He will also breed as many does as possible, in time, this results in in-breeding and yes, it's a problem for animals too. 
Additionally, a herd that is too large will contract diseases much quicker. Common diseases in deer populations include blue tongue and CWD (chronic wasting disease). CWD for example is like alzheimer's for deer. They forget to eat, they forget how to walk, they forget how to defend. Coyotes will literally eat deer alive from the back up and the deer are too weak to get away. Mother nature can be pretty cruel sometimes. 
Speaking of car accidents, there are over 1.5 million deer related car accidents reported annually (on average), resulting in over $1 billion in damages with 200 fatalities. Guess why deer are crossing the road- it's usually to find new food sources because mature deer are over-dominant. 
Hunters not only do their best to harvest the largest and most dominant deer in the area but they also do their part in harvesting large infertile does as well. Venison is extremely lean and fills the freezer for us (family of 2) for 6 months. Additionally, hunters donate over 12 million meals annually (one pound of venison can feed four to five people) ( 

Which brings me to my final point- why do we bow hunt? To me, bow hunting is extremely challenging and provides the most gratitude and sense of accomplish compared to gun hunting (personal opinion, I am not anti-guns). Archery in itself is a beautiful sport and practicing is very rewarding. 

Was harvesting my first animal difficult? Yes. Was harvesting my second animal difficult? Yes. I think you get where I am going with this. To watch an animal die is not something we get off to. When I killed my first turkey last year with my bow, I balled my eyes out because I appreciated the animal so much. My first buck? Oh my gosh was I an absolute train wreck. I cried for at least an hour but if I hadn't harvested that deer, he would have died for nothing- either hit by a car or eaten by buzzards and coyotes. I now get to live forever knowing that that deer has become one with me- and he looks amazing on our wall. I get to relive the memory for the rest of my life and the feeling of taking the deer with my bow is something I will never forget. 

Josh and I now get to travel the country and the world hunting. Exploring new places and meeting the most amazing people in various hunting camps. The stories are endless, the passion can't be measured, and the incredible connections that you obtain with everyone you meet in this industry is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Guess what? In the fitness industry- everyone is out to protect themselves. In the hunting industry, getting to tell a story of your own is just as enjoyable as hearing someone else tell a story of their own and showing you pictures of the animals they have harvested. The support for one another is truly something that I have never seen before. 

This was not meant to be an apology for hunting. I will never apologize for being a hunter. What my full intention for this blog post was to simply educate and provide a background to where I started because I was so ignorant when it come to all things hunting. I truly hope that everyone reading this has a new found view on hunting. For me, making the switch to eating organic meat that I harvested with a bow, practicing conservation, experiencing hours and hours appreciating nature, donating meals, filling my own freezer, and spending time with my husband... Doesn't get much better than that.

PS-Josh and I donated over 3,000 meals in 2014 alone and we plan to beat that this year. 

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt"