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Monday, May 16, 2011

The Birth of a "Reconstructed Carnivore"

Hi.  My name is Marc, and I'm a "reconstructed carnivore".  (Your cue: "Hi, Marc.")  What is a "reconstructed carnivore"?  Well, to be perfectly honest, I just made it up.  Since there is no official definition, I'll explain where I came from and how I came to be what I call a "reconstructed carnivore", and in doing so, maybe I'll be able to define the term (and myself) more clearly.

For the majority of my younger life, I ate what tasted good and was readily available.  A typical day would include a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch with 2% milk for breakfast (or sometimes nothing at all), a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on Stroehmann's white bread with chips and some kind of fruit snack for lunch, and my choice of fast food - McDonald's, Taco Bell, Chinese, Lee's Hoagies, etc. - for dinner.  When I snacked, I snacked on what I found in my house - ice cream, cookies, licorice, pudding - I didn't discriminate.  What did I care?  I was young, I was reasonably athletic, I was never a pound overweight.  Mostly, I didn't know any better.  I had no idea the eating habits I adopted as a child would so strongly influence my eating habits as an adult.

I eventually went away to college, where my choices of food were fully mine and mine alone.  Even more than when I was a child, I could eat what I wanted, when I wanted, without any thought of possible consequences.  College became a blur of work, - Papa John's Spinach Alfredo Pizza - rehearsals, - D.P. Dough Danger Zone Calzones w/ Extra Hot Sauce - parties, - Wing Zone 8 Piece Chicken Wings w/ Teriyaki Garlic Sauce - performances, - Champ's Fettucini Alfredo w/ Grilled Chicken - and any other kind of food that tasted good and I didn't have to prepare myself.  My roommate and I ate pizza so often, we joked that we could build furniture out of all the empty boxes we had stacked in the corner - and we probably could have!  I finished college, worked in summer stock theatre, did a National Tour, and some regional theatre.  All were experiences I wouldn't trade for anything, but my eating habits worsened and my drinking habits increased.  When I was sober, I was either performing, eating, or sitting on my butt convincing myself that I needed more rest; trying to understand why I was always so tired.  Granted, I was sometimes rehearsing all morning and afternoon while doing eight performances a week, but there had to be more to it.  To top it all off, my metabolism didn't warn me it would stop working as hard as it used to.

Fast forward about five years.  I am living in Los Angeles with my beautiful wife, Liza, and our super-cool English bulldog, Egon.  I recently turned 30 years old.  I am happy, comfortable, confident ... and vegan.  You heard right.  Mr. Meat-and-Potatoes is now Mr. Veggie Burger-and-Spinach.  This new lifestyle I've adopted has caused some surprise and confusion among friends and family members prompting various electronic correspondences, such as:

"VEGAN???  I'm sorry.  I meant to send that message to my dear friend Marc Ginsburg.  I must have found the wrong Facebook profile, as the Marc I knew could never part from hamburgers and hot dogs."


"Vegan!?!?  Wow!  Never thought I'd live to see the day."


"But what do you eat at baseball games?"

Fair enough.  (For the record, they serve Veggie Dogs at Angels Stadium in Anaheim.  Who knew?)

I questioned myself recently about why I decided to take such a drastic jump away from my culinary comfort zone.  Maybe I'm having a 1/3 life crisis now that I'm out of my 20s.  Could be.  Maybe Liza being such a conscious, healthy eater rubbed off on me.  Perhaps.  Maybe I got tired of eating unhealthy meals that put me into a food coma for the rest of the night.  Very possible.  But it was more than that.  I decided to finally take responsibility for my choices - and I choose to take better care of my body.

Let me set this straight - I am NOT a paint-throwing member of PETA.  I love animals but I did NOT choose to become vegan to make a statement in support of animal rights.  L.A. has NOT turned me into a tree-hugging hippie, chewing on grass and bark while meditating and "expanding my mind".  I did NOT wake up one morning, look in the mirror, and discover I was morbidly obese.  But I DID notice that I hadn't been as energetic as I would like and that I did have some stomach issues (nothing serious) that could be attributed to eating too many foods that my body has trouble digesting - gluten, dairy, and certain kinds of meat being the chief offenders.  Why did I not realize sooner that my diet could contribute so strongly to how I feel in my everyday life?  It seems logical enough.  The bottom line is, I want to feel alive: physically and mentally, and with a clear conscience.

It has occurred to me recently, as I watch more and more of my friends have beautiful babies, that the time for Liza and I to start thinking about starting our own family is not far off (calm down everyone, it's not what you're thinking).  I have begun to think about what kind of parent I want to be, especially in regards to what we'll feed our child.  Recently, I had the opportunity to work with many children and to observe how their different families functioned, especially when it came to food.  A grueling schedule often forced parents to bring meals to their children between rehearsal and performances.  Given the time constraints, some parents had their children eat healthier than others, but there wasn't any consistently poor eating - except for one.  Our youngest child actor was all of 6 years old and was either bouncing off the walls or sleeping with his eyes open.  The production team of the show asked his parents to sen him to the theatre with food to give him enough energy to last through a three hour performance.  He arrived the next night with an enormous bag containing popcorn, chocolate pudding, two cheeseburgers, fries, lollipops, and a chocolate eclair the length of his arm.  And there were other nights when he would be sent with nothing to eat at all, relying on the production team or other good-hearted members of the acting company to supply his meals for him.  It was incomprehensible to me how a parent, in good conscience, could send their small child to work (yes, it is still a job, no matter how young you are) without proper nourishment.  Not being a parent myself, I tried not to judge too harshly.  But I don't want my child to grow up to be a statistic, and then have to reform his eating habits the way I am currently attempting to do.  I can certainly expose him/her to healthier foods at a younger age.  But how can I tell him/her to eat his/her vegetables so he/she can grow to be healthy while he/she watches me eat my vegetables in the form of the sauce on a slice of Papa John's Meat Lovers Pizza?

My mother is not packing my lunch each day and making my dinner each night.  No one is here to tell me to go outside and get some fresh air, and I don't take phys ed class anymore.  It is about time I take responsibility and care for my well-being.  Although I want to live as long as humanly possible, I don't want to live in pain and discomfort in my golden years - especially if I can prevent future aches and illnesses in my younger, more active years.

So, I'm attempting to start from scratch.  No more junk food.  No more soda.  No more meat.  No more dairy.  No more processed sugar.  As few processed foods as possible.  I'm getting back to the basics and feeling great.  I may not be as athletic as I used to be but I'm still getting an intense hour or more of exercise every day.  The plan is to treat my body in such a way that it will have no reason to rebel against me.  For the first time, I want to be smarter and more conscientious about how I treat my body.  For the first time, I have a "Why"; I finally want to be able to respect myself and the well-informed decisions I make so that my family, friends, and future children will know that I am living and eating responsibly.

Which brings me to the reason I started this blog.  I want to involve all of you in my adventure towards becoming a healthier person.  I'd like to be able to share my progress and even some amazing recipes and exercises that I stumble across, or interesting facts about wellness.  Let me be clear - I am NOT here to preach or grandstand.  I don't want anyone to feel that I am attacking their lifestyle choices in any way.  I have clearly been on both sides of the fence and do NOT aim to offend.  I believe it is everyone's right to choose what and how they want to eat - as long as they are making conscious choices rather than just going with the flow because it's easy.  Rather than drown you in my personal beliefs, this blog is meant to inspire discussion and conversation.  So please, if anyone has any comments, advice, questions, feel free to voice them in a respectful manner.  I am still very new to the health and nutrition lifestyle and I would love to discuss my journey with all of you so we can learn together!  And I would love even more if you were all able to talk to each other (again, in a respectful manner, please).  No need to be shy around here.  The more we can discuss, the more we can learn.  To quote a line from the musical 1776, "In all my years I ain't never heard, seen, nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn't be talked about."

I want to thank you all for reading, ask you to come back and check out my new posts (I'm hoping to post at least once a week), and invite you to talk to me and each other.  That's why I'm doing this whole blogging thing in the first place.  Call Webster's - I think I have come up with a solid definition:

Re-con-struc-ted   Car-ni-vore
{ree-kuhn-struhkt-ed    kahr-nuh-vohr}
1.  one who, at one time or another, treated his/her overall health thoughtlessly and is finally, through a bit of education, experience, and experimentation, taking control of his/her well-being


  1. Ok lets see I thought I had posted but I don't think it went through so...take two.

    I think this is a fantastic choice you have made with your life. I've actually started doing something just like it but with lean meats and yummy veggies. Weaning myself off of soda and getting my regular P90X butt kicking which I love.

    I completely agree with you about the kids needing a healthy life style. I have a student and all I want to do is spend the day making him run around outside and play. I am so close to bringing him in a healthy lunch cause the stuff he eats...yuck!

    Good luck on your journey it sounds like you have great ideas and great support to be successful!

    My fun healthy recipe is put asparagus in a baggie with a little light olive oil and pepper. Swish it around till coated. Lay on baking sheet and broil for 5 minutes...very yummy and simple!

    I can't wait to see you in June!


  2. Steph,

    That asparagus recipe is one of our favorites! The only differences are that we leave out the pepper because I am not a fan and we roast them for about 35-40 minutes so they're really soft and tender. But that's just me. As a matter of fact, we just had it for dinner tonight!

    And we are also avid participants of P90X, P90X Plus, and Insanity. Brutal and amazing at the same time. But that's a different post...

    Thanks for commenting and I can't wait to see you!

  3. Love it! This is very inspiring.

    I can trace my omnivorish consciousness to several influences - yours taking an important place in a line that I can trace.... It begins with the Baron family in the 1990s, casual, easy, pescatarians. And the horrified look on my daughter's 3 or 4 year old face when I explained that the hamburgers at McDonalds were made from cows... Next - many years later - Morgan Spurlock, bless his heart, finally ruined the burger forever.

    The next was "Wesley the Owl" a profound book that should have stopped me from eating birds... but it hasn't... yet... It certainly completely changed my view of the intelligence of "white meat"... hmm (yes, my evolution is slow).

    More recently, the extremely well-written and entertaining (count on one hand most-influential books I've ever read) "Omnivore's Dilemma" by
    Michael Pollen'. This is SO compelling that all I can say, is read it. I hope I get to see (or develop) the graphic novel that is hiding within.... This gives me the strongest reasons for reform and reconstruction: environmental environmental degradation, the hidden costs, the horors of mono-culture, and climate change. These are stronger motivators for me than personal health... but I hope to reap some of the benefits there too.

    And now, I just started the touchingly written "Eating Animals".
    Jonathan Safran Foer is much more concerned with how we treat animals- and echoes the connections you make between the kind of parent you want to be, and the need to walk-the-walk. Still he just burst my final bubble by describing industrialized fishing, and what is destroyed to bring us a tuna salad or a shrimp cocktail....

    Just this morning I was marveling that 6 months ago, I considered vegan to be radical and out on a limb, and that today I understand and respect it much more. As the conditions of industrial agriculture and acquaculture have changed, and it seems so unfair, but there is nothing natural left about eating, except for the choices we have to make analytically, knowing the the multi-layered meanings and impact of what we eat on ourselves and the world. I'm mourning the reality that it gets harder and harder to justify the hypocrisy of eating blindly.

    So thanks for being there... reflective, and sometimes struggling... I'm looking forward to following your new blog, trying out the vegan recipes, and following your lead...

  4. I'm so glad you like it!

    I haven't read "Wesley the Owl" or "Omnivore's Dilemma" but I just started "Eating Animals" as well! I'm not very far so I won't be posting about it for a while but I'm enjoying it so far. His dilemma seems to be exactly what I have been wrestling with so I can't wait to see what else he has to say.

    Veganism is definitely a radical decision but my previous lifestyle was just as extreme, in a more destructive way. So, I'm trying to fight fire with fire in order to improve my health and my awareness. I feel that I was being very irresponsible in not being more knowledgeable in my decisions. I, too, don't want to "eat blindly" anymore.

    Stay tuned and I promise to provide some really fun, interesting, and delicious stuff with this blog!