As you may have heard, Alex Jamieson -- vegan author, nutrition coach, and ex-wife of Super Size Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock -- recently announced that she is no longer vegan. I found her announcement, while disappointing, also heartfelt and brave, given the generally harsh response to ex-vegans by the vegan community.
Several years ago, I actually had an experience like hers, and, like her, I experienced these cravings for at least a year and gave a great deal of thought to the decision before I acted on them. I had built an identity around being vegetarian. I relentlessly debated whether giving in to the cravings would be a good thing, in terms of rejecting the rigid purism of a strictly vegetarian diet, or a bad thing, in terms of compromising my values. Ultimately, I decided that the cravings were my body's way of telling me that I needed some meat, so, for that as well as for social reasons, I briefly became a poultry-and-seafood flexitarian. I found that I did not feel any better from eating meat, did not particularly like the taste of it, and in fact, did not like how I felt when I ate it. I could not stop thinking about the fact that I was eating a once-living animal. The cravings quickly gave way to disgust and guilt, and I became a vegetarian again. I still feel badly about this brief lapse in my adherence, but perhaps it was necessary in order to recommit to my ethics.
That was, of course, my experience, and others' experiences may be different. I cannot make the claim that no human being needs meat to be healthy. All I know is that the even the most conservative authorities deem well-planned vegan diets to be healthful.
But Jamieson's experience raises a question, and it's a question to which I don't know the answer: When are cravings telling us what our body really needs, and when are cravings lying to us?
I frequently have cravings for chocolate. It's one of the reasons that I'm not fully vegan. (I know dark chocolate is often vegan, but sometimes dark chocolate is just too much for me, and I crave a milder, sweeter version.) I've heard it said that chocolate cravings indicate a shortage of magnesium. But I take a daily multivitamin, and I recently had my nutrient levels tested and found to be within normal ranges. I've also heard it said that chocolate cravings are really just sugar cravings in disguise, but I don't buy that. There's definitely something particularly addicting about chocolate.
So, is my chocolate addiction just that -- an addiction? Or is there something in chocolate that my body truly needs? Are meat cravings just like chocolate cravings, or is there something more substantial to them?