I often find that explaining my dietary choices can be complicated, especially in a world where diets have become fads and if you practice yoga people assume you eat an unhealthy amount of tofu or do some sort of weekly cleanse.

I practice yoga but….I am not a vegan (insert gasps of horror here). Or even a vegetarian. I’m not gluten-free and I’m not monitoring my carb intake in any particular way (unless trying to see how much spinach and pineapple pizza I can eat in one sitting counts). So, I’m a yogi who eats meat. Maybe this, and my obsession with slightly violent and degrading hip-hop music, is what makes me a bad yogi. Anyhow, I found my way here I am grateful for this community and for people who are willing to hear me out:

Eating meat and being a yogi and every combination of those two things are what I’m passionate about writing about. Consequently, I spend just as much time researching yoga sequences as I do looking up wild game meat recipes. Here’s where things start to get fuzzy though. I eat meat, but just any old food truck hotdog won’t do. I make a valiant effort to eat only humanely-raised meat products. This means I spend a lot of time researching, shopping at places like Whole Foods, writing articles about animal welfare, and choosing vegetarian dishes when I can’t be sure. Words like “grass-fed” aren’t enough for me. I want my meat to come from a local ranch where I know exactly how it was raised, I want to be part of the raising and butchering process myself, or I want my meat to be “certified humane” or “humanely certified” by a third party, non-government affiliated entity. So in case you were wondering, I am that jerk who discreetly brings her own humanely certified turkey breast to Thanksgiving dinner.

Having such a specific diet makes it difficult to explain why or how I eat the way I do. Never was this more apparent to me than while on a trip to Boulder with some of my fellow yoga teachers. We stopped to eat at a vegan and “all natural” restaurant. Most of the women I teach yoga alongside (all Bad Yogis themselves) know my dietary specifics and respect my choices. When one of the women in our group asked a couple dining if the food was good, the hippy-looking woman replied that it was fantastic and her less-than-enthusiastic boyfriend said “I don’t really care, as long as there’s a dead animal on my plate”. The reaction was more than I expected. One of the women I travelled with quickly clapped her hands over my ears and exclaimed, “no don’t say that!” The way-too-granola-for-her-own-good girlfriend looked at me and said, “Vegetarian?” nodding her head understandingly. “Well uhh… sort of…,” was my eloquent reply. And in that moment I realized just how hard it is to explain my dietary choices. Because even though the restaurant we were at served “grass fed” beef, that qualification alone was not enough for me and meant I’d be choosing a vegan dish.

Vegetarian is easy to understand. No meat. Vegan is easy to understand. No animal product whatsoever… and you probably make your own homemade granola in your free time. Gluten-free is easy to understand. No wheat or gluten of any kind. Even paleo is easy to understand. No processed anything. So how do you explain a gal who likes Twinkies as much as she likes kale chips and will take the rarest steak she can get as long as she knows where it came from? If you’re my younger brother, you call me weird but I’ve come to refer to myself as on a “guilt free” diet. Not as in “this has ten fewer calories so I won’t feel guilty about eating it,” but as in “no living thing had to suffer heinous animal abuse crimes for this burger to make it to my plate… I’ll take extra fries with that!”

I like thinking about things this way because a “guilt free” diet can mean lots of things to lots of different people. Maybe guilt free to you is vegan, in which case rock on! Or maybe, if you’re like me, guilt free means you like bacon with your eggs; you just want your eggs to be certified humane and your bacon to come from a farmer that meets some animal welfare alliance standards. To each their own. I think what matters most, however, is that we see diet as a means of expressing and living our own beliefs without aggressively projecting them on others.

A guilt free diet is about reducing harm, not achieving perfection. So maybe you eat guilt free but make an exception during the holidays because you don’t want to offend your Italian grandmother by asking her where the meat in her meatballs came from. Maybe it’s just Meatless Monday. Or taking the bacon bits off your salad. Or buying a vegetarian cook book. Or doing your own research about where the meat you’re eating is coming from. The point is, meat isn’t all bad in fact, many would argue (and by many I mean me in practically every article I attempt to get published) that we evolved to eat meat and eating meat is natural. What is not natural, however, is the way animals are raised and processed for our consumption today.

So I hope you will consider taking a small step in the guilt free direction, even if it’s just one meal this week. Sit down and savor every bite of it as you cultivate gratitude for the fact that no animal suffered excessive, unnecessary harm so that you could demolish that burrito.

Namaste and happy guilt free eating my friends!