My Mother’s Meatloaf


I have quit the vegan diet, and here’s why.  Ten days ago I wrote “Two Hearts on Whole Wheat” (https://behindthelockeddoors.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/two-hearts-on-whole-wheat/) about Dick and me.  We both had gone vegan about eight months ago, and he had just had his annual physical.  The blood work showed that his cholesterol and glucose levels had dropped back to normal after having been terribly high.

Mine hadn’t—in fact, my diabetes was getting worse.  I had stopped checking my glucose level in February because (a) I was already doing everything I could to lower it, (b) the glucometer test strips were prohibitively expensive, and (c) it was “only” 250, which was considerably lower than when I was hospitalized.  But I had been feeling really unwell lately.  I ruled out inadequate fat, sleep or sunlight, the presence of fever and a few other things as causes.

Then, a week ago, it occurred to me to check my glucose.  It was 423.  Oh shit.  And my urine output was way too high.  When there is too much sugar in the system then the body tries to cleanse itself by dumping sugar into urine to get rid of it.  Urine glucose should be zero; mine was 500.  And I was groggy and had just slept 21 hours out of 36.  What to do, what to do?  My doctor said that I would end up in the hospital with dehydration within three to five days.  (What he didn’t realize was that I wouldn’t call an ambulance.  No way am I going back to the hospital.)  So he offered a low dose of the drug metformin and (die or take drugs?) I accepted.

The big difference is that this doctor actually listens to the patient; instead of believing the latest studies, he believes the patient.  When I was in the hospital last summer, the hospitalists loaded me up with normal doses of medication and I had bad reactions.  This doctor (who’s the boss doctor at the hospital, which apparently means not only that he practices exceptionally good medicine, but also that he gets along well with people) proposed a low starting dose.

For most people, including Dick, the starting dose is 1000 mg. a day, and it can go as high as 3000 mg.  I started at 250 mg. and, with only a few bumps in the road, I not only tolerated it, but it worked.  Today my glucose is 251, my urine output is down, and I am sleeping better and therefore waking up in a better mood.  And I have quit the vegan diet. 

In “felt” terms, I wanted my mother’s meatloaf.  For days, all I could think about was my mother’s meatloaf, which wasn’t that wonderful, believe me.  It was dense and gray and had too much salt and not enough other seasonings.  Mom made it with medium-grade hamburger, white bread, eggs, celery, onions, milk, and I don’t know what else, then she baked it in two loaves and served it to her family of seven.  What wasn’t eaten hot was available for cold sandwiches served on white bread and slathered with catsup.

When I moved into my own apartment, I tried to glean recipes from my mom but it didn’t work very well because she never measured anything, including the ingredients of the meatloaf.   She couldn’t figure out exact measurements so my meatloaf never tasted like hers.  Over the years I tried a dozen different recipes but none ever tasted like My Mom’s Meatloaf.  Then, last week, my friend and I went out to dinner at a nice little restaurant and the special for the day was meatloaf.  It was an upscale restaurant, not a diner, and the meatloaf was splendid and served with a port wine sauce.  (Never has the humble meatloaf been so fancied up.)  But it wasn’t My Mother’s Meatloaf.

After the shit hit the fan and it became a case of lower the glucose level or go into a coma, I quit the vegan diet.  I had been eating well on it—pear and rhubarb tart, homemade hummus, curried zucchini soup—but what I now craved was comfort food.  I wanted the food of my childhood; I wanted My Mom’s Meatloaf.  I know I can’t make her meatloaf, but I have gone back to tuna fish salad, hotdogs, and scalloped ham and potatoes.  Hamburger and chicken are in the freezer and we’re going to make chili con carne today.

I craved comfort food, and all “normal” food became comfort food.  The vegan diet was stressful, and stress raises the glucose level.  Dick’s only health problems were diet problems—high cholesterol and high glucose.  My problems are respiratory, orthopedic, kidney, immune system . . . the list goes on, and when you change one thing then you change everything.  Doctors call this “co-morbidity,” meaning that one bad part acts on another bad part but what it actually means is that all your parts are connected.  All your body’s systems interact.

I’ve been eating meat, fowl, fish and dairy for sixty-five years, and for fifty-five of those years I took drugs.  Based on my experience, I believe that you can recover from almost any disease or disorder that occurs naturally, but you cannot recover from the damage done by man:  drugs.  My body’s ecology includes meat.  Without it, all my systems were confounded.  Where’s the meat? they kept asking each other.  Where’s the meat?

Amelia, my 23-year old aide, has been a vegetarian since she was fourteen and is a marvel of good health and vigor.  Dick has been a vegan for a year and has made an astounding recovery from ill health.  Me?  I’ve got too much wrong with me to tolerate the stress of transitioning to vegan.  I need meat.  Amen.

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About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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