Thursday, March 25, 2010

An Awakening

It seems like there’s a movement afoot… or at least the start of one.  My interest in sustainable food is a relatively new one.  I stopped eating meat almost two years ago and never definitively decided to be a devout vegetarian.  It was the factory farming aspect of modern meat production that really bothered me; it served as my prime motivator, but there were others.  When I quit meat, I told myself that I’d play it by ear.  I cut down pretty drastically on dairy and decided I’d still eat fish.  While I still eat cheese (mostly imported or from local family cooperatives), and ice cream (non-GMO, etc), I stopped buying milk and started experimenting with alternative milks like hemp, rice, soy, almond, etc.  If you’re curious, I like unsweetened almond milk best so far and due to genetic modification of soy, have recently cut down on soy products as well.  I started reading egg labels and after everything I’d recently read, I wasn’t all that surprised to see that the nutrition facts on egg cartons varies drastically (go ahead and compare fat, protein, cholesterol, and sodium on a few cartons of eggs next time you’re egg  shopping!).  Eggs, after all, are the products of hens and their nutritional value, like that of meat and dairy, is heavily dependent on the feed given to the animals.  When I quit meat, I also thought it would be practical to not go too far off the deep end.  I didn’t want to change my diet so drastically that it became an inconvenience to others (by, for example, going vegan) and I also didn’t want it to be an overly challenging lifestyle to lead.  I like my cheese and can justify the consumption of such animal products, so long as extra attention is paid to where they come from and what the ingredients are.  Dairy should only include milk products, salt, and enzymes in the case of cheese and cultures in the case of yogurt.  When I started paying closer attention to dairy labels, I was dismayed to see things like mold inhibitors and anti-caking agents, for these ingredients do NOT belong in anything labeled CHEESE.  But I digress. 

What I have found in the nearly two years since I’ve been almost veg (I have continued to eat fish from time to time and if there’s chicken broth in something, I might have a bite) is that the “flexitarian lifestyle” if you will is more popular than I thought and it seems to be growing.  It might be the circles I run in now… the crunchy New Englanders who hold advanced degrees, sip lattes, do yoga, go hiking, etc seem much more likely be meat-free (or nearly) than the Marylanders I spent four years with or the tri-staters I went to college with.  I can’t recall a single vegetarian from childhood!  But part of me wonders how much of it is simply increased awareness (I assume that there are more vegetarians in Maryland now than there were three years ago, right?.  The books I’ve read that have encouraged less meat-eating are, after all, New York Times Bestsellers.  There’s got to be something to that, right? 

When people ask me why I don’t eat meat, it’s often hard to answer because I don’t like to sound preachy about it but I DO want to help reduce our nation’s consumption of unhealthy, unsustainable, factory-farmed meat, so I can’t help it anymore; I must soapbox from time to time.  I simply feel the need to spread information.  I’m getting more passionate about it than I ever thought I would.  I want locavore, vegetarian, vegan, raw, flexetarian, pescetarian, and other alternative eating practices to become less “alternative.”  I want to see more veg-friendly options on menus everywhere!  And the more I talk to people about the reasons to at least cut down on meat, the more receptive everyone seems.  I’m often surprised when a coworker or new friend tells me they don’t eat meat either, but the novelty’s wearing off and it’s exciting. 

With more information out there in easy to consume formats (from books and movies to newspaper and magazine articles, people are learning the shocking reality of the impact their daily food choices make on their bodies, the planet, and on humanity as a whole.  
Enough with the factory farms!  Enough with corporate greed!  Enough with pollution and inefficiency! 
Thank you Michael Pollan.  Thank you Ellen Degeneres.  Thank you PETA.  Thank you Jonathan Saffron Foer.  Thank you Jamie Oliver (and ABC)!

Believe it or not, WE, the American public, want MORE information!  You might think we prefer ignorance but when schools call Pizza two servings of whole grains and a serving of veggies… we’ve got issues and thanks to people like the ones I just mentioned, I think we’re starting to realize it. 

The BIG Questions:
When will another talk show host quit meat and talk about their decision publicly? 
When will we realize that our chicken isn’t really even chicken anymore (it’s 11% dirty water!)? 
That our turkeys (yeah, the ones that provide our “healthy lunchmeat) can’t mate?
And that our pigs are boiled alive all in the name of bacon? 
When will we WAKE up and realize that the reason our daughters start menstruating earlier and earlier every year might have SOMETHING to do with the growth hormones in the milk and that the GMO SOY that’s now in EVERYTHING is having unknown effects on breast cancer rates and expression of male gene sequences? 

The answers:
When the nightly news starts going undercover at factory farms.
When there’s a documentary about food nominated for an Oscar EVERY year.
When we see mutated chicken on the front cover of TIME and Newsweek.
When reporters start digging into the farm bills and really start to question the USDA and the FDA!
When we have so much information staring us in the face EVERY day that we can’t chose to ignore it anymore!

*stepping off soap box*