Eating Responsibly

Eli and I became vegetarians a little over a year ago after reading the book Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, and then learning more about how healthy a vegetable-based diet is.  While becoming vegetarian was the most obvious change this book influenced, the more important shift it began was in making me more conscientious about what I eat–where my food comes from, how it makes me feel when I eat it, and the impact my eating has on the rest of the world.

Truth be told, it was easy to stop eating meat, and vegetarianism is both good for your health and good for the planet, but there are other changes that continue to be much harder for me.  I struggle with wanting to be ethically consistent but also recognize the many challenges of time, information, and resources that are required to make healthy and responsible decisions about my food and what I feed my kids.  Learning how to navigate this desire to eat responsibly has become a major project of mine.

As we all undertake this in different ways I think it’s worth noting that eating is not a neutral activity.  There are political, social, and ethical ramifications to anything that takes place within an economy–our food system being no exception.  It may appear that the extremists are those whose diets are the most unlike the average,* but within our social systems those who do nothing are actually speaking volumes about the acceptability of our current food system.  We don’t have to give up all animal products or produce all our own food in order to make real changes for ourselves and for our world.  If idle hands are the devil’s playground then complacency must be the devil’s currency.  Moreover, complacency is a luxury that anyone who has to wonder where her next meal is coming from or whether he’ll be able to feed his children does not have.

In the book of Genesis God gives humans stewardship over all God’s creation so that we can keep it and preserve it.  To me that means not turning God’s gift of creation into either a cesspool or something that is reserved for the enjoyment of some and not others–neither of which are things intentionally done, but are more often the byproduct of carelessness.  No feed-lot of 30,000 head of cattle set out to pollute the land and poison nearby water sources, but rather to feed as many people at the highest profit possible, which itself is not the harm.  The harm in this case is the unintended but well-documented fact that the byproducts of industrial agriculture do real harm to the land and its inhabitants.

Chances are you do care about food, or you probably haven’t made it this far through my polemic.  You might be an ethical vegetarian, or even an ethical meat eater.  You might volunteer with a local feeding program or shop at a farmer’s market, supporting sustainable food systems.  You might eat most of your meals out but hope to cook more with whole ingredients in the future.  You might pray blessings on the food you do have and ask that God might help you discern how to do better.  There is no easy solution to eating responsibly and to pretend that there is is to live in ignorance of the complexity of our food system and the great burden it places on the land, and the vast numbers of folk who it fails.

In the end what I have is my faith and my willingness to pursue positive and life-giving choices even if they are small and incremental.  How have you cared about food?  What do you do to eat responsibly?  Do you disagree with me?  Your opinions and comments are strongly encouraged.

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3 thoughts on “Eating Responsibly

  1. Thanks for this post Brin, I really enjoyed it. While we have not gone vegetarian in our family, we have cut way back on our red meat consumption which has saved us money in addition to being healthier for us. For our family, food is one of our largest expenses and one that we are always trying to figure out how to curb. But I waiver on whether our goal should be to spend less on food or not, knowing that it’s costing us more because we are looking for foods that are better for us (organic, less processed/fewer ingredients, no antibiotics, in season, local, etc.) The hardest thing for me has been that in preparing healthier meals for my family, and with working 30 hours/week, that means I have less time in the evenings to just interact with my children, because healthier meals means more time in the kitchen. It has been an ongoing struggle for me, thinking about and planning meals and then finding the time to make them, and balancing that with spending time with my family and working. Pizza night ends up being one of my favorites because it means I am off the hook and get to play all evening. I know when my kids are older and can participate in the cooking more, it will be less difficult; but during this baby and toddler stage I end up feeling guilty so many nights because I don’t have enough time to play with them.
    P.S. I love your blog and all your recipes (haven’t made them all but they look and sound delicious!).

  2. This is a really cool post. I think since having children I’ve thought more about food and health than in the previous 32 years of my life, which is not to say that it has never occurred to me before, but… well, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean there. It’s a very complicated issue to consider. My first approach has come from the perspective of health, and even that is a very complicated issue, especially as pertains to our modern world. I mean, we all know the drill: more veggies and fruits, fewer processed foods, etc. But there’s so much more to consider: pesticides, hormones, anti-biotics, genetic modifications. Figuring out what’s critical, what’s important, and what’s negligible. And all that comes without looking outside the food itself. When you begin, as you say, considering the effect on global, domestic, and local economies and environments…whew! Where to begin.

    Furthermore, it becomes very difficult to judge how best to incorporate what you know into your life. You want to do everything and where do you even start? We’ve come to the conclusion, in our family, that we do what we can as we can: begin with our family and our individual and colective health and needs, and move outward as we are able (financially and practically) and as it comes clear what the next step should be.

    The luxury of posessing the knowledge and means to overcome complacency so often meets with the luxury of being able to shelter oneself from the repercussions of bad behaviors for a long time. I think that’s how things have managed to get so bad with respect to how we treat our very sustenance. When you start from that perspective, of what we content ourselves to put in our own bodies, it’s not surprising that we can veer so far off the path in politics, industry, family, etc.

    • Yes, starting from the perspective of health has been our strategy, too, but that’s not perfect either. Having kids and being busy people we still eat out more than we should and, yes, my kids eat Lucky Charms (gasp!) for breakfast–when I can get them to eat breakfast at all.

      I think you hit the nail on the head that privilege has let us veer so far off course, as individuals and as a nation of eaters. Food is incredibly cheap in the United States, in part due to large subsidies (but there’s a political tale in there that I can’t get into right now), yet an alarmingly high number of children go to be hungry every night. As a nation we are overfed but undernourished, take as evidence the rising number of children with type 2 diabetes due to poor diet, which disproportionately affects children living at or near the poverty level. I’m just not sure how to square all of these things, let alone how to tackle them, as someone who cares deeply for food related issues. I really appreciate your comment and your very thoughtful insight.

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