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.