This is part 2 of a three-part series on my views on eating ethically. The first one focuses on why I try to eat locally (and the resources I use to do so). This one will focus on why I’m not a vegetarian (even though I love veggies), and the third will be a mish-mash of everything left over, a discussion of any comments I recieve, and a little bit on organics. I may even try to throw in some seasonal vegetarian winter recipes while I’m at it, since winter tends to be the hardest. We’ll see.
I choose not to become vegan for a lot of different reasons. Food, to me, serves three main functions. It sustains health, it serves as a social binder, and it tastes good. The simplest reason for me not to be vegan is that I’m allergic to most processed soy (tofu, soy milk, etc) , and I prefer not to saturate my diet with heavily processed foods (seitan, tofu, tempeh, TVP, etc.). This leaves two good forms of non-animal product protein, nuts and beans, neither of which I like enough to use as staple foods. I also don’t absorb iron well from plant sources (found that one out the hard way, of course), so it would be very difficult for me to stay healthy on a vegan diet. If this were really important to me, I’d find a way to make it work– but it’s not.
Many social and community events are centered around food– in fact, food is often referred to as the glue of communities. Ovo-lacto vegetarianism is becoming more and more common, and thus more and more accommodated in these situations, but it is virtually impossible to eat a full, balanced meal– or even a snack– in most (though not all) social situations as a vegan. I would have difficulty staying healthy as a vegan, I enjoy the taste of dairy, and have no wish to make things difficult for the community around me for non-health reasons. I do not wish to opt out.
I also really enjoy the taste of dairy, and have no moral objection to obtaining it from ethical sources. Factory farming, in many cases, is abusive, and this troubles me, but it is increasingly easy to do the research needed to pick cruelty-free sources of dairy products. I have no problem doing that research for any product I bring into my house, and this influences my choices when choosing restaurants as well. As I said before, though, I try not to inflict my choices on other people– in a group, or at someone else’s house, there arevery few products I feel strongly enough to kick up a fuss about by asking for sourcing information.
The question of eating meat was a much bigger struggle for me. For a time, I didn’t like meat much, so I didn’t eat meat, and that was that. That was the time in which I found out about my iron absorption difficulties (seriously, you would not believe how much spinach I was eating at that time. I tried.) When I went back to eating meat again, I loved the taste. I don’t know how much of that was my getting older and how much of it was eating better meat, but I struggled with the idea of eating animals, particularly knowing the environmental impacts. Oddly, learning more about farming was what helped my decision. Small farms seem to be healthier as plant and animal farms. Hens can be the best field-tenders, and manure can be the best fertilizer. Knowing that reassures me that the life cycle is set up a certain way for a reason, and that there’s nothing wrong with accepting my role in the food chain- so long as I don’t abuse the privilege.
I don’t eat meat often, and I appreciate it when I do. I don’t mind the research it takes to find sources that don’t abuse their animals, and I don’t mind paying a premium for it. I do my best to buy the whole animal (chickens rather than chicken breasts, for example), so that I know that all parts are used and animals aren’t being bred unhealthily for profit. Eating meat is, in so many ways, a privilege to be appreciated and not abused– but now that I recognize that and eat responsibly, the little I do doesn’t trouble me. Really, I have no problem with anyone eating anything so long as they’ve thought about it and accepted it first.
My biggest food-related pet peeve is people who only order meat not on the bone and in shapes that look nothing like the animal they came from, so that they don’t have to think about or accept what they’re eating. What’s yours?