Less Meat-i-tarian

 

My family enjoys the full range of God’s gifts of food. This means that we are an omnivore (omnivoric?) household, but try to be responsible about it (the title of this entry is how Mark Bittman describes his eating choices; we follow suit). We don’t eat a lot of meat. This is largely for financial reasons: we try not to purchase meat that isn’t organic, free-range, sustainably raised, and from humanely-treated animals.

This necessitates our eating meat much less often than the average American, who can pick up chicken thighs for 99 cents a pound (one of my favorite quotes is from Jamie Oliver: “A chicken, which was once a living being, shouldn’t cost less than a pint of beer”). Because we eat meat less often, and not from industrial production, we contribute to the reduction of all the nastiness that factory meat production brings to our world: environmental devastation (especially greenhouse gases), animal suffering/commodification, worker accidents/forced labor, and all the health problems that come from over-consumption of animal products.

Obviously one can contribute even more meaningfully to this reduction by becoming vegetarian. I salute my friends who have done so. I don’t for two reasons: one, I don’t believe it is wrong, in and of itself, to eat meat (see first sentence of this post); and two, I am voting with my dollars towards the changes I want to see. Boycotts don’t always work: the producers can just write off the people who don’t buy at all. But those of us still spending money on animal products have a real say – producers have a vested interest in pleasing us, as we are still customers.

It’s not easy, though, to find producers who treat their animals well, run a clean and open operation, don’t harm their workers, and work with nature, not against it. You can’t always trust a big corporation, even one like Whole Foods that seems to be really trying to change things. Just a quick overview of the “big organic” chapters in The Omnivore’s Dilemma will reveal just how confused and misleading the whole system has become.

For us, the solution was to join a ranch CSA. We eat meat usually twice a week, sometimes thrice. A box of their meat ($220 including a $20 drought supplement) lasts us at least 3 months, and includes premium items such as pork belly, whole brisket, incredible bacon, steaks, and the best hot dogs you will ever eat. Seriously. I actually started drooling thinking about them.

Talk to the farmers at your local market. If they don’t do a CSA you might be able to get one started; or if they do, joining it will be one of the best decisions you can make. To have almost all of your meat locally-sourced from a place where you personally know the farmers, who run an open operation and treat their animals well, is not only healthier and better for everyone involved, but it teaches your kids valuable lessons about honoring life and living in harmony with creation.

(I do still, btw, shop at Whole Foods for the 10% or so of meats I cannot get from the CSA, such as fish. It’s about taking steps, not being perfect.)

And if, by this teaching, one day my child announces that she cannot in good conscience eat meat any longer, I will honor her decision. Fortunately since I’ve tried (and failed) being both vegan and vegetarian, I have a great shelf of cookbooks to pass along.

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The FoodiEvangelist

Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of 2010” included real-food advocate Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and Food Rules), urban farmer Will Allen, animal welfare championTemple Grandin, and deputy USDA secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who wrote the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act (the first federal legislation establishing standards for the “organic” title).

Over the summer ABC ran a second season of the series “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” in which the British celebrity chef fights to replace the processed food in school cafeterias with fresh produce and whole foods, and teaches Americans how to cook simple meals instead of patronizing the drive-thru, all the while emphasizing that this is a “life and death” issue.

First Lady Michelle Obama has made diet-related disease her primary cause, planting a teaching garden at the White House and encouraging Americans to get to know their farmers.

There is no denying that a foodie frenzy has taken hold in this country. Suddenly it is not enough simply to eat organic – you must find the most local produce possible at the farmer’s market. The new “status lawn” is a backyard homestead, complete with Victory Garden, compost bin, and free-ranging chickens. The Food Network has spun off a second cooking channel and has already spurred many competitors (from TLC to The Travel Channel) to feature food-centric shows. And just recently I read on my Starbucks napkin that they no longer use artificial colors or flavors, hydrogenated oils, or the real boogie man, High Fructose Corn Syrup.

The backlash against the “industrial food complex” is strong and vocal, demanding an end to the prevalence of convenient but unhealthy food produced in non-sustainable ways. The major players also call for an end to the prevailing wisdom of “Nutritionism” (Michael Pollan’s term): the idea that food is merely biological fuel in the form of key nutrients, and no matter how they are consumed, it is the nutrients that matter the most. No longer is the nutrition info box on the side of the carton the only place one should look to know whether something is good to eat (good not only meaning healthy, but also tasty! Which actually matters to these people!).

I call this lifestyle choice the “religion” of the foodie – it calls for a change in one’s eating habits that makes them less convenient, more expensive, and ultimately more satisfying and nurturing. I call myself a “FoodiEvangelist” because I believe that this dogma can be instructive to persons of faith (particularly those of my own persuasion, which is Christian). Continue reading