Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Veggin' Out Again!

   About a year ago I read the book Diet for a New America by John Robbins.  I have been interested in health and diet for a long time, so the title caught my eye.  As I read the book, it reminded me of  Upton Sinclair's The Jungle,  so similar was it's indictment of the meat industry in the United States.  It would seem that in the years since Sinclair's book the industry would have changed for the better, making progress in both sanitation and ethics of the industry.  While progress has been made in terms of affordable meat products, the sanitation and farming of the animals leaves a lot to be  desired.  The main consideration, if not the only one, seemingly, is the bottom line:  how much profit is being made?  Factory farming does not take into account that animals are living beings that deserve ethical treatment.  Penned up, force fed and brutally slaughtered,  it is clear that these unfortunate creatures have become mere commodities in the market place.  One does not have to be a member of PETA to be disturbed by this book if for no other reason than the descriptions of the unsanitary conditions and the addition of antibiotics to the feed to help prevent infection and communicable diseases among the innocent:  both the animals themselves and the consumers of their meat.

For several weeks after reading Robbins' book, I committed myself to a vegetarian lifestyle.   I couldn't go the vegan route;  cheese and dairy products are staples of my diet that I am not ready to forego.  And these products could be obtained, I believed, without causing suffering or death for the animals producing them.   But meat?  That was another matter, entirely.   I made the effort to avoid all meat and did fairly well for several weeks.    But eventually I felt hungry and in some way deprived and my appetite for meat was stronger than my commitment.  I'm ashamed to admit how easily I got over my angst at the revelations in this book!  In time, I forgot it's lessons completely and began to imbibe much more heartily in the typical American diet once again.  My sense of entitlement took over and I compromised my values.  I caved.  I co-opted.  I settled for the status quo.

But fate has intervened!  If you've ever read Blink or The Tipping Point, both by Malcolm Gladwell, you will know that there is a time when a small idea, presented and spread often enough, grows larger.  Was it coincidence that my daughter and I had both been re-exposed to the sins and maladies of the meat industry through Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma?  More than mere coincidence, I believe, that in our quest for healthy lifestyles we came across this book at the same time.    In reading it, my concerns with the food industry expand past just the meat industry to include plants that are genetically altered for the purpose of improving upon the inefficiency of Mother Nature.  Again, profit margins trump health! Both Robbins and Pollan   discuss this in their respective books.

Since I cannot give up all food, I do what I can. I support local farmer's markets and try to buy produce grown within 100 miles of my base.  I buy fruits and vegetables that are in season so as to reduce my carbon footprint.  I spend more on foods that use organic fertilizers rather than petroleum based chemicals and try to eat less, opting for smaller portions and better choices.  I recommit myself to at least a primarily vegetarian diet, eating meat only once or twice a week, buying only that raised by local farmers rather than factory farms and feed lots.

So often my small efforts seem to be in vain. I'll be tempted to give up yet again.  Advertising and appetite collude to lower my resolve.  But if one person can make a difference I'm willing to try.  It may not be much, but it's something.  Please pass the arugula.

1 comment:

Lin said...

I was thinking the title could have been "Food for Thought". Ha! Ha!

It is hard these days to do, consume, and buy morally, ethically, and green. Everything from gas to heating to washing and drying our clothes requires rethinking how we go about our lives. Not only what we eat, but how we dress ourselves and get to the stores to buy all of this stuff is being analyzed. It's exhausting! I just try to eat healthy--forget trying to figure out how and where all of this comes from. Let me know if you figure this all out!

I'm going to try to come to class tomorrow. Hope to see you!