I may wax poetic on my blog about spirituality, faith, what I brush up in my life and on the stage, but I tend to shy away from very controversial issues. When Alli approached me to write a post on my vegetarianism, I said yes, even though it scared me. It was the push I needed.
The main reason I haven’t written a large post on why I am a vegetarian is I wanted to avoid being preachy. Much of my day is spent articulating viewpoints that aren’t always shared by others, so when my blog was born, I wanted to protect. I wanted a place that I could express my passion, and also a place that would be safe from debate .
I haven’t always been a veg: Four years ago, I began working for a coalition of very dedicated religious groups. Each one wants to ensure that the money they invest for their mission, ministry and retirement funds goes for good purposes, and especially not towards ones that are against their values.
A year into this work, we began to dialogue with meat companies. The more I learned about this industrialized production, the more disturbing my lunch seemed. I was always a healthy eater, but my leftover chicken stir-fry or fresh turkey sandwich was less appealing. And yet, it was easy. It was convenient to eat meat. I could segregate my eating habits from my knowledge. I did so, successfully, for some time.
The experiment…that never ended: Eventually, I decided it was time to try this “conscientious living” thing. So last year, I gave meat for Lent. Many Catholics offer a sacrifice for this 40 day period, symbolizing Jesus’ time of fasting and prayer in the desert. In a way of conversion to remind us to more often turn our lives towards God, we ‘give something up’ or take something on (ex: more time in prayer or mass). Initially I thought that I would eat only sustainable meat. But that seemed more daunting than going without! Instead I became a vegetarian, fully intending to celebrate by eating meat on Easter. That resurrection never came.
The beginning of conversation: I wouldn’t call my Lenten experience a full ‘conversion’. I had for years known about certain food related concerns; I had just failed to live in a way that acted on this knowledge. Partly from my stubborn Irish heritage, partly from my curiosity, I continued to live out my vegetarian ways. I liked feeling a part of something larger than myself. I liked the limiting control it provides. I liked the strong connection to others by being more cognizant of what I put in my mouth and hence how that choice affects the world we live it. I do not believe you must be vegetarian or vegan to do this, but I do think this offers a concrete and achievable way of simultaneously reaching all these goals.
Impact of others: When I chose to become of vegetarian, I was living with others. We often shared meals, and I was worried that I was unduly forcing my ways on them. They now love, ask about, and request recipes based on my lifestyle! And it goes beyond just those I lived with. My friend Ben absolutely LOVES his meat. When I come over, he always has a veg option. Even better, he wants to talk about food. So we do- we talk, we discuss, we disagree, we break bread. It’s exactly what it should be- what I wanted- a community sharing food. I thought that by being a vegetarian I would lose that. Instead, it has been strengthened.
Hungry for change: I began to realize that this continuous form of living as a vegetarian could very well be connected to one of my largest passions: working to see an end to hunger. That is the number one reason I do not eat meat today. We know there are many reasons people choose this lifestyle: animal rights, health reasons, environmental concerns, increased risks of antimicrobial resistance and more. For me, I’d rather feed people than CAFOs or fuel.
There are a few statistics relevant to my reasoning. One of my favorite food journalists recently wrote that “according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption”.
Another way to look at this is the amount of plant protein utilized to create the same of amount of animal protein. This report states that “over 10 pounds of plant protein are used to produce one pound of beef protein”. The UN FAO states that if these grains were instead to feed humans rather than animals, more food could be available for the 925 million people who suffer from chronic hunger worldwide. Lastly, despite that there are almost 1 billion of our brothers and sisters going hungry in this world, most of the planet’s corn and soy grown is feed to cattle, pigs and chickens.
Regardless of the specifics of each of the statistics, I think we can all comprehend the point behind them: by increasing our intake of animals we are increasing the needed resources to raise these animals, resources that could also feed another person.
My journey is one that continues. Will I be a vegetarian for the rest of my life? Who knows! I think the way we currently grow food will always present challenges to me, (I mean have you been to a grocery store lately)? Yet, once you know, you have the power to make a choice.
Knowledge is Power. But only if you ACT: My suggestion is to sit and reflect. Write out your Food Philosophy. If you are spiritually minded, spend some time in quiet to think about these issues, and research any religious connection to food you feel called to. Talk to others about it. Put the questions out there. Wrestle with these topics with others.
For example, someone recently asked me if I realized that my meat avoidance doesn’t immediately change the system. Of course. But it always starts with one. And, I have found deeper personal fulfillments, as I have shared.
Raising your voice, and raising your fork: Previous to my vegetarianism, I didn’t want my plate to get political. Today, I realize it always has been. Before, I lived with my happy ignorance, reading reports of -“Climate Change, Food Insecurity and Hunger” or “Agroecology and the Right to Food” or “Community and Social Impacts of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations”, while munching on a ham sandwich. But whether we choose to realize it or not, each bite is a vote. From CAFOs, to corn subsidies, food dumping to unnecessary food waste, carbon footprints to antimicrobial resistance, genetically modified food, each time we raise the fork we are raising our voice. It is only whether we allow ourselves to recognize it or not that truly makes the difference.
*Full disclosure: I do now occasionally eat fish. It is a personal choice based on certain health factors.
Resources for More info:
Great photo for oil inputs for a steer http://www.farmlandlp.com/2011/01/oil-and-food-prices/
Graphic of Carbon Footprint of various food products: http://katesaysyes.wordpress.com/2011/07/19/eat-what/
Meat Quiz: http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/take-the-quiz/
The Meat Eater’s Guide: http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/
Forks Over Knives
*All the pictures are Kate’s as well,