Veg-Out: Guest Post

As I’ve mentioned several times, I believe strongly in limiting meat consumption. If I had to guess I’d say that I eat vegetarian or “pescetarian” twice as often as I eat meat and when I am eating meat it’s the highest quality I can find and afford, eaten in moderate quantities
 
If you’re wondering why limiting meat consumption is so important I’ve asked my friend and colleague Kate to explain. She’ll do a much better job than I ever could.
 
I will never be a vegetarian for many reasons, not the least of which being that I love meat, but I’m hoping that reading about Kate’s personal journey in to becoming a vegetarian will encourage you to think about the issues she raises and perhaps commit to going meatless a few meals a week.
 
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I love food. I may have just eaten breakfast, but I’m already thinking about lunch. Eating, cooking, discussing, and sharing food are simply aspects of life I deeply enjoy. And I do all these things while not eating meat*.

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.

My take on a veggie buffalo chicken salad.

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.

Creamy Butternut-Ginger Soup

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.
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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/

Great documentaries:
Food Inc.
Forks Over Knives

*All the pictures are Kate’s as well,

Healthy, Well Fed and Really Pissed Off

A few days ago I saw the most disturbing story on tv. It was a segment about “The Feeding Tube Diet.” Nope you didn’t read that wrong.

Although I’m very passionate about cooking, food and food related health issues; I usually try to keep this space light and fun. Sometimes though, I hear something like this and I know that I have to speak up. I need to light a fire and get other people as angry as I am because if enough people get angry we can change things.

You can find out more about “The Feeding Tube Diet” by clicking here, but the gist of it is exactly what you’d imagine; a doctor shoves a feeding tube up your nose for 10 days and you lose 10lbs. A feeding tube! You know that thing they give legitimately sick people.

I was horrified. I seethed. Privileged people are choosing to go without solid food for pure vanity while people in the third world or in the poorest parts of our own country don’t have enough to eat. Perfectly healthy people are choosing to use a device designed to give sustenance to those who are gravely ill. We’ve all at some point had a friend, family member or someone in our community suffer from terrible illness. We’ve seen them forced to use apparatus that healthy people don’t need and I’m guessing none of us have looked at them with envy. The fact that our obsession with size has gone this far is disgusting.

Of course I’m not the only one who is outraged. I read an article today about a 14 year old girl who due to a rare illness is forced to use a feeding tube at all times. As you can imagine she has some choice words for anyone using a feeding tube to lose weight. “They’re making a mockery of it; they make it look so simple. They take it out in 10 days, I can’t take [my feeding tube] out in 10 days,” she says and reminds us that there is nothing glamorous about being sick.

This madness needs to stop!

So what can you do? You can help change the obsession with weight loss in this country. Stop equating a certain size with health and with beauty. Stop criticizing your own body or anyone elses. Don’t buy magazines with headlines disparaging stars for going from a size 00 to a size 2. Don’t participate in conversations that encourage women to think negatively about their bodies. When another woman ticks you off don’t call her fat or ugly or old, be thoughtful and try and articulate what really bothered you about her behavior. Be grateful if you and your loved ones are healthy and well fed.

Tell someone you love that they are beautiful just as they are. Tell yourself the same thing. Be a model for how you’d like the world to be.

You have a voice; use it wisely.

I think this song has a great message for women of all ages, but the fact that Selena Gomez’s target audience is 8-14 year old girls makes it that much cooler. This is the kind of message they should be hearing.

Ancient Holidays, New Traditions

Tonight is the start of Passover which just happens to be my favorite holiday. How could I not love a holiday that combines singing, food and emphasizes social justice.

I’m a big believer that rules are meant to be broken while traditions are meant to be kept. If this blog was about life and not food, I’d explain that further, but for now just go with it, k?

One of the coolest thing about Passover is that it steeped heavily in age-old traditions and still leaves room to begin new traditions. On the first two nights of Passover we have a Seder where we retell the story of our enslavement and coming out of Egypt, sing songs and eat a big delicious meal. In the center of the table is a Seder plate and on the Seder plate are certain foods that have symbolic meanings behind them. These foods have appeared on our Seder plates for centuries, but in modern times families often add new foods as symbols.

A few years ago my family started adding an orange to our Seder plates. There are a few interpretations of what the orange symbolizes, but I’ll tell you what it means to us. To my family the orange represents the inclusion of ALL people in our traditions and most especially the inclusion of Gays and Lesbians. See the orange isn’t something that’s been a traditional part of the Seder, but that’s no reason not to welcome it.

This year will be adding another symbol too, a tomato. No, the tomato doesn’t represent that we’re from New Jersey and are very proud of our tomatoes (though that is true), instead the tomato is there to remind us that, while we celebrate our own freedom from slavery , slavery still exists. Unfortunately much of this slavery exists in the supply chain of our food system and some of the most egregious examples are from the tomato growers in Florida.

The tomato on our Seder plate serves as a reminder that we may be free, but our fight is far from over. Our fight will not be over until all slaves are free, until all workers are guaranteed fair wages and safe conditions.

I hope you have a wonderful Passover, Easter or just a great weekend! Enjoy time with your family and friends, but please try to fill your table with only good quality, fair trade, sustainable food. And if this holiday weekend involves prayer for you, take a minute to pray that we will one day live in a world where all people are free.

Waste Not Want Not

One of the things I find most frustrating when people talk about food issues is the common (and frequently repeated) misconception that we have a food shortage here on our home planet. I assure you this is not the case. We have an abundance of food. There is plenty to go around, the problem is that it’s not going around. While this is a multi layered problem, one of the reasons that people who need the food aren’t getting the food is because much of it is instead ending up in the trash. Let me say that again for effect: INSTEAD OF GETTING FOOD TO PEOPLE WHO NEED IT, IT’S GOING IN TO THE TRASH.

I stumbled on this article on MSNBC today and thought it did a pretty good job of explaining food waste so I wanted to share it. Click the link below to read:

Experts: 30 to 50 percent of world’s food thrown away