11 October 2009

Food Issue(s)

I've decided the New York Times Magazine "Food Issue" warranted a brief break from my blogging hibernation. It's autumn, the weather is crisp and cool, farmer's markets abound with the diverse and colorful bounty of this year's harvest (though the summer's dismal weather certainly put a bit of a damper on certain crops): perfect time of year to direct people towards their pantries and cupboards, asking them to reconsider the food they consume and the implications of their dietary habits (which, as we know by now, go well beyond mere nutrition... Anyone remember this whole health care reform? Sucky economy? Energy issues? It's still all related.). I'm living by the same old mantra: eat and purchase local food, supplement with organics, cook at home, support small (local) businesses and fair trade, no meat, but some eco-friendly fish on occasion. I continue to manage this on my skinny budget (with seriously obese debt - yay, capitalism-infected higher education!) and hope that this bug (the healthy and affordable eating bug, not the capitalist or even h1n1 bug) is spreading.

Parting paths with my blog resulted from an inability to keep up a front of promoting anything. I'm not much of a spokesperson. I've already suggested here that I prefer example and quiet means of action, and I had lost my steam in writing here. I did not want to just post recipes, nor did I want to spout ecovore propaganda. I know many a very talented writers and food activists who serve the food-revolution cause much better (hi, Paula!). I am a very tolerant and excessively patient person (generally) and want people to find habits of eating and buying that best suite them -- with the hope that this will involve a certain level of being an "informed" eater. This makes all the difference. Understanding that food relates to so many elements of the lives we live and the world we live in (culture, tradition, environment, health, economy, blah blah blah) could bring so much positive change.

Thus I felt particularly drawn to Jonathan Safran Foer's contribution to the magazine: "Against Meat." Foer traces his twisted road to vegetarianism, highlighting major stops along the road, indicating key factors which supported certain decisions and ultimately re-evaluating the importance of food culture and what traditions and rituals around food mean.

A certain self-reflexive, self-deprecating and humorous yet informative style make the article worth reading. When discussing one moment in his and his wife's quasi-vegetarian history he writes of being vegetarians who sometimes ate meat and fish:

I assumed we’d maintain a diet of conscientious inconsistency. Why should eating be different from any of the other ethical realms of our lives? We were honest people who occasionally told lies, careful friends who sometimes acted clumsily. We were vegetarians who from time to time ate meat.

In the end (or at present) Foer and his wife do decide to be consistently vegetarians, though they are not idealistic or Utopian enough to insist that this indicates a true aversion or dislike of meat. They like meat, but the repercussions of a (western) world that consumes an excessive amount of meat, which for the most part is mass-produced, brutalizing the environment and our bodies, outweighs the taste of good steak -- for them:

I love calamari, I love roasted chicken, I love a good steak. But I don’t love them without limit.
This isn’t animal experimentation, where you can imagine some proportionate good at the other end of the suffering. This is what we feel like eating. Yet taste, the crudest of our senses, has been exempted from the ethical rules that govern our other senses. Why? Why doesn’t a horny person have as strong a claim to raping an animal as a hungry one does to confining, killing and eating it? It’s easy to dismiss that question but hard to respond to it. Try to imagine any end other than taste for which it would be justifiable to do what we do to farmed animals.
I appreciate the realism in the first quote. Eating meat sometimes is, at heart, the best and most universal message. Understand what you are eating, know where ingredients come from, get the fact that what you eat might come to you via a harmful path, and moderate. Some people feel committed to vegetarianism, while others might be unwilling, for a variety of reasons, to make that final step. Then compromise. Of course, the final quote makes a crucial point. Self-satisfying logic really does fuel the human mind in all of its decision making. I respect Foer's point and find it intriguing and think that it rings with truth. But we are human-animals and perversity and self-satisfaction reign. So, once more, balance. Some will devote themselves to vegetarianism on varying levels, others will continue eating meat -- hopefully with a knowledge of the origin of and production-involved in their roast beef sandwich.