Whereeee do I even start? I started thinking about this about a year ago because my booboo was starting to get super interested in and passionate about sustainability issues and as he learned stuff, he would pass it on to me. I can’t remember what part of cutting meat out of my diet was the factor that reeled me in. If I’m being totally honest, it was probably “health” and physical appearance-related (TRYING NOT TO LET THIS BE TRUE….BUT IT IS…SRY). But I was also compelled by arguments about the harm caused to the environment by raising and eating meat. It seemed like a relatively simple thing to change about my life; if I was going to make an effort to compost and recycle properly and to drive less, it felt reasonable to also make this effort. So, I started to eat significantly less meat than I used to, and I’ve been continuing to minimize the meat in my life (and very recently starting to try to cut out other animal products too).
This is where it feels appropriate to mention my social location. At the time I was first considering this, I was in college, living at home for the summer, and working a couple different part time jobs. I wasn’t paying rent or buying my own food; I was basically living off of my parents. We’re solidly in the upper middle class, so buying food wasn’t stressful for me. I also had the time, energy, and resources (i.e., a computer and Internet access) to research vegetarian diets and recipes. I want it to be clear that the way I sort of fell into vegetarianism is a result of my economic privilege; I don’t think that my “journey” is doable or desirable for everyone. Right now, I’m trying to describe, not prescribe. Part of my thinking about food that is in extremely new stages is how to positively impact people and communities (in addition to the physical planet) with my personal food choices. I definitely welcome any suggestions for reading on that; still doing research! Meat has also never really been culturally important to me, and I know that that’s something that can affect people’s food choices.
But even though it’s totally intertwined with my socioeconomic privilege, vegetarianism/veganism/less animal product-eating is also connected with my desire to live in a way that is aligned with my politics. I think that most relationships (among people and between people and the physical environment) are characterized by violence and dominance; I think relationships should be full of compassion, and kindness, and empathy. To me, not eating meat has become a boycott at least of the really, really horrible conditions that animals endure before they’re killed, but ultimately, of killing other things for my own pleasure, period. It’s also about trying to contribute less to global climate change as an individual, even though I know my not eating meat doesn’t make systemic change (which is really what we need).
Cutting meat was right for me; it is right for me ethically, morally, and politically. I also never really liked meat that much, so on a very personal level, this isn’t that big of a sacrifice for me…I mean, I could always go for any fried chicken product, but steaks? Hard pass. I still have so many questions for myself about this choice though. On a small scale, I wonder where my meat-eating lines should be be drawn. I continue to eat meat when it feels socially better to just do it. For example, I lived in a house with 4 meat eaters last year and we shared dinner duties, so I ate meat if they cooked it (but they graciously cooked only poultry and fish). How important are these values to me if I will bend them for social reasons? On a larger scale, I wonder how the tension between this attempt at living more justly and my flexing of my class privilege can be resolved (if it can be at all). Are there more just food choices that I can and should be making?
I know that my ideas about food will continue to evolve as I learn (and eat) more about food systems and food justice, as well as about environmental justice. Who knows what the future holds in terms of food-related innovations? There are people developing meat grown from stem cells (no animal killing and less carbon emitted from raising them!), there are local and ethical meat movements, there are better meat substitutes, and that’s just a few meat-related examples. There’s so much more to food justice than meat (I think), and I’m really excited to learn more.
My short food-related reading list for the near future
- Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply by Vandana Shiva
- Rebuilding the Food Shed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems by Philip Ackerman-Leist
- The Reproach of Hunger: Food, Justice, and Money in the 21st Century by David Rieff
- The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans by Patricia Klindienst