Thursday, April 23, 2009
Aren't we getting a little spoiled?
I have been thinking lately about the vegetarian/vegan debate. At the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (where I'm finishing up my certification in holistic health counseling) there are many many vegetarians and a large number of vegans. I completely understand that some people would not want to consume other creatures for ethical, moral, or religious reasons. However, I take issue with the health and environment arguments in favor of veganism (vegetarianism is more moderate and flexible so I'll leave that out for the moment). This past weekend at IIN I was eating my city-farm-girl style lunch in the midst of many vegans. Some had brought their lunches; others were eating take-out from Whole Foods. One girl who stood out in particular (as she sat down she loudly announced that she is vegan) was eating what looked like some kind of pressed tempeh or fake-meat product out of a big plastic package. I looked around at everyone earnestly talking and discussing their various dietetic gyrations and was struck by the overwhelming spoiled-ness of it. Only in America are we so rich that we can turn up our noses at great local farm food and instead buy things like goji berries from South America and over-processed soy (that sickens everyone in the cities where it's produced with its awful odor). Many people like to argue that eating vegan or vegetarian is the way of the future, that everyone should do it because it would make the world a better place. I have to wonder, though, would they also try to apply this standard to poor people living in small villages around the world who rely on a few animals for their milk, eggs, and meat to round out their diets? Would we advise them to switch to soy milk and flavored tempeh? Probably not. Perhaps instead we should take a lesson from these people who are -- in many cases -- enjoying better health than most Americans and using far fewer resources that impact the planet; after all, they are eating local, unpackaged, largely unprocessed foods, and they are conserving and appreciating what they have. Maybe we should consider our local farmers who are struggling to stay afloat and who really need our support, which means buying and eating the products they offer. Small farms need to practice biodiversity (raising both animals and plants) in order to be healthy and avoid the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. And they need us -- the local eaters -- to remember that a loaf of homemade sourdough and a roast chicken and an arugula salad are real foods that are precious and that eating them is good for our environment and our local economy. A natural side-effect of eating local, conscientiously-raised animal products will be to save, to conserve, and to cut back, simply because the prices are (rightly) higher, and the quality higher as well, so that we need to consume less to get excellent nourishment. What do you think? I would like to hear from readers on this. In the meantime, please consider checking out your local farmers' market or joining a Community-Supported Agriculture program.