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2007.08.28

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Brona

I gave up eating meat when I saw a film on animal rights in one of my undergraduate classes (at the height of idealism). Even then, it was not so much eating animals that I objected to as their treatment in factory farms. I continued to eat fish, but not very much, somehow justifying it as a cold-blooded vs. warm-blooded distinction, or something. It's been almost 20 years, and it is much easier to be a vegetarian now than it was then; there are all kinds of "meatless" meats to help the inner carnivore.

Back then, it was an easy, black and white decision (remember, idealistic). What I grapple with now is the whole raft of factors related to the environment (mostly), like: sustainably caught fish, organic vs. conventional, free-range vs. factory farms, and especially, local vs. imported. It seems like everyday I learn something new that effects what we eat - the latest? Plastic lining in food cans, it contains bisphenol-A.

Brona

Oh, and, I forgot Fair-Trade! Now there's a world of guilt associated with non-fair trade chocolate... and coffee, plus, that should be shade-grown to help the migratory song-birds...

Oy.

Jacquie F.

I grapple with how/what to eat. I live on an island in Southeast Alaska where EVERYTHING has to come in by a barge or plane--except fish. My husband is a commercial fisherman and we have several friends that fish commercially. I've been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium (I love the kelp display) several times since I grew up in the area. I love the displays, but politically it's a bit strange since California hosed its commercial fishing grounds years ago.

The good/bad fish is a frustrating point for us up here. The Alaska commercial fleet is heavily regulated and about as close to sustainable as any fishing could be. Nearly all of the fisher-folks up here want to continue to fish and pass their boats and licenses to their kids so they are deeply invested in a sustainable, well-managed fishery.

Just FYI, the cost of Alaska fish is high because the fishermen demand a decent price per pound so they can make expenses without overfishing. Lower prices means they have to go out and catch more fish just to pay the fuel or tackle bills. The price of Salmon finally came up thanks to the decreasing popularity of farmed atlantic salmon. I could go on an on about fish.

Oh, I feel guilty about buying vine-ripened tomatoes in Sitka in winter. I can't even imagine the fuel it took to bring me those.

drunken monkey

I have often considered becoming vegetarian, but worried that I won't be able to do it in a way that keeps me healthy, especially with my chronically low iron. I'm trying to reduce our meat consumption overall, though my boyfriend is fighting me tooth and nail. Part of the problem here is that I don't like soy or eggs, two of the protein sources many vegetarian options seem to rely on heavily.

So, I don't know. I am always trying to improve things -- only buying meat when I know where it came from, when I trust how the animals were treated, for example. But they were still raised to die so I could eat them. I have more and more of a problem with that.

On the other hand, people were designed to eat meat, even if we can get by just fine without it. I don't know that I could have a healthy diet without it. And frankly, I like eating it. It tastes good. The thought of a life without roast turkey makes me a bit sad. Also, I'm not convinced that eating processed faux-meat soy patties instead of a burger made of organic chicken is better for me or the environment.

Lisa S.

Jacquie -- you're hardcore! Do you have a blog, or do you write about your island life?

I wish you would go on and on about fish. After all, you're living close to the industries in a way I'm not, and I'm sure your observations are much more valuable. I mean, aside from hitting the MBAQ and watching [i]The Deadliest Catch[/i], I have no experience whatsoever with what you live with.

Although I do eat a lot of Alaskan salmon. It just tastes better.

Brona

DM - you make a good point. I've been worrying about the "processedness" of faux meats as well, and isn't soy a monoculture crop?

Julia

I've flirted with vegetarianism for a few years, but never really committed. I was a semi-vegetarian for a few years in high school, and only ate mammals. My family mostly ate chicken anyway, so it didn't really change my overall eating habits very much, and I soon started eating beef again when it was convenient (I still don't eat pig products, partially just because they're generally unhealthy, partially because pigs are as smart as dogs and I feel guilty eating something that intelligent.). A friend and I recently gave up beef on more or less a whim, with the slightly-fatuous reason that it would combat global warming. We can break the beef ban as often as we need to, but every time we do so we have to stand in the corner for a minute (we actually had a lot of fun coming up with this plan). You'd think we'd break it left and right, but I've only broken it about three times since we started over half a year ago.

I still eat chicken and fish, so I don't worry much about getting a balanced diet without beef and pork. I also developed a taste for Morningstar veggie burgers a few years ago, and those keep me supplied with protein fixes. I can see my dietary habits continuing to change, but I'm pretty sure I'll keep the prohibition on pork for life.

SP

Weingarten's chat this morning had a really interesting conversation going about this very subject; he's a meat-eater -- considers it basically indefensible but goes ahead and does it anyway. I'm concerned I'm going to break your comments with the length of this link, but here:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2007/08/21/DI2007082100527.html

Kate the M

I've never been able to like seafood (can't get past the smell), although I did try crabcakes for the first time last week and they were delicious! I've tried soy, tofu, and even miso-- can't stand how any of it tastes, so I don't think I'd make a good vegetarian.

On an unrelated note, I like the new site design! The green reminds me of the shore!

Amanda

I tried to read Michael Pollan's book but I just couldn't get into it. I was shocked and amazed by corn and then... just couldn't go on. It was too much.

In fact, all of this stuff is a bit too much for me. I am concerned about the plight of the animals but I can't seem to find the mental energy in my daily life to figure out all about it. And, ultimately, we still have to trust that our food manufacturers are doing what they say they're doing. We have no effective watchdog group which is given unfettered access to the manufacturing process and that's a sad state of affairs.

Honestly, I was far more outraged about the Tyson foods incident in which they had implemented a defacto "whites only" bathroom in their chicken processing plant in Alabama. In seems that abuse of people and abuse of animals goes together in some cases. Where the meat is treated poorly, the people are treated poorly.

~

Love the new site design!

drunken monkey

Jacquie, I'm glad to hear that your fishing industry is being handled a bit better than the one where I'm from, Newfoundland. I've seen it fall apart -- I moved to the island the year the cod moratorium came in -- and the economic effects were devastating, not to mention the cultural impact from losing what had been a way of life and a defining characteristic of the island for hundreds of years.

Y'all are making me feel guilty about eating pigs now. I probably should.

(Pretty green! I like it.)

Jacquie F

Lisa--
I don't blog due to pure laziness. Life up here is pretty neat. The deadliest catch makes commercial fishing pretty sexy, but it's remarkably true to life. Even in a town full of commercial fishermen, those guys are treated like rock stars. The Northwestern and crew are tendering (picking up and storing fish at sea so smaller boats can fish longer) in Sitka. Each species is regulated differently by timing restrictions and bag limits. I don't think the systems is perfect--it is EXTREMELY expensive to get into the industry unless you inherit a boat and permits. Right now we are looking into getting a boat and a troll permit for about $15,000. Zack (husband) would have to hit it pretty hard to make up for that type of investment. Plus the boat is old and needs a lot of work. The lifestyle is worth it, though. Life is dictated by the tides, weather and the runs.

I watched the commercial fleet in California go to nothing. None of the fishermen can afford to live near the coast anymore and the fishery is poorly regulated.

Drunk Monkey--I have read a lot about the Atlantic cod fishery and the management. Alaska is young enough to learn from the problems encountered there. Watching a way of life go by the wayside is sad but people that fish for a living are pretty resilient. Though recently large fisher-processers have been allowed closer to shore than in the past 30 years and the salmon runs have suffered. One run was expecting a return of 3,000,000 dog (chum) salmon. Only 300,000 have returned so far. There could be a number of factors, but allowing large boats off shore could be one of them. (If I remember right this is part of the cod problem.)

Ah, the seafood smell. We call it the smell of money. Except halibut bait. That stuff is rank. Feel free to email me with more questions. I am happy to educate about Alaska fish...oh, my Dad lives in San Jose and said that Costco has wild Alaska sockeye salmon for about $5/lb in the round (whole). That is a pretty good price for the best tasting salmon. Fishermen get about $1.25- $1.75 per pound at the dock so that's about as good as it gets.

Erica

I have celiac disease (meaning that I'm allergic to gluten, the protein in wheat, barley, and rye) so I am forced by that situation to carefully examine every ingredient. To further complicate things, I also get sick from corn.

I am a vegetarian, but I don't see that as adding problems diet-wise because I generally find meat distasteful. Perhaps it is for that reason that I have never had any trouble "replacing" meat in my diet. I don't eat soy-based meatlike products, but I do enjoy edamame as a snack. Most of my protein comes from beans, lentils, and nuts. Many celiacs develop soy intolerance so that is why I keep my consumption of soy products to a pretty low level.

I used to eat a lot of yogurt, but I have cut back after learning about the poor treatment of many of the dairy cows. As much as I love yogurt, I'm not willing to support companies that are mistreating the animals. The fact that every yogurt brand I could eat was packaged in #5 plastic that is generally less recyclable didn't help matters.

Since one of the few desserts that I can buy in the store is ice cream, I have a willful blind spot towards the ethical dilemmas therein.

Most of my vegetables I get from my CSA but I do supplement with some fruits and veggies from the grocery. I doubt that the kiwi is local to the DC area. I stick to organic rice but I have no idea how the people who grow it are paid or the conditions in which they work.

I often wonder how differently I would eat if I didn't have to know every ingredient and the nature of the factory processing of everything that I eat. I probably eat better because of celiac but it is an annoyance sometimes.

Nomie

For me, it boils down to a few salient points. First, I'm a grad student living on a small stipend. I can't really afford to buy organic, free-range, whatever - in fact, I'm eating a lot less meat than I used to simply because I can't afford to buy it most of the time. And the grad housing I'm living in has a woefully inadequate kitchen, making cooking even more difficult and limiting my options even further. I'd like to eat in a mindful-of-the-environment way, but at this moment it's really not feasible for me. Maybe when I get a Real Job.

Second... perhaps this makes me sound heartless, but I am more concerned about other human beings than I am about animals. I prefer to focus my energy on human rights issues. And there's not really a lot more I can say about this issue without sounding like a total troll or moral scold.

Jennifer

I've been a vegetarian for a very long time, over fifteen years, so I like to just respond to two of the comments. For the commenter who was concerned about getting enough protein because they don't like soy, beans can be your best friend. They're easy, healthy and best of all cheap. Nuts are good too.
The comment about being more concerned about people carries with it the implication that people and animals are an either/or proposition. It sort of baffles me. Like you can either care about people or care about animals. I feel that's not true. I can honestly say that choosing not to eat meat/seafood takes nothing away from my concern about "human" issues. After the intial learning period, vegetarianism takes almost no time or effort. It hasn't gotten in the way or blocked me at all from supporting the causes I believe in.
I'm not trying to convert anyone (I hate the sterotype of the preachy vegetarian), just wanted to point out that its possible to be healthy and care about people while choosing a vegetarian diet.

Lisa S.

Second... perhaps this makes me sound heartless, but I am more concerned about other human beings than I am about animals. I prefer to focus my energy on human rights issues. And there's not really a lot more I can say about this issue without sounding like a total troll or moral scold..

No, no, no -- it's good to have the different perspectives. And your restraint is what separates you from the trolls and scolds.

I personally see the agricultural-industrial issues as touching on all sorts of rights. As Amanda mentioned in her post, workers in Tyson's factories were hardly treated fairly, and one of the messages in Fast Food Nation was that cheap food has a human cost as well an animal one. And I think the ethical-dieting movement will never, ever take hold in this country until we admit that it is largely a luxury lifestyle at this point, and vast numbers of economically disadvantaged humans are trying just to freakin' EAT.

It's a complex thing -- making sure people can get enough to eat without compromising other people, raping the environment and condemning food animals to miserable lives. I see all the parts as important, you know?

Erica

I work at a non-profit think tank that researches peaceful solutions to security issues worldwide. I'm not the only vegetarian in the office.

I have seen that when a person starts to investigate the effects of oppression on one group then they start seeing oppression more in their daily environment. I am simply referencing my own personal experiences here though.

I am not criticizing or looking down on anyone who doesn't eat like I do. My diet has evolved over time and I am sure that it will continue to do so.

Simply reducing the amount of meat in your diet can be one of the cheapest ways to reduce the emissions from your diet (resources going only to produce and transport the grains, beans, etc. themselves and not to feed the animals that are then turned into the food), so I hope that people who are so inclined don't feel like they have no options when money is tight. Even cutting meat out from a few meals a week can help!

Shotrock

This is going to be a bit of a rant, so first of all, let me say that I think ethical animal husbandry is a great idea. There's no reason for a goose to be force-fed so that I can have foie gras, or that a veal calf should live its short life in a cage that's trying to masquerade as a proper stall. And I eat meat (beef) maybe once a week if I'm lucky - fortunately I'm a big fish and salad fan. That being said, I gotta agree with drunken monkey on this one:

On the other hand, people were designed to eat meat, even if we can get by just fine without it. I don't know that I could have a healthy diet without it. And frankly, I like eating it. It tastes good.

Exactly. I find it fascinating that evolution and body chemistry and brain chemistry have combined to make the two things that our species absolutely depends on - Sex and Food - extremely pleasant physical experiences, and that these two experiences are what the Far Right and the Far Left have latched on to as Moral Issues. As in, both extremists are bound and determined to restrict us to what *they* say is correct. For the fundies it's gay sex, and for the PETA nuts it's eating a steak. This is why I have the same reaction to someone who says "I'm a born-again Christian" as I do to someone who says "I'm a vegetarian/vegan" - which is, you might be a totally cool person, but based on 99% of your ilk, you're more likely to be an intolerant, judgmental, moralistic git.

And I think the ethical-dieting movement will never, ever take hold in this country until we admit that it is largely a luxury lifestyle at this point, and vast numbers of economically disadvantaged humans are trying just to freakin' EAT.

Oh, yes - that lovely minefield of race and class issues that this sort of thing brings up. One of the reasons that I think the anti-fur movement hasn't gotten a hold on the women in this country is that the movement happened to hit its stride at the same time as fur became more affordable, what with farmed mink and such. Are you going to tell that African-American working class chick who's wearing her Goldman Sachs executive assistant bonus on her back that FUR IS DEAD!? Yes, you, my upper-middle-class white friend. Go ahead. And then you can tell the Latinos in East L.A. that their lomo de cerdo is a horrible, horrible thing to eat.

Perhaps the best quote on the intersection of environmental activism and the class system came from a British friend of mine, who said of the Camp for Climate Action (those young'uns that parked themselves at Heathrow to protest the carbon footprint of air travel):

"Now that they've flown all over the world for their post-Oxbridge gap years, they want to stop some poor hardworking bloke from taking his kids to Disney World."

Becky

I am a failed pescetarian (I still have chicken a few times a month), because in some situations I would rather eat chicken than eat nothing. (I know I could eat ahead of time, or bring my own food, but I don't have the time or energy for that yet.) I have lately been focusing on reducing my consumption of HFCS and other processed foods, because I don't think a veggie burger is always better for the environment than a local, free-range chicken.

What I did find frustrating was that many of the vegetarian suggestions on the Food Pyramid site are soy-based. Gee, that couldn't have anything to do with subsidies, or anything. Lentils are just as awesome as soy!

Balancing it all is really difficult, and I do keep trying to cut back my meat intake. But I don't want to be a total control-freak about what I eat (especially because I already have a few food allergies and intolerances).

Becky

Shotrock, I do think there's an awareness that in general, the more well-off you are the more of a negative impact you have on the environment. The working class woman who saved up for one stole is nothing compared to the society gal with closets of fur and leather. The family that saves up for a trip to Disney is nothing compared to the family that jaunts across the country for every three-day weekend. Let's not even talk about house sizes (which, disappointingly, the Sierra Club isn't talking about, either).

I generally haven't found vegetarians and vegans to be obnoxious, but it might help that I live in an area that's very vegetarian-friendly. I suspect that in some places, vegetarians have to make a little noise just to make sure they can find healthy options.

Shotrock

I generally haven't found vegetarians and vegans to be obnoxious, but it might help that I live in an area that's very vegetarian-friendly. I suspect that in some places, vegetarians have to make a little noise just to make sure they can find healthy options.

New York is quite vegetarian-friendly, so the noise isn't about their diet options, which are plenty, but mine. Anyone who walks up to me, asks me what my lunch is, and when I reply, "roast beef sandwich" says, "That's actually a CARCASS. You're eating a CARCASS" - is a jerk. Yeah? Well, unless mammalian tits have changed lately, you drink soy LIQUID, putz.

I'm not talking about your (pardon the pun!) garden-variety vegetarian, many of whom I work with and am friends with (How do I know they're my friends? Because I can eat a burger in front of them!). I myself can go for 3-4 days and suddenly look at my meals and realize that, except for that dinner of fish, I've been vegetarian for the duration. I'm talking about extremists who are much more interested in telling me that my diet is wrong than going about happily munching on theirs. It's a self-righteous, judgmental attitude that's found in a lot of what I call, for want of a better description, "lifestyle belief populations." We are very quick to recognize and slam it when it's a bunch of fundies yammering on about gay marriage. I just think we should call it out when such behavior is coming from folks on the far other end of the spectrum as well.

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