Thoughts on food. Part 1.

This is in response to an LJ friend who is vegan for ethical reasons. I wrote a novel of a response to her, and I thought I’d copy it here, as part one of my "thoughts on food" series. Here goes, let me know your thoughts. I’d also like to say that there is no judgment here- well, alright, a little judgment, but I believe people do the best they can with the tools they have, so my goal is really to learn and just try to find truth here.

Oh, for some background, she cites that it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce a pound of beef, and also that vegan diets can help reduce the risk of heart disease etc. She also talks a little about CO2 emissions, which I sort of just respond to in terms of overall environmental impact. I don’t know much about the specifics of the emissions, but I’ll research that soon.

My response:

I actually really respect your reasoning behind this, and I fully understand where you’re coming from. I feel the same way in terms of environmental and health stuff, and also the evils of commercially raised livestock, etc., only that’s precisely why I DO eat meat. I believe that a conventional American diet is unsustainable and not healthy, but I also feel the same way about a vegan diet.
It would take a while to explain this, but I’ll do my best to sum it up. I eat only pasture raised, local meat, and I buy it in bulk once a year from people I trust and from farms I’ve seen myself. I eat vegetarian when I go out to eat, which is not often. I believe that we really need to localize our economies in order to live ethically on this planet, and that includes localizing our sources of food. In order to sustainably live in Michigan, I need to eat lots of whole foods- beans, whole grains, fresh veggies in the summer and fall and stored (canned or dried) in the winter, and also some meat. This does not mean meat every meal, and it does not mean the "cuts" that are most desirable. I use stock to cook rice and other grains, and I make lots of soup in the winter. I save special cuts for guests or special occasions, etc.
Basically, when I eat, I have to take into account a couple of things- first, what is healthy for me? Second- is what I’m eating sustainable, are there any moral issues that arise from my consumption, and by eating this what am I supporting in terms of business, etc, that could be unethical. To touch on the first issue, there are different schools of thought on this- I believe that we are omnivores, and need some animal fats to be healthy. I’ve done a great deal of research on this, and so I won’t bore you with details, but I think most vegans agree that some supplementation is necessary to stay balanced, and I would argue that vegans are unable to absorb many of the nutrients from supplements due to the lack of animal products in their diets. I believe in the long term they suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies, not to mention the issues I have with the use of soy products, which I believe are harmful in unfermented forms (tempeh and miso are good examples of fermented soy). For more info on just soy, check here: http://www.soyonlineservice.co.nz/


This is not to say that the average meat eater is healthy- I think the conventional American diet is horrendous, and people would probably be better off to eat a vegan diet. I think they drink milk from diseased cows, they eat diseased meat and far far too much of it, not to mention their confusing marriage to refined foods and HFCS (I say confusing because it causes health problems and obesity, and since when did we eat food that makes us sick?). Basically, I agree with you- the whole thing. Gross. Wrong. However, I don’t think that by abstaining from meat we do our bodies any favors. Certainly it’s worth thinking about how we eat our meat, and what kind of meat we eat, but we are omnivores.
Now, I am more inclined to ignore what my body needs in light of what the planet needs. I feel more of a responsibility to my planet and world than I do to my body. If I really thought that a vegan diet would help the planet, then I would happily be that. However, it requires that foods be produced many many miles away from us in huge farms that use pesticides and chemicals and fertilizers and GMOs that deplete soil (a natural resource that is in danger), and present a host of health concerns. Not to mention all of the animals that suffer and lose their habitats and are poisoned by our corrupt farming practices (poisoning air, water, soil, all of it), and wipe out diverse ecosystems in the name of feeding many with huge crops like corn, soy, etc. On the flip side, managed grazing can build up soil, fertilizing it naturally and nourishing healthy animals.
Rotating diverse crops onto that land help grow better vegetables, organically and livestock can graze on land that is otherwise unable to be farmed. The argument that so much grain produces so much beef is only true in terms of unsustainable production of livestock (who’s stomachs are not even equipped to digest corn/other grains in the first place). There are also all sorts of cultures that need animals to survive, as the land only naturally produces so much vegetation.
I believe the true problem are all the things you are opposed to, in addition to mass production of crops that are wiping out seed diversity and leaving us with nutritionally devoid foods in addition to severely damaged lands. We had it right when we developed the simple and mutually beneficial relationship between farm and free-range livestock. We also need to learn that we can’t just eat whatever we want, that includes Big Macs and mangos alike- what’s unsustainable is simply unsustainable. I believe that traditional diets are a great model for how to ethically eat- it takes more work and more planning and some flexibility, but it’s rewarding both in terms of health and also by leaving less of an impact on the planet.

So yeah. Part one.

Gracie
Gracie

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Comments (24)

  1. honeyrider

    hello. i hopped over here because of this very post in a mutual friend’s journal. my family is currently making an effort to eat sustainable local foods as much as possible; not easy in an urban environment. we joined a vegetable CSA for the summer, but i still haven’t made a plan for other foods. i was wondering if there are any websites or books you can recommend on the subject. also, do you mind if i add you? :]

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Not at all, you’re added back! I guess off hand I would recommend checking out Barbara Kingsolver’s new book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”. It’s a fun one. Also “Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. Oooh, also “Food Not Lawns” by I forget who… Awesome job getting your CSA! Hopefully we can learn lots from and inspire each other!

      Reply
  2. pagangoat

    I’m curious, why would being vegan have to involve huge farms using pesticides, and food being shipped long distances? I was vegan for over 7 years, and ate mainly organic everything, locally sourced, and hardly any soy at all…any tiny bit I did use was organic. And I was the healthiest that I’ve ever been during those years. Unfortunately, I had to start eating seafood, because my partner is a fisherman, and we can often only afford to eat prawns and fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner…for months on end…but I hope to one day be able to go veggie again.

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      This is a good point, and was pointed out in the original post. I guess I’m thinking in terms of myself while striving to eat locally, and would find it extremely difficult to eat healthily/locally/enough while being vegan. Even vegetarian would be a juggle, although I do think that is possible. I also think that many vegans (and this is not to say vegans on a whole) eat processed foods like anyone else does, just animal product free processed foods, which I don’t think is good in the first place, regardless of your diet, because they rely on those huge crops that are really harmful. Here’s what I said to the person who brought up that very point:

      I suppose in tropical climates veganism may be sustainable (although I would argue that managed grazing could be beneficial in those situations anyway), but otherwise I don’t believe that a diet solely based vegetables and grains can be local. I mean, a fresh tomato in the middle of winter is just not sustainable, in my opinion. If someone manages to be vegan in Michigan (and I mean sustainably) then I’m happy to be wrong, although from my perspective it doesn’t make any more sense to do it that way than to eat meat sparingly and responsibly and enjoy the health benefits an omnivorous diet allows. I do think that it is possible to do it on a vegetarian diet, although it still involves the keeping of animals to produce both eggs and dairy, so I fail to see the real difference as long as they are not grain fed (the organic stamp means very little to me in terms of sustainability, so only grass fed free-range animals fit into this category).

      Like my friend david_anderson said below, in order to really preserve the land, we NEED animals to live on it. My belief is that in order for all of us to become vegan we’d have to resort to conventional farming methods, all the while displacing many animals and wiping out biodiversity. So my theory is that while your diet may have been all locally sourced and organic, it wouldn’t be possible for everyone, especially those in northern climates.

      I think it’s hilarious, your predicament with seafood. How many of us can say that? Prawns for breakfast! Anyway, I hope that you can return to a diet that makes you happy and healthy. 🙂

      Reply
      1. Gracie (Post author)

        I didn’t make it clear, but my response to the original post is just that one paragraph starting with the bit about tropical climates. Sorry about that.

        Reply
  3. csgraham

    I think I might be a vegan. Not sure. There was this really slutty girl a while back that wasn’t so “fresh”. I dunno. Maybe I should go get tested.
    Yeah, I’ll probably go do that after I finish this hotdog.

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I’ll tell you how you can finish that hotdog…

      Just kidding, you’re probably already done with it by now. I’m responding to your email right… now!

      Reply
  4. poppleshatesyou

    Very well put m’dear! I’ve added this to my memories so i can come back to it, i think you explained yourself really really well and i can’t wait to share it with others when it comes up that “dang caroline you’re such a hippy i can’t believe you eat meat” because i fucking hate that shit. I’m not ragging on people for being vegan or vegetarian so why do so many feel the need to proselytize to me? I haaate it, obviously. : )

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Thanks! I think the only bit I didn’t thoroughly explain was the bit that pagangoat pointed out, but I tried to clarify with my response to her. Yeah, people assume I’m vegetarian all the time. Glad it’s not just me!

      Reply
  5. 3squares_a_day

    We have friends that raise their own livestock for their family. Though I eat a vegan diet, if I were to eat meat I would want it to be that way. The animals live their lives running around, eating well, with others of their kind. That has got to be healthier for the consumer, instead of eating an animal that has been stressed out and improperly treated and fed it’s whole life, not to mention better for the animals. For my body, my plant based diet has been working very well for 10 + years now. I don’t think one size fits all, no matter what your nutritional philosophy is. There are so many things to agree on though!

    Sadly our society isn’t very good at delaying gratification, and we are so far removed from the origin of what we put in our bodies! Gosh, be thankful for what sustains you. Eat what is in season as much as possible. Eat things that are made of ingredients you can pronounce and are minimally processed and packaged. Support farmers that are not only interested in their harvest, but in the condition they are leaving the land in.

    Good food for thought, thank you.

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I agree with you that one size doesn’t fit all. I think raw dairy is good for most people, but for many people of Asian decent that isn’t true. I’m sure it’s like that for so many things.
      I think it’s great that you’ve found what works for you and your family. I’m certainly generalizing and looking at it in terms of our evolution as omnivores (as far as the health stuff I talked about), and I think you and I both agree that the modern American diet is not one that is recognizable from that standpoint. Anyway, I’ve always been interested in your thoughts on food and why you went vegan, so if you ever wanted to write about it I would be happy to be your audience.

      I knew this would be controversial, so thanks for being so receptive. 🙂

      Reply
  6. david_anderson

    I think an important point when people bring up converting land/grain/whatever is that we can’t eat grass, and perennial grass is what builds soil, along with their mutualistic symbiotic relationship with ruminants.

    The unfortunate reality is that even organic veggie farms wear out the soil, and animal inputs are required for it to recover. Most small organic farms rely on battery cage hen houses to supply their nutrition. I can sympathize with ethical vegans, but very few of them have any idea what they are talking about.

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I feel the same way, I really sympathize, and was just a jump away from going that direction, but with further research went a different way. Anyway, thanks for you comment, I’m always interested in your thoughts on this stuff.

      Reply
  7. 93_millionmiles

    You should watch Earthlings and The Future of Food with us if you haven’t seen them already. Although, I’m fairly certain that we’re already on the same page with this topic.

    I do have concerns with the ability to humanely feed the massive population on a non-vegan diet if somehow we all decided to take this seriously and do what’s right for our bodies and the planet. Obviously plant based proteins and animal proteins are different, but I think we need to find a way to properly supplement a diet with more limited consumption of meat if we are to someday include everyone.

    (Spirulina contains an unusually high amount of protein, between 55% and 77% by dry weight, depending upon the source. It is a complete protein, containing all essential amino acids, though with reduced amounts of methionine, cysteine, and lysine when compared to the proteins of meat, eggs, and milk. It is, however, superior to typical plant protein, such as that from legumes. Extra methionine can be found in sesame seeds and brazil nuts, cysteine in red peppers and garlic, and lysine in spinach.)

    I ordered lemon, lime, orange, banana and tangerine trees (house plants) so I can have locally grown tropical/citrus fruits. (Aside from the shipping it takes to get the trees to me) problem decreased!

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Hey! I’ve been meaning to reply to you… things just flew by me and it’s a couple of days later! Let’s get together soon for garden whatever- Tuesday is farmer’s market!

      Reply
      1. 93_millionmiles

        I wish I could go to the Farmer’s market! I’m probably going to Florida tomorrow but we need to hang out when I get back. 🙂

        Reply
        1. Gracie (Post author)

          Haha! You are so funny- “probably going to Florida”. I’m gonna have to hear about this one! Just let me know. I’m around, and let me know if I can sneak a peek at the Veggie Bible, I would only need it for a day or so just to plan a little. 🙂

          Reply
          1. 93_millionmiles

            I’m done with the book, which was great and gave me lots of ideas. 🙂 Thanks! So I’ll drop it off for you. It’ll be really early when I leave tomorrow, but I’ll try to make it over there to put it on your porch so you don’t have to wait until I get back.

  8. prophetsong

    Fascinating entry. I’m a lapsed veggie myself. I started eating meat to get a good balanced diet during pregnancy and carried on after Z was born because I want him to be raised with the healthiest possible attitude towards food and eating and was worried that him seeing me not eating an entire food group wouldn’t aid this much. As a result I’m trying really hard to ensure any meat I buy is farm assured and locally sourced. I also get an organic veggie box fortnightly and then stock up in between as organically as possible. It’s hard to stay away from the supermarkets where I live though and I know I need to put more effort into developing a plan that helps me buy as ethically as possible and avoid the supermarkets wherever I can. I just haven’t quite got there yet with the business of juggling everything else :S

    Sorry quite off topic, it just triggered this train of thought for me.

    PS – I has new photos on my LJ 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Not off topic at all! This is exactly what I think about, probably too often… haha. Anyway, yeah, it’s not a simple thing to do, but as someone on that path, it is certainly worthwhile and rewarding. Sounds like you’re doing an incredible job! As for avoiding supermarkets, Jeff and I never go anymore. We shop at our local co-op which is a small and totally pleasant place to go, and then farmer’s market when in season. Anyway, I didn’t think I could avoid them, but I tell you, it can be done!

      p.s. I love it when you post pictures! Yay!

      Reply
      1. prophetsong

        Did you have a process that you went down to get to where you are or was it more trial and error? I’m really inspired to hear that it’s actually possible to avoid the dreaded supermarkets because it feels kind of hopeless to me right now so perhaps I need to put a bit of effort into researching the alternatives 🙂

        Reply
        1. Gracie (Post author)

          I don’t know about a process! I guess I’ve just been doing my research and reading and talking about it. Once I felt like I was on a path that felt more right, I just went with it. I researched local CSAs (community supported agriculture) and got myself a share. Last year we got a chest freezer for storing the meat and some of our veggies/fruits. I also just decided that simplifying things doesn’t need to mean boring or sacrificing (although occasionally I do crave something I used to eat thoughtlessly). Also, growing my own food has been incredibly gratifying.

          I love my food co-op. It’s got bread from the bakery next door, a little fresh veggie/fruit section, a large bulk grain/bean/etc section, herbs and teas, dairy and eggs, bulk peanut butter and oils and things, some cereal/crackers, some frozen foods… basically everything that the supermarket has, but less of it, and from specific places (either organic and local or the next best thing). At first it was kind of hard to adjust, but after a week or two we were dedicated to limiting our choices- if only because it was such a relief to not be in that crazy environment with so many (too many) choices. It was really refreshing, to realize that I didn’t need to ever go to those big places again. And I really rarely go- usually just for something silly for a party, an out of season extra that I don’t normally need.

          Anyway, I guess I would start by researching CSAs, it may not be too late to get in on one and start enjoying a share of fresh veggies now. They tend to be big shares, so you could even put some aside to freeze for later- you could actually do that with most of your food anyway, I recently heard that 30% of fresh food is wasted in the back of the fridge, and I believe it- just think, you could go to the store 1/3 less by just thinking about food storage differently! Also see if you have any food cooperatives around you and try switching over completely. That’s what we did, and I have no regrets- it’s so nice to have a small place that feels relaxing, they even know our names. I would stress that it’s a total process. I was overwhelmed by many of the things I do with ease now. I just have to keep working to get better, and not stress out if I mess up or don’t do all that I want. Definitely keep me updated on what you’re up to- it really helps keep me motivated to share this with people and hear about things they are doing. 🙂

          Reply
          1. prophetsong

            Thanks for this. I think starting to research CSAs is a good way to begin.

            The main problem with my part of UK is that food coops are very rare. The nearest one I can find is about 50 miles away which is a long way to drive for groceries!

            The idea of growing my own food definitely appeals. I have no garden because we live in an appartment. When Z is older I may look into getting a share of allotment land that we can grow stuff in but right now I’d lack the time to maintain it.

            I think you’re right about needing to just look at things differently. I feel a bit overwhelmed by where to start but it seems like such a good thing to do.

  9. hanitious

    Grace, I loved this entry! I really do agree about the fact that in some parts of the world people need to eat meat because it’s the only thing there for them I also agree that people need meat in their diet but for me because there are so many vegetarian options out there for me and I’d prefer to eat them. 🙂

    I really do love it when you post about food, you know your stuff lady!

    Reply

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