Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sanctify Me

Recently, while catching up with a friend, I talked about how we've been working hard to grow our own food, and that "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" had a big impact on my attitude about the time and labor I have to spend on this endeavor. My friend said, "But now you can be all sanctimonious and walk around feeling like you are better than other people." It was said tongue-in-cheek, but I felt that it came out of resentment, from a mother of three living in the city, just trying to maintain her sanity. It achieved the desired result; it shut me up.

Today, I was listening to an interview with a food critic on NPR about the latest trends in American food. She said people are very concerned about where their food comes from, how it is grown, seeking quality and sustainability with their food choices. There are different approaches, some eating free-range, grass-fed meats, some going vegetarian, locavores, etc. A man called in to say that this was all fine and dandy, but was there any way to keep these people from being so self-righteous about what they do and don't eat?! He called it "obnoxious." The radio personalities heartily agreed, and seemed apologetic.

When I was at my liberal arts college, studying women's issues and becoming aware of the wide range of injustices in the world, I found that I was not allowed to discuss these topics with non-college friends. Political topics were dubbed "too P.C.," and friends asserted that it was elitist to be politically correct. End of debate.

I have known my share of the stereotypical vegan-snobs who won't eat from a plate that has touched meat, insist that using honey is bee extortion, and who fly into a rage if the cook accidentally includes a dairy-based condiment with their meal at a restaurant. My own husband, a strict vegetarian until 3 years ago, once stacked menus between us at a restaurant in Poland to block his view of my plate of fish.

But most of us are just learning about the genuine impact of our food choices on the economy, environment, and the lives of animals and farmers, and we want to find balance.

The fact is, humans are eating more meat than the planet can support. People are starving in this and other countries, rainforest is being destroyed at an incomprehensible rate, animals are raised and slaughtered by disgusting and horrific methods, and illegal immigration is supported by a fast-food industry that relies on cheap labor for a dangerous job that legal United States citizens are not willing to do. However, animals can be raised humanely, sustainably, and resulting in higher quality nutrition, and most Americans would benefit from reduced meat consumption. Food purchased at a big box grocery store is produced far away by cheap labor. Buying local food saves fossil fuels, puts the money into the hands of our farmers (who are struggling to compete with big companies using unsustainable practices), and we eat fresher food with far better nutritional value. Growing some of your own food is very rewarding, the flavor is incomparable, and it saves money.

Some of you have more pressing challenges to attend to, and just getting food on the table is enough of a struggle. Some are simply not interested. But I have made this a huge part of my life, and I don't intend to be secretive about it to make other people more comfortable. I believe this is an important conversation, worth having, even if we don't agree. If people who feel passionately about an issue are silenced by those who feel they are "obnoxious" and "sanctimonious", we won't get very far.

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