I’m excited to share that today’s Mindful Health post is the first from a group of wonderful guest posters lined up to talk about all things health & wellness in their daily lives. Rather that promoting one single path or lifestyle, this series keeps an open mind and presents a spectrum of topics to inform and educate each other on our efforts in honor of mindful living.
Meet Sarah, the engineer, wannabe urban farmer, and animal lover behind For the Love of Chow.
I don’t eat meat anymore. It’s a topic that I’ve darted around for the past two years. It’s been two years of casually bringing my own meatless dishes to parties and potlucks, eating around the meat in the meal served at a gathering, and sometimes even just breaking down and sampling the meat dish in fear of hurting someone’s feelings. The simple act of saying, “I don’t eat meat anymore” seemed so daunting to me because I was convinced that people would think I was judging them because they did eat meat. There are many soapbox vegetarians out there, and while I suspect some are out to convert, I think we’re all just so outraged about what we know about the food system that this country relies upon, that we want everyone to know about it. However, such confrontations aren’t my style. So I just kept to myself, convinced that I could live as an undercover vegetarian forever.
But it’s time to be brave!
There are many reasons why I don’t eat meat. Plain and simple, I feel better when I don’t – both physically and mentally.
Physically: When I don’t eat meat or other processed foods, I am forced to eat more fresh and plant-based options – mainly veggies. I have to take more consideration into what I consume every day, and I find myself making more meals at home to support that goal of avoiding certain foods. Nowadays I enjoy processed foods as a treat every once in awhile. Before giving up meat, too often I would find myself eating a chicken sandwich or burger with a load of fries mid-week on a lunch date. Not great. Now I get excited to have some all-local goat cheese as a treat on my kale salad-major difference! It’s this kind of shift that has me feeling great about the food choices I now make on a daily basis.
Mentally: In addition to the benefits I know my body is getting from the boost in fruit and veggie intake, I finally sat down and educated myself on where my meat was coming from. I’ll admit, I was from the classic mentality, “if I knew where my meat came from, I wouldn’t want to eat it”. It was easier to bury the guilt that I was most likely eating an animal that had an unhealthy, horrific life rather than give up the taste of hamburger meat.
As I started learning more about local food, I realized that keeping myself in the dark about where my meat and food came from was basically just entrusting my health, my morals, and my consumer dollar to a huge system whose operating principles did not sit well with my conscience. Not to mention as an environmentalist, by eating factory farmed meat I was supporting one of the biggest sources of pollution out there. Why would I deny myself the ability to make food choices that not only protect the treatment of animals, but protect my own health, and help support my local community, businesses, and the environment?
The debate to eat meat is one that will never go away. There will always be people that think it is terrible, and those that love hunting and can’t imagine life without venison. I’m not here to convince you one way or the other. But I do think that the nation’s apathetic nature towards eating meat is detrimental to ourselves. There is a disconnect between the chicken on Old McDonald’s farm, and the chicken on our plate. This is in part due to our complex moral feelings about meat and its consumption, but also is a function of the modern day food industry which has profited by the separation of food and the “farm” it comes from. Why wouldn’t I want to know where my food comes from? Why do I want to be in the dark, when there are so many better options out there other than what can be found at the grocery store?
I refuse to believe that people actually want to eat meat that comes from a factory that is full of sickly animals, polluting the earth and community around it. It is not natural to have to worry if the hamburger you ate last week is part of that E. Coli recall you saw on the news. We don’t have to eat this way. We can demand with our consumer dollar, and only support those that practice sustainable farming, not only because it is good for the earth and the animals, but because it is good for us too!
As I transitioned away from eating meat, the only meat I would buy came from sources where I knew the farmer and how it was raised. It was sourced locally and organically, so that the environmental impact was minimized. My food budget suddenly had a very strong voice that clearly indicated what type of meat producers that I supported. I had a voice. Rather than fighting with each other over whether we should eat meat or not, why don’t we focus our efforts on demanding that those who do source our meat do so in a way that is respectable? Why don’t we support local farmers and ranchers that enrich our local economy and have a vested interest in the health of the animals they are raising? Why don’t we force ourselves to accept the responsibility that if we are going to eat meat then we ought to do so in a way that is respectful of the animals’ lives that are being taken for our culinary enjoyment?
I’ve ultimately decided that eating meat and most animal products is not something I can easily and frequently do with a clear conscious knowing what I know now. I’ve spent significant time revamping my diet to work towards a balanced and healthy lifestyle.* And I definitely don’t regret it. I’ve connected with my local food community and economy in ways that were never possible at the grocery store. I finally have a voice! I know who grows my food!
I’m definitely not an expert, and I’m still figuring a lot of this out for myself, but if you’re curious like I was then I highly recommend reading or watching some of the following books and documentaries to learn more about this issue. These sources are well-written and full of good information that will allow you to make your own decisions about this topic.
Eating Animals by Jonathon Safran Foer
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
Let me know what you think of these books/documentary if you seek them out, or if you have any other pieces of media you’d recommend on this topic!
* If you end up deciding that you want to adjust your diet, it’s always recommended that you speak with your doctor before implementing any major diet changes!
Sarah is a full-time engineer and wannabe urban farmer. She loves pet rescue, local food, and renewable energy. She resides in Austin, Texas with her husband, two rescued chow chows, and a small army of slow cookers to support her cooking obsession.
You can read about her adventures with all things chow (dogs and plant-based food) at her blog www.fortheloveofchow.com.