Thursday, February 2, 2012

I chose my path

I have always been the girl in the middle. I was doing fairly well in school without much effort, so I got along well with the nerd crowd, but I was also on several sports teams, so I was close to the "sporty crowd", add to that that I was always game for a party, there comes a third crowd. In my family I'm the only girl, and in the middle. I guess "middle" is my middle name... HA! This year I've sort of had a "middle phase" in my whole chosen lifestyle that culminated to a realization that I had actually made a choice, which I wasn't quite sure I had made. Weird huh? Let see if I can explain.

Never too sick to brag!
Last week I won a give away from a blog called the "Post Punk Kitchen", hosted by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (see disclaimer at the bottom of this post). I'm a huge fan of the PPK blog which focus on vegan cooking (and living). I don't eat a lot of red meat, and really, these days most of my meals are vegan. It's cheaper, healthier and faster because I don't have to remember to thaw out anything. However, I am not vegan. I do not pretend to be Vegan, and my interest in vegan cookbooks (I have a lot of them) and blogs are simply an add on to my omnivore diet. For that reason, when I won the give away, I felt very self conscious for a few days. I was sure somebody was going to chime in and say "I've read that chick's blogs, she is NOT vegan". That never happened (that I know of) and nowhere was it stated that you had to be vegan to participate in the giveaway. Yet... Why was I so self conscious?

I think that really, this is all coming from where I am now in my own chosen lifestyle. Since last summer I have played with the idea of becoming vegan, but something kept stopping me. I am getting more and more educated about food, how it's prepared, where it's coming from and its impact on people's health. The way livestock is handled on the mega farms is truly terrifying. In many cases sanitation is found only in the dictionary, hormones and antibiotics are common in the feed and water and really it is ridiculous to think that the many unsavory  practices of animal production can have no impact on the health of those who consume the meat and other animal products. Trying to navigate the information, misinformation, propaganda and overt drama of the whole issue is extremely difficult for the common human being. I do not have a PhD in agriculture and though I believe myself to be intelligent, I often find myself more scared and confused than enlightened. What am I eating really?

Even if one manages to eat antibiotic and hormone free animal products which is being fed actual decent food, there is also the question of how the animals are treated. I do not humanize animals, but I believe that they should be treated in a humane manner. They are not humans, but they are not "things" either.

The red building is a neighbor's house. That's how small my father's "farm" is.
I grew up eating meat, chicken, eggs, drinking milk and even eating rabbit every now and then. You see my father, a retired French teacher, fancies himself a "gentleman farmer". Ever since he bought the house I grew up in, he maintained a little tiny farm. The meat, eggs, milk, chicken and even the occasional rabbit came from our own backyard. My father's farm was tiny: 2-3 cows, all of which had names and really were more "pets" than "livestock"; 5-6 chickens, usually a bunch of hens, and 1 rooster (I'll never forget that dumb rooster which would get all huffy and puffy at us, and then charge straight into a wall, dumbest thing I've ever saw!) which would run free all day and sleep inside at night; a few rabbits, we'd play with the babies; and a bunch of barn cats. My idea of a farm has always been very idyllic because that's what I grew up with. We treated the animals well, we were never permitted to do anything to hurt them or stress them too much, and when it was time to fill the freezer, my dad always made sure that the killing was done as humanely as possible. He never did it himself, he actually always made a point to leave so he didn't have to watch. I also remember that the first few meals after we had a bull or a cow put down were always subdued. I got from those lessons from my childhood a respect for the food I eat, for the animals and plants that gave their life so that I could be nourished, the same way an animal in the wild becomes food for another.

Now my problem is that my dad's farm is on a tiny island in East Canada and I'm in San Francisco California. Not only shipping would be a fortune, but there's customs in the way. Boy do I miss my college days. Somebody from my family would stop by Rimouski on their way to Montreal or Quebec and drop a box of meat prepared for me by my parents. A whole semester worth of "organic" totally pasture raised meat!" Really, that's all I knew. I couldn't afford to buy meat!

Unfortunately, that is not happening now. If I want animal products, I have to buy them.The question becomes: Do you ever really know what you are eating? Now, I'm going from what I know from my father's way of raising animals to watching things like Food inc. (and other such documentaries). After that try to understand how we can be called "murderers" (I come from a community of seal hunters) for eating seal meat  from an animal that has spent it's entire life out on the ice in the wild, by an idiot who's downing hormones and antibiotic loaded burgers made from the leftovers of a cow that spent it's life in a crate standing in (and eating) feces. Really? How can one justify eating such meat? How can I?

That's where I was last summer, and that's when the option of becoming vegan started to look very inviting. I already had a great repertoire of vegan recipes and resources, but was I ready to take the plunge? At first I took the position that my husband would never go for it. "I" was ready to make the change, but he wasn't. I could not impose my choice on him. I realize now how much that was really a cop out. If I really wanted to be vegan, my husband would support and respect my choice I know it. The reality is that despite the fact that I truly enjoy and am satisfied by vegan meals, I am not willing to make such a commitment. To "me" it is imposing an unnecessary restriction on myself. I am the type of person for whom setting absolutes is just setting myself up for failure. Yes, I know that many people live as vegan and do not feel restricted. Good for them! I know that it wouldn't work for me.

I have learned a lot in the last few years and am certainly not in any way "looking down" at the vegan crowd. Their determination and the strength of their convictions have forced me, and many others, to take a second look at what I eat and where it comes from. I do not share all of their beliefs, neither are their choices necessarily my choices, but I understand now that I need to be careful in the choices that I make every day and how those choices have an impact on my health, on the planet, on how animals are treated.  I feel like my eyes have been opened and that now I can look around, educate myself and make better choices every day. I am in the process of going from "organic" to pasture raised products as much as possible. I am certainly not perfect. Little by little I think I am making a little bit of a difference, it cost me a little more money-wise, it takes a little more research and traveling to get the products I choose to eat, but I think it is worth the effort.

I am not vegan because I don't feel like I have to be. I don't have a problem eating meat, I don't like the idea of killing, but I see it as a natural process of nature. Still I think animals deserve to be treated humanely and with respect. I really don't believe that one exclude the other, it's not all or nothing. I think we all in our own little way can make better choices, little changes that lead to a better world... one meal at a time.

Be good n stuff!

Disclaimer: I do not in any way want to imply that Isa Chandra Moskowitz agrees with me, share my view (she doesn't), or even care about what I think. I'm a fan of her work, and I think she's a great example of someone who put herself out there as an example without being "preachy" or condescending and because of that I have learned a lot from her.

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