Well, almost. Provided I make it through today without caving, then I can say I did it. But given that I’ve made it this far I think I can count on myself to complete the day without wrecking my vegetarian experiment in its final hours.
When I last reported on the status of this project I was hitting some proverbial bumps in the road. I was drooling over the smell of meat on grills, and puzzling over the nearly immeasurable role that food plays in our cultural landscape. Since then I’ve bounced back a bit, thankfully.
My second book of the month, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals was an interesting read. If Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma felt like a fascinating lecture from your best college professor, then Eating Animals feels like a freakishly well-sourced rant from your smartest activist friend. But all of the propaganda was studded with incontrovertible facts that I couldn’t have dismissed even in the context of the most vitriolic rhetoric. Nevertheless I think the strength of Foer’s bias ultimately proved counterproductive for me. Not that it undermined his premise altogether, but I think I would have found his positions more compelling if presented in a more objective way. He draws comparisons between people and animals that I believe are quite a stretch. Many of his arguments ultimately rest on the assertion that animals are entitled to the same rights as humans, which I don’t believe. I believe they are entitled to a respectable degree of welfare and a life free of suffering. But I do not believe they are equal to humans.
One thing I did appreciate about Eating Animals was that Foer included passages from other stakeholders in the food industry. In their own words he represented the arguments of a factory farmer, two family farmers, an agribusiness man, a PETA worker, and others. These voices, alongside Foer’s own, painted a more complete picture of the competing perspectives in the larger food source landscape. These are complicated problems and while Foer certainly pushed a particular agenda, I appreciated that he turned a few of his pages over to the voices of others.
So, where does this month leave me? The short answer is, I’m not entirely sure yet. Inasmuch as this experience has affected me throughout its course, I’ve tried very hard to prevent myself from drawing long-term conclusions prior to its close. Now that I am here I have some mulling over to do.
There are some things I know for certain, and other things I haven’t yet worked out. As for the things I know for certain:
- The old maxim about 21 days to break a habit is true. I hit a rough patch around two and a half weeks, and then things got much easier.
- It is quite a challenge to get enough protein without meat. Meat is a highly convenient protein source.
- I will not forego meat altogether.
- I will be much more selective in the meat I choose to eat. I will try to find locally raised organic meat that was not subjected to factory farming methods.
- I will select vegetarian options in most restaurants.
- I will cook more (but not exclusively) vegetarian meals at home.
- I sort of agree with Michael Pollan’s quote of the old French custom that any dietary restriction is bad manners, and will graciously eat any meal that is prepared for me by someone else without quibbling over its source.
- I will not beat myself up if I occasionally slip and purchase/eat food that I can reasonably suspect was raised in a factory farming environment.
- I will also pay more attention to the produce I eat, choosing regional or locally grown organic fruits and vegetables when possible.
As for the things I haven’t quite worked out yet:
- How much am I willing to inflict my new beliefs system on my husband and son?
- What impact would be brought to bear on our budget if I tried to buy only organic food?
- How inconvenient will it be to change my shopping habits? Is this a change I’m willing to make all of the time, some of the time?
- How can I convey the importance of this issue to other people without sounding like a goody-two-shoes or a pushy evangelist?
So, yes, I have some thinking to do. The last thing that I know, though, is that I’m glad I did this experiment. I’m glad I know that I can go a month without meat and not feel too burdened by it. I’m glad I’ve explored the dark side of the food industry and can make my decisions based on greater information than I did in the past. And I’m glad that I’ve seen this project through and can feel satisfied with my (albeit minor) accomplishment.
I’d love to leave you with some pearl of wisdom; something poignant that will make you want to explore this topic for yourself. But there are a couple of problems with that. 1) I have a very low tolerance for evangelism and I believe that what we put into our bodies is a highly personal decision. What I’ve learned this month makes me believe that we are facing a system-wide problem that calls for broad attention and action. But my little voice in the blogosphere is all I’m willing to offer. You must decide for yourself what your beliefs are and how to comport your life accordingly. 2) I’m still working much of this out myself and I don’t feel qualified to close this post with any statement so definitive when my own thoughts are still in their nascent form.
So I will close this post by saying, I’m glad to have learned what I learned. I’m honored that you’ve followed along with me. I hope I’ve sparked your curiosity on this topic. And I hope you’ll explore it further on your own.