Vegetarian Update: The New Normal
March 31st, 2010

I did it.

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.

7 Responses to “Vegetarian Update: The New Normal”

  1. Jeanna Says:

    Over the past three years I have been slowly learning about the food I eat in attempt to improve my health. I have come to a lot of the same conclusions. My biggest struggles are the cost and invconvenience of eating healthy. I’d love to know if you discover any good tips about where/how to buy organic.

  2. Anne Says:

    1. I think your “things you know for certain” are quite reasonable. I follow most of those (and obviously slip up from time to time), and haven’t found it terribly difficult to do so. I do, however, think you might run into more of a shopping challenge in your location than I do.

    2. Thanks for not being an evangelist about it, but for providing some quality info. People in the NW can get real snooty about this stuff. I’ve been trying to make the best choices I can, and then just shut up and eat. When someone asks my take on it, I’ll tell them.

  3. Nicki Says:

    Glad you made it through the month! When you considered buying organic, look into items that may not matter as much. The Daily Green – – has several articles on where to put your dollar as far as buying organic. The gist of it is meats, milk and thin skinned fruits and veggies.

    Thanks for keeping us all aware of what is going on in the food industry and agribusiness.

  4. Eva Says:

    Gale, this has been just fascinating following your vegetarian experiment. And I commend you for wholeheartedly embracing it for a full month!

    I like that your conclusions are moderate, reasonable. Or maybe I relate to them. I like that you say you won’t cut meat out of your diet altogether, and you’ll eat what is served when you are a guest. To me, these seem practical.

    I also appreciate that you share some questions you haven’t answered yet. It is a difficult question to balance time, money, nutrition, environment. We all have many demands on our resources, many desires to do good, but sometimes it comes down to what is practical.

  5. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    Congratulations, Gale, on sticking to your guns and making it through the month. I’m impressed by your tenacity, even when the going got tough part way through.

    Thanks for your thoughts on the Foer book. I have been curious about it, but am not a huge fan of his writing in general and so hadn’t moved it to the top of my reading list. Like you, I don’t have much tolerance for evangelism, especially on such personal matters as what we put into our bodies, so, even though I might agree with him, I’m not sure his tone would sit well with me.

    I far prefer your reasoned, tempered style (Here’s what I learned. Here’s what I am still thinking about.) To me, your approach is much more persuasive.

    Thanks for inviting us to share your experiences during your March experiment.

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