When I started this blog exactly two months ago I had a few goals in mind. The most significant goal was to shift my paradigm; to look at the world in new ways and keep my mind fresh and engaged. To keep myself accountable for that goal I stated it clearly and on the record. At the same time I offered up some smaller resolutions for the year in front of me. And as it turns out that large goal and one of the smaller resolutions are about to jump into bed together. Or, perhaps more accurately, into the kitchen together.
Throughout the past several years our culture has paid increasing attention to our food sources. A whole punditry of dietary and nutritional hawks has emerged. In 2001 Fast Food Nation was written by Eric Schlosser. Morgan Spurlock tackled the dubious challenge of eating nothing but McDonald’s for a full month in 2003’s documentary Super Size Me. Michael Pollan further explored our food sources with his 2007 book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. And 2009 brought us another documentary, Food, Inc. from Schlosser and Pollan, as well as the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. In addition to these larger works, a smattering of magazine articles on related topics has also been published, such as this one in TIME about the real costs of food, this one in the New York Times Magazine about our cooking habits, and this one in Rolling Stone about the putrid realities of hog farming.
As a girl who loves to cook, a girl with a wee bit of an earthy streak, and a girl who grew up hearing the refrains of Wendell Berry echo through her home, I’ve started to feel a bit guilty about the ways in which I contribute to crimes committed by big agriculture and large scale food distribution. Couple this guilt with the paradigm-shifting purpose of this blog and my resolution to eat more fruits and vegetables and you get:
Gale is becoming a vegetarian for a month.
(For the record, GAP is not excited about this… Supportive, but not excited.)
Starting today, and throughout the month of March, I will abstain from all meat, including fish and seafood. I will continue to eat eggs and dairy, though. Veganism requires more fortitude than I can muster at this point. (And I have a soft spot for milkshakes.) To keep me company on this journey I am summoning the likes of Michael Pollan and Jonathan Safran Foer and their books The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Eating Animals, respectively. I chose these two titles specifically because they are well-respected works that I believe will help me better understand the larger implications of the dietary decisions I make each day.
I am prepared for the fact that this experiment may take me down a path that is inconvenient and expensive. Buying chicken breasts priced at four dollars per pound from the grocery store down the road from my house is a very easy way to live. At this point I don’t know where that chicken comes from, or what its living conditions were when it was alive. I suspect that my prescribed reading for this month will dispel my ignorance, which may not be an easy realization to accept.
Some of my shopping and eating habits have already changed. I stopped buying farm-raised salmon many months ago after reading an article in The Economist (which I couldn’t find online) about the damage that salmon farms have done to the tributary ecosystems on the East coast. I started baking my own bread after an incident last spring when I inadvertently bought two loaves at once and after six weeks on my shelf the second loaf still hadn’t molded. (To me, food that won’t spoil is scarier than food that has spoiled.) And I make all of IEP’s food from scratch so that I can ensure that he isn’t exposed to the skyrocketing levels of sugar, salt, and processed fats that exist in many packaged foods.
So I’m not walking into this completely blind. But, I do not buy local produce. I do not buy organic. And I have never intentionally excluded meat from my diet. It will certainly be a challenge.
I would also like to mention that I recognize that I am not unique in this decision. Thousands (millions?) of people have gone years without eating meat. I am here making a bit of a fuss about this experiment because, for me, it is a significant change. I live in the Midwest where meat is the centerpiece of nearly every meal. But many, many people have traveled this same path – for reasons both noble and silly – with no fanfare at all. My reason for calling attention to this choice is because I believe that I am a pretty fair representation of your average, healthy American. And if all of the attention drawn to the environmental ramifications of “big ag” and the general cause of sustainability will ever amount to real change, it will be because average people like myself find the behavioral alterations requisite in affecting the bigger picture to be worthwhile and attainable.
I have some suspicions about what long-term effects on my eating and shopping habits will be brought to bear based on this experiment. But I will keep them to myself for now. I will keep you updated on my progress, and will certainly have plenty to say about this exercise at its conclusion. In the meantime, don’t forget to eat your veggies.