to bean, or not to bean

Okay. Once I tell you the name of the book I read recently, you will know where this post is going and you may very well choose to completely ignore it. The book was Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer. (Seriously, Jonathan Safran Foer. You are not a law firm. You could cut back on the nameage.) Eating Animals is his first non-fiction book after the novels Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I’ve had Everything is Illuminated on my “To Read” list for two years now, but haven’t gotten to it yet. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has been made into a movie and got action at the Oscars, but I don’t know what was said because I was only paying attention to Penelope Cruz and her Spanish wonderfulness.

I’m sorry. This has absolutely nothing to do with the post. I just wanted to look at her for a moment. (image: tapety24.org)

ANYWAY. As some of you early followers know, I have an ongoing interest in food. I want reiterate that I’m not interested in dieting, as in short-term eating (or not eating) with the intent to lose weight or change the way I look. This is not the relationship with food I want to model for my kids. But I am interested in diet, as in a long-term investment in nutrition, sustainability (for both me and the planet), and how food makes me feel.

Do you remember, Katie, when you gave me a hard time about going gluten-free? (Which was fine because we shared lunches, which meant YOU had to go gluten-free and, besides, I deserve a hard time about most things I try.) As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve experimented with lots of different ways of eating, from Paleo (the “caveman” diet) to vegetarianism. And it’s true that new information on diet can morph into “fads” that come and go and often, as a result, is mis-understood. But I guess I’m open to fads because I learn new things to incorporate into a long-term way of eating, after the extremes fizzle out. For example, I’m pretty sure EVERYONE could benefit from having more veggies at breakfast.

Of course, Katie, you have had it nailed all along with your “everything in moderation” approach. But one of us needs to be fun to tease.

It seems that if a person really wants to, she can can get her hands on a lot of sound information about food. I’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and Fast Food Nation. I’ve seen Food, Inc., Super Size Me, and King Corn. I cook with Food Matters and Healing With Whole Foods nearby. (Wow. That was a lot of links. I’ve still got to get to Forks Over Knives, too.)

So, while I found myself getting all worked up as I read Eating Animals, I also practiced an exercise in awareness by paying attention to the reactive chatter in my mind and not jumping to any huge conclusions. (Except for the bowl of cilantro-lime shrimp I abandoned after the chapter on seafood. Never one to waste, Chris finished it for me.) Jonathon S. F. uses personal narrative to appeal to the reader’s emotions in this book and makes some pretty huge claims that seem, at times, unreasonable.

It’s just the kind of writing that sucks me in.

In the style of mental rebuttal you had with your pastor in one of your recent posts, here is the dialogue in my head as I was reading:

  • This whole family is going vegan, like, yesterday.
  • Wait. Not sure Chris will go for that. Maybe just vegetarian.
  • Wow. “Cage-free” and “free-range” mean nothing.
  • My cousin was right. I can’t just pat myself on the back for eating “humanely raised” animals. I’ve got to question the slaughter methods. As long as the USDA has control over slaughterhouses, these animals suffer horrible deaths.
  • Well, seafood might be good for me, but it’s terrible for the environment.
  • But how are we supposed to get Omega 3s and B-vitamins?
  • Wait. Jonathon S.F. says he’s writing this because he wants to know how to feed his son. If he’s so concerned about the environment, how can he justify having any children? Our food problems aren’t getting any better by overpopulation.
  • Ohhh….I can’t go there. I have three children. And they’re pretty cool. I like to think I did the future a favor by having them.
  • It’s interesting that vegans and vegetarians don’t talk about the environmental and social impact of their diets: what about the overworked soil, pesticides, and conditions for the migrant workers who are picking all their food?
  • Dang. The only possible way for me to feel good about the way our family eats is to grow and raise our own food.
  • That’s not happening any time soon. Dang.
  • Don’t. Know. What. To. Eat.
  • Maybe we should at least get a pet chicken.

It goes on and on until I come full-circle and pretty much continue to keep doing what we’re doing. I’m planning one more vegetarian meal a week and did ask the butcher at Whole Foods where our chicken was slaughtered.  She gave me loads of information, including the name of the farm we could tour. But when I suggested this possibility  to the kids, I didn’t realize that they didn’t realize that farmers buy and raise animals specifically to kill them.  They knew we are eating animals, but they thought we ate them after they had died of old age, a distinction I take for granted.

Taj said, “I’ll visit that farm to tell the farmers they are being selfish. They’re only considering their own species.”

The twins both said they were going vegetarian, which I thought was great, until they refused to eat more vegetables. Then, they decided to eat the chicken. Kids are not so unlike adults.

I guess for now, I continue to educate myself and make the best decision with the information I have. But I wonder: how do other people approach the food conundrum? I see everything from willful ignorance to extreme activism. I seem to fall somewhere in the middle which, considering that we ALL eat, EVERY day, seems to be the least I can do.

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8 thoughts on “to bean, or not to bean

  1. Maria, I’m a friend of Katie’s in KC and I read this blog often. I love the idea behind this blog and find myself drawn to reading it each time a new post comes up. You and Katie have such interesting things to say 🙂

    I’m also in public health and find myself in the same boat as you when a new book is out or somebody semi-trustworthy tells me something new I should be concerned with about my food. You asked what other people do and I’ll try to be short and sweet. First, I attempt to buy only one ingredient items, whole foods. Second, I try my best to know exactly where and who is growing my food. This process has been made easier by Organics Door to Door which may not be available in all areas or even cost effective for many people, however, they tell us where the food is grown and attempt to use local farmers (who I have met at local farmers markets from time to time). Knowing the farmer and that they are just as concerned about nutrition and sustainability as I am (or more) is always helpful. Because I can’t possibly know everything, I try to trust people who share the same concerns to do right by themselves,and subsequently by me. And finally third, I have done my best to eliminate bread, pasta, and other grains from my diet. An addition that is new to me because of the Paleo diet my fellow CrossFitters swear by. I have thought about this diet and I just don’t have too much trouble with dairy and beans and still want to eat them from time to time, but I think they are right about the grains thing. I eat meat, I don’t believe I would be healthy without it and attempt to do it as sustainably and humanely as possibly (by using the local organic farmer).

  2. Maria- I have had every single thought you expressed, only I’ve never read Eating Animals. I was a vegetarian for 10 years (for various reasons). When I got pregnant for the first time with my now one-year-old I was insanely nauseous starting at week six. My midwife suggested I start eating meat. I am whole-heartedly anti-fundamentalist (this mainly applies to the religious sort), but I have come to realize that you can be fundamental about anything (even good things) and I try to keep myself in check so that I don’t turn into a narrow-minded zealot. So I agreed to abandon a decade of vegetarianism in the hopes I would stop puking. It worked. Not only that, but I found myself craving meat, especially red meat, which seemed counterintuitive. I continued the meat-eating once the baby came because I was craving it even more with nursing. Now I’ve stopped nursing and I’m still eating meat. I think the honest explanation is because it’s one less thing I have to think about. But of all the things to think about, it’s one I shouldn’t ignore for long. “Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” (or something like that). Food has a profound impact on our bodies, minds, and I believe, our souls. Fortunately, I have a husband who is a cook and prepares 99% of our meals. I think that’s why I can get away with “not thinking too hard” about food right now. My whole point is that there isn’t an answer that solves all our food problems, but the fact that we do think about our food decisions, and that these decisions are constantly changing based on our knowledge, needs, and desires is a step in the right direction.

  3. I got my Masters in Gifted Education at KU. I’m positive I read a case-study on you. This is completely typical behavior. 🙂 Congrats on being a neurotic genius. I mean that in the most possible complimentary way. One of my favorite classes was on the affective needs of imminent individuals. How they can royally self-sabotage due to their capacity to understand, synthesize and analyze information quickly and on multiple levels of understanding and application. I really enjoyed reading this post wearing my GT facilitator hat. You make me smile.

  4. Yes, the middle way. That’s good. Incorporating more fresh, local, organic, whole food into your diet. Weeding out the processed, preserved, pesticide-laden, chemically/genetically enhanced stuff. Slow and steady changes are the ones that will last. There’s no question consuming less meat is a good thing for one’s health and the health of the whole planet, but a person doesn’t have to go cold turkey overnight. (Sorry, couldn’t help that one.) Meatless Monday is a good way to start. We eat out of habit, and it takes time to learn how to change our habits. That’s the problem with reading eye-opening books and watching eye-opening documentaries about food. When it’s over, we are ready to convert immediately, but we haven’t learned how yet. It takes time. (from a gluten-free vegan)

  5. I tend to go with Kosher meat whenever I have the option (and it’s not prohibitively expensive)… their butchering methods are more humane, supposedly.

    And also, I think you did the future by having those three kids too 🙂

  6. I’m not really an expert on any of this, but if my understanding is right, things like genetic engineering (which has been done for centuries through selective breeding and recently through gene manipulation), pesticides, insecticides, etc. are done to increase crop yields. In 1st world countries this lowers production cost and in 3rd world countries simply allows enough food to be produced.

    It sounds like you are doing the right thing by researching to find answers that are appropriate to you and your family. Personally, I am very wary of arguments predicated on emotions and lean more toward peer reviewed material. Global Change Biology gives good overviews of world impacts. As far as diet, my personal mantra follows my colleague’s philosophy: anything in moderation is okay. However, he has been known to identify chemicals by taste.

  7. Pingback: creating a creative practice? | [writing] between friends

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