August 24, 2010

Falling off the Veggie Wagon.

“This way of living, in which we turn a blind eye to our own downfalls must stop—it helps no one.”

I suppose if there was a prize for being the worst vegetarian in the world that I would be the one to stand up, shake hands with the person who handed it to me and give a speech thanking God, my family and America.

Whereas many people have a tough time not eating meat because they find it so darn tasty (hey, have you ever eaten the perfect piece of prosciutto? It’s hard to say no to that), I have a hard time staying on the veggie wagon for a different reason: do we even realize where our foods are coming from, and do we care?

This all started with a pear that I was eating a few days ago. I was peeling off the label from the fruit when I happened to glance down at it and saw the “Grown in Chile” sticker yelling at me. Chile: a country 5,582 miles from my front door, is where my pears were quietly living before they were plucked and shipped to the frozen north of Michigan. This bothered me more than it probably should have, and I really didn’t feel like eating that pear any longer. As I placed it on its ceramic bed next to all of its fruity friends, my mother came into the kitchen carrying a package of frozen beef wrapped in crinkly, white butcher’s paper.

Now, my family supports my vegetarian lifestyle and has gone so far as to eliminate meat from the menu whenever I am home, but we are a family of sarcastic comedians…so the topic of meat versus vegetables is constantly being joked about.

I asked her if she could hear the meat screaming out for help, she put the package up to her ear and shook her head and told me only silence came from this particular cow. She then proceeded to tell me about the farmer (who lives 30 miles away from my house) who gave our family a vast amount of free meat. All of his animals are well cared for, humanely killed (is that an oxymoron? oh, well), and given to people who need it the most.  I stared at that stupid, Chilean pear and felt pretty confused as I watched my mother start dinner.

I truly believe that most of us (vegetarians/vegans) don’t really know where our food comes from. It’s as if we are so busy telling others about animal rights that we don’t remember the rights of our own planet or the people who inhabit it. Where exactly do you think those 90 cent bags of lentils come from or the pineapples that somehow show up in the middle of February?

I’m not here to disregard my veggie path—or try to put it on a pedestal—I am writing this to be completely honest.

Large scale farming, whether for fruits, grains, or vegetables, is rarely a pretty thing. In just 10 minutes of research on intensive farming (so I could see if any new information was available) and came up with so many hits that I couldn’t read them all. Articles on deforestation, cancer, suicide, human rights violations, pesticides, acid rain, green house gases, murder, child labor and soil depletion were common finds; I read page after page of articles and studies on farming and it seemed that more were being added daily.

I’m not sure we can pretend to ignore the facts when they are so readily available: the fruits and veggies that we love so much are harming the planet and the people who inhabit it. It’s scary to note that the foods we are eating today are not as healthy as they used to be. Research shows that in 1950, broccoli had a whopping 150 mg of calcium where as today that same small green tree only skids by on 48 mg. Every day I hear new stories about pesticides and the adverse affect it is having on human health and the ridiculous and heinous treatment of the farm workers and I recently read an article that claimed vegetarians may do more harm to the earth than help.  It was hard to read through all of this information and feel like there was anything I could do to help.

Yet, after reading all of this and living in an age of information the fight, which I still find childish, of meat versus vegetarian is still waging. This fight needs to stop right now; no one is better and no one is right- we both have blood on our hands. This way of living, in which we turn a blind eye to our own downfalls must stop- it helps no one.  Can both sides put down their pointy sticks and fight for a cause that is universal: we need better farming techniques, an elimination in pesticides, human rights victories for workers and an insanely better system of farming animals. We need to learn to buy more local and in season produce, which I know isn’t easy during winter seasons (I live in the freakin’ tundra, remember?) but we are creative and intelligent people, we can find a way to do this.

I told you the beginning of a short story when I starting this article and I would like to finish it; for the first time in a year I ate meat that night. I didn’t feel comfortable eating fruits or vegetables that flew half way across the world from farms that used poisons and mis-treated their workers but I did feel comfortable eating that beef.

Does that make me a bad vegetarian—most likely, but it surely doesn’t make me a worse person.

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