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Questions Aplenty

When I watched the disturbing documentary, Earthlings, a few months back, it was the first step in a journey I didn’t know I was about to take.  After learning about the gruesome realities of commercial farming practices, it seemed like the natural solution was to become a vegetarian or vegan, and thus stop the vicious circle of cruelty and abuse.  I didn’t make the firm decision to completely give up meat or animal products, but since watching the movie I have only eaten meat, on average, once a week.  (We have local beef in our deep freeze and that’s been the only meat I’ve prepared.  Often Steve will have one of the steaks while I have something bean or dairy-based for my protein source.)  And even then it was often hard to stomach.  Since becoming anemic with this pregnancy I had the occasional burger and chose not to wonder about how the cow that made it was treated in the process:  blissful ignorance for iron’s sake.  So, I was still not ready to declare myself a total vegetarian but was living as close to it as I ever had.

Yesterday night I finished reading Plenty, a book that chronicles the experience of the authors as they tried to eat locally, within a 100-mile distance from their home, for one year.  They investigate the toll that our global food trade has taken on farmers and the land and our planet.  It’s a very well written book and quite eye-opening and inspiring.  However, it made me realize that by solving one problem, another is often created.

Whereas I originally assumed that vegetarianism was the answer after watching Earthlings, I have realized that many of the protein options that vegetarians rely on come from the other side of the world.  There are no soybean farms in my neighbourhood, no chick pea fields down the street.   So, is it better to eat local meats or long-distance beans?  No matter which option I choose, it seems that someone pays the price.

It’s clear to me that I still want to be a little removed from my food source.  I would consider keeping some chickens in our orchard and I would have no problem throwing grain into their pens, retrieving their fresh eggs, and taking pride in the fact they they are well cared for and happy and free.  But could I be the one to lop off their heads, throw their quaking bodies in boiling water, pluck out their feathers and then slice into their guts to rip out their entrails?  I don’t think so.  The biggest thing I have ever killed is a wasp, and even then my stomach churned when its yellow guts oozed onto the window I smooshed it against with my swatter.  Steve is convinced that I could grow accustomed to slaughtering chickens and that it would be good for me and our kids to see what it takes to get a drumstick on our plates.  I agree.  In theory.  Honestly, I would way rather eat falafel and tofu and beans for the rest of my life instead of ripping organs out of animals I have killed.  If I can’t do the deed, I should just eat a seed.  How’s that for a new veggie slogan?

So, here I am today.  Still wondering and searching and feeling more than a little overwhelmed by the state of the world.  There is just so much wrong with the systems we’ve created, but change feels so illusive.  And, quite frankly, there are some things about the terrible systems that I kind of enjoy, like the clothes I get for a great deal at the big box store, the taste of a ridiculously overpriced frappuccino from Starbucks, the convenience of frozen pizza.   How can I combat child labour and sweatshops and capitalism and laziness when I not-so-secretly savour some of their fruits?  Do I really have what it takes to live off the land?  Even though I HATE pulling weeds and don’t know the first thing about home preserves?  We’d probably all die of botulism poisoning if I tried to can some jam.

And, most importantly, what about Diet Coke?

I wish that we could create a sort of city-wide commune among our friends, in that we’d all have something we were responsible for creating and then we would share everything with everyone.  We would obviously grow the apples, someone else could kill the chickens, someone else could make organic cheese from happy cows who get patted on the back while they’re milked, someone else could keep a vegetable garden, someone else could make honey, and someone else could grow grain and grind it into flour.  Then we could all eat locally, and ethically, and feel connected (but not too connected…remember, someone else would kill the chickens) to our food.

Before you know it, my armpit hair is going to tuft out the bottom of my tank top and you’ll have to remind me why I used to wear a bra.

The thing I am happy about, in the midst of so much uncertainty about what my next step ought to be, is that I now care about things I used to be completely unaware of.  And that’s a good place to be, a good place to start.

hillary - I have become a bit of a jam master since deciding to do jam as my wedding favours (seriously – I have canned 121 tiny pots of jam) so I will being my mad canning skills to your commune :)

I’m reading “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver right now – it sounds like it’s similar to the book you just finished. I’m really enjoying it and, like you, am finding myself inspired to do SOMETHING (though what that something is remains to be seen.)

hillary - erm, yes – I meant I will “bring” the mad canning skills

Jen - Wouldn’t a city-wide commune be awesome??

You are at a great place Amanda, and regardless of the decision you make, you’ve learned and grown and that counts for a lot.

Jill - My students and I have spent a lot (like way too much) of time asking these same questions. Since my group was more environmentally motivated then PETA based, we came to the conclusion that the more local you could get, the better it was.
I know it’s SK based but, there’s some pretty good research here, check it out:
http://www.farmgatefood.ca/

Meg - One of the writers of that book is originally from Kamloops, and they came and spoke at my school (Thompson Rivers University). It really brought a lot of things into perspective. A lot of the food that we grow here in Canada is actually shipped overseas for processing, then brought back to Canada to sell. Why? All in the name of economy. It’s cheaper to process the food in Asia than it is to process it here, closer to where it was grown. How ridiculous is that? I’m trying to buy more locally (including BC apples, maybe you’re my apple-producers!), and trying to find more information about where and how my food is processed before I even buy it.
Like you, I would love to be more connected to my food, but also feel that I can’t be THAT connected. I love meat. But I definitely CAN’T slaughter anything and then process it. I also love eating wild meats, including venison and rabbit, but I’ve never gone hunting, and I’ve never dressed an animal.
I think a great place to start a local-eating diet is by gardening, whether it’s in your own backyard or in a community-garden-type set-up. I’m a terrible gardener, and I really leave it up to my boyfriend, but at least it’s a start right?
–Sorry for the novel! I’ve been reading you for awhile, but don’t think I’ve commented before. This more than makes up for it, I’m sure :P

Jen - I have been tortured by all the same things lately. My sister and I have decided the best way to combat this would be to start a commune here in Oregon. She says that she will kill the chickens (Thank God).

joyce - “happy cows who get patted on the back while they’re milked” is my favorite line of this post!

we recently had a local cattle farmer deliver us (isn’t that crazy in itself!) some grass-fed, hormone-free beef. they are close to being “happy cows” up until they are slaughtered. anyway my husband was thrilled with how natural the meat was…me…i think it tastes funny. different. stronger tasting. my taste buds got used to all the crap that the grocery store meat contains!

jennifer - if you farm the chicken’s, i’ll chop em up for you. i’ll do the canning and vegetable garden in trade.

Chasinash - Love this post. So thoughtful. And so many things in life are about trade-offs and priorities. Hard to choose.

Tamara - I love this post, too. I don’t have much to add since we have talked about this a lot but I am definitely on the same journey. How about Brian and Steve do all of the plucking and gutting while we pat the happy cows on the back and try to figure out how to make local organic frappucinos?

Michele - That’s a great start! I love your vegetarian slogan…Works for me! I would not be able to raise animals for their meat, the thought makes me feel sick. I would want to name the animals, not number them! I like your idea of everyone growing something different and sharing! And please, keep shaving ;)

Import from China - Great info – keep up the great work.

trish - I think buying local meat from a farmer is a great start and there’s got to be someone else local who farms chickens. We also eat a lot of vegetarian food, but living this far north, it’d be hard to eat completely local and avoid meat.

ikate - I thought of your post as I watched Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” last night on the Food Network. He was doing lamb and said something like “I know New Zealand lamb is the best out there but I prefer American lamb since it doesn’t have to be frozen solid and shipped half way around the globe to get to my place.” Myself, I prefer Salt Spring lamb. But since I’m there only about once every 5 years I hardly ever get it. Anyway – moving on…

I’ve struggled with all of this and have finally come down on the side of trying to eat as locally as possible, when it works for me and my family. I like meat and have found that when I try to eat more vegetarian meals the protein is almost always from far away places and packed in plastic (so there is the environmental issue of the packaging and the fact that nearly all food can liners contain BPA which can leach into the food – ick!). The more people demand locally and humanly grown/raised food the better.

One of the things we are doing right now is buying and freezing Michigan blueberries so this fall and winter we can keep my blueberry monster child in the goods. I never thought of doing it before but it’s pretty easy. We are buying from (relatively) local farmers and buying in season. It’s a small start, but it’s something!

Whew…sorry for the long comment!

Kate - Let me start off by saying I am not a big meat eater, nor do I believe in mistreating anything. I would rather have veggies than meat any day. In saying all that, I will say it amazes me how most people that write these books and produce these documentaries care and are so in tune to the feelings of animals. On the other hand, think nothing of aborting an unborn human life that feels pain. Unfortunately, our world is to the place where they worship the creation more than the creator and place more value on animals than human life.I know everyone doesn’t agree with my views just my two cents:)
p.s. Buying locally or raising your own meat is a wonderful idea!

Jordan - i love your commune idea, i think it’d be really good for people to get involved in what they eat & how it’s made. it definitely can help cut down costs & homegrown food always tastes better.
my boyfriend has a huge vegetable/herb garden growing outside and the cherry tomatoes & cucumbers are to die for.

i want to have chickens at home, as well ..but i’m with you, someone else has to cut off the head & rip out its insides, yuck.

michelle - If we lived closer to each other, I would join your food co-op community in a minute. Let do the veggies. Of course I could learn bee-keeping. But headless chickens probably aren’t my thing either.

All of it is really hard to figure out. I applaud your journey.

Steve - It’s funny that you brought up the whole commune idea. I was just reading through Acts a few nights ago and the thing that really stuck out to me was how the members of the early church all lived and dined together, and shared everything that they had. It seems that, today, sentiments of personal entitlement dissociate everyone from each other and prevent that kind of cohesion.

Anyways, I will live in your commune. Of course, I will also stray from the animal slaughtering. I really think that I could find my niche playing the triangle in the communal band… think about it.

Emma - You are a legend. Good one for even thinking about it. Awareness is the beginning of any journey, I think.
Go the bangs, too. Why not?

Mrs. Wilson - I hate to think of where my meat comes from. I hate to think that it used to be a living, breathing animal. I’ve thought many times about going vegetarian, but then I’m not a big fan of dairy or beans, so I guess that’s not such a great plan.

I’m glad you’re learning about things you never knew of before!

melanie - I read that book (It was called The Hundred Mile Diet then, I think that is the Canadian title) a couple of years ago and found it fascinating. I live in Alberta and don’t eat much meat so I think I would have to increase my range if I wanted anything other than beef, wheat and corn (okay, not really but pretty close in the winter). Have you read The End of Food by Thomas Pawlick? I found that book fascinating too and was able to interview him for a documentary I was working on about soil sequestration. Anyway, I highly recommend it but what is even more fasinating is how much trouble he got into from his University in Sask. for writing it and amazing how much weight/money Big Ag has to push around.
I wish I could say I only eat local or buy organic but the truth is we have tried and just can’t afford it right now. Someday that is my goal. Oh – and if you do buy tofu buy only the organic kind b/c it is one of the highly engineered/modified crops in the world. Maybe you knew that but I thought I would mention it. I think the stuff I buy comes from B.C. actually.

Amy Q - So well put!!! I am totally in the same quandary. For now I am eating meat that is local too, but not too often either. I also struggle with the idea of eating too much soy since it is often GMO and produced overseas. It is a difficult balance, my husband is an adamant meat eater, and I am not sure that I want to make my daughter a vegetarian either. I don’t know about where you are but here in Quesnel there is an abatoire (not sure of the spelling) where you can take your own chickens to be slaughtered, usually humanely since they are small operations. We are looking into doing that next year. When I was little I remember my mom raised 20 meat birds one year, and after killing and plucking them all she couldn’t stomach eating any of it! We mostly buy locally raised chickens and beef, and I have stopped eating meat at restaurants. My husband has helped slaughter a cow before…its not pretty but its not too difficult and then we had the butcher chop it up. I don’t think I could do it though.
I think you have a great idea with the collective!!! I’m would be so in if I lived where you do.