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.