What Shall We Eat? Part 5: Resources & Conclusions

Thanks for sticking around long enough to get to this last post! My goal in this was mostly to share my journey, but also to encourage others to embark on their own. Hopefully some of these resources I used along the way will help you, too.

After opening my mind to the possibility that eating meat does not, in fact, align with my values, and taking the time to do my own research, I ultimately feel confident that there exists a thoughtful, spiritual and humane way to eat meat. Husband and I initially decided to eat less, better quality meat than we used to; for us, this felt like the right place to start. We care about the environment, we care about animals, and we care about nourishing our bodies and taking good care of them.

So this begs the question: how do we do this?

Based on everything I’ve learned, I believe the answer lies in buying the highest quality local food you can find. And at the very least – making choices to eat “less than ideal” foods minimally and with awareness of what you are contributing to when you do.

One of the first places I started was a website mentioned in The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Eat Wild. The site is organized by state and lists local farms, what they produce, some information about the farms and how to contact them. I was surprised how many there were, and how accessible they were (many will ship, some will not). This was by no means an exhaustive list, either. Atlantans: you have options. Lots of them.

Alternatively, be on the lookout for local farmer’s markets. Many cities have them every

marietta square farmers market
Borrowed from mariettasquarefarmersmarket.com

weekend (we love the Marietta Square Farmer’s Market!) and the big ones have websites that list their suppliers. This is also a great way to learn about farms in your area, read about their philosophies, and even visit/buy directly from the farm.

Husband and I tried to do this one Saturday – we drove to a farm in Powder Springs, GA – about a 30 minute drive from our house. Unfortunately, it was less a farm and more an abandoned shack that could easily be the set for a horror flick. Oh well; we’ll try again with a bigger, better-known farm some time!

I also stumbled upon a service in Atlanta called Garnish & Gather. It’s very similar to meal delivery services like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh – which both use high qualityhello fresh veggie ingredients (Husband and I are currently using Hello Fresh for 3 Vegetarian meals per week). Each week, Garnish & Gather has a menu of 5 or so meals. All ingredients to make each meal come from local or regional farms. You select which meals you want, how many people you’re feeding, and you can either pay to have all the items delivered, or you can pick them up at one of several Metro Atlanta locations. You can even grocery shop and pick up those items along with your meals! They also have all suppliers listed on their website – again, another resource to find local farmers. We haven’t tried this service yet; I have actually been moving farther and farther away from eating meat.

There is also a meal-delivery service called Purple Carrot that is 100% vegan. While I’m not necessarily advocating meal delivery services for everyone, I have found our vegetarian boxes from Hello Fresh very educational! Meaning, I’ve learned a lot of new techniques and new combinations of satisfying dishes without meat. Part of me wants to try Purple Carrot for the same reason – to try and learn how to make tasty vegan dishes!

Aside from our 3 Hello Fresh vegetarian meals per week, we are currently doing most of our grocery shopping at Harry’s or Whole Foods. What I love about shopping there (aside from the convenience) is the ability to buy local items as well as see information about the treatment of the animals that products come from.

What I’ve discovered is this: the harder it is to get information about where the product comes from or how the animals were treated, the more sure I am that I won’t like the answer. And while you’d think companies that treat animals humanely, don’t use antibiotics or don’t force their cows to eat grain would want consumers to know about it, labels can still be super confusing.

I found a website with some guides and resources to help decipher food labels and discern what in the world they mean. Does this take some effort? Yes. But I WANT to make every effort I can to understand what I am putting in my body.

As I plodded along in my research, I also discovered that as of August 2016, 35% of the chickens used by Chick Fil A are now raised with zero antibiotics. Their goal is to reach 100% by 2019. Encouraging more suppliers to raise chickens in an environment where they don’t need to be pumped full of antibiotics is at least a step in the right direction in my book.

In this age of overly-processed, industrialized food, it’s definitely tough to avoid all of it. And I’m OK with that for now because I’m still learning and changing. I said at the beginning of this series that I was not going to be rigid. Educated and thoughtful? Yes. Buy humane and local, to the best of my ability? Absolutely. Eat less meat, period? Yep – and I can honestly say I don’t miss meat during those meals at all.

In fact, I’ve actually lost my taste entirely for some meats. I’m not sure if this is just a phase or not, but I have close to zero interest in any meat that comes from cows or pigs these days. I still eat chicken from time to time, and I still eat fish regularly. But suddenly, those other meats just aren’t appealing anymore. And it didn’t happen overnight – I did not feel that way after my initial research.

As for other animal products, I still eat cheese and eggs, and I still use butter every now and then. I haven’t “banned” any products necessarily, but truthfully, a lot of it just doesn’t appeal to me anymore and I actually prefer vegan alternatives. The fun thing is, I still have SO many vegan options that I haven’t even tried yet!

Will I end up a vegan someday? I have no idea. But I can tell you that trying vegan versions of things is fun, I don’t miss meat, and I wouldn’t trade the knowledge I’ve gained for anything. I don’t want my food choices to hinder my health/nutrition, enjoyment of or satisfaction from eating, nor do I want to support abusive and cruel treatment of animals. This is still a journey, and I know I have more learning, growing and changing to do!

Ultimately, I want to glorify God by taking good care of the body He’s given me, and do my part to support the planet and animals He’s entrusted to our care.

And to simplify things for you, below is a list of the resources I found helpful*.

*Just remember to do your own research on some of the claims you’ll hear in these documentaries, specifically. I don’t think every resource I listed here is gospel truth – just that they all helped me in my journey and led me to ask MORE questions and do MORE research. Omnivore’s Dilemma and Intuitive Eating were the most helpful to me by a mile.

 

 

What Shall We Eat? Part 4: The Spiritual Aspect

I know that the spiritual aspect of this discussion won’t be “relevant” to everyone. However, my Christian faith informs my life so I must include it. Aside from just doing internet research, I wanted to see what the Bible said about some of this stuff. So, I started thinking about which well-known verses might apply, and looked up some verses specifically about food and animals.

Most Christians know we are told to treat our bodies as temples (1 Corinthians 6:19), and to be good stewards of the Lord’s provisions (1 Peter 4:10). I take this to mean health ought to matter to us and that we are to behave responsibly with the resources the Lord has provided to us. But what instruction is given as far as what we are to eat?

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? In Genesis, we read about what God has created forbible boy Adam and Eve (and everyone else!) for food.

Genesis 1:29 – Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food.

Genesis 9:1-4 – Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth. All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the sky, all the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the fish in the sea will look on you with fear and terror. I have placed them in your power. I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables. But you must never eat any meat that still has the lifeblood in it.

These are pretty clear to me; God placed humans at the top of the food chain and it is not morally wrong to eat meat.

But that’s not the end of the story.  The below verses from 1 Corinthians are interesting in this context, too, especially since the examples Paul uses are about eating meat. Not necessarily as a commentary on “right” vs. “wrong”, but as a guide for how we are to navigate interactions with other people given our personal convictions about what to eat and what not to eat.

1 Corinthians 10:23-33 – You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. 24 Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.

25 So you may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace without raising questions of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

27 If someone who isn’t a believer asks you home for dinner, accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you without raising questions of conscience. 28 (But suppose someone tells you, “This meat was offered to an idol.” Don’t eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you. 29 It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person.) For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? 30 If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it?

31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God.33 I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.

There’s a lot to think about in these verses! First, there’s the concept that just because we are ALLOWED to do something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. This makes me think of the health claims made against many animal products. Just because I’m allowed to eat steaks marbled with fat that come from cows eating corn on a feedlot doesn’t mean it’s beneficial for me. (If you have the inclination, read Daniel 1:8-16. In this passage, Daniel has been taken captive to Babylon and is being asked to eat a rich diet ordered by the king. He persuades the king to let him eat only vegetables and drink water. The end result is Daniel looking much healthier, stronger and vibrant than the men who consumed the king’s rich wine and meats.)

Perhaps the most important takeaway, though, is this idea of putting others above myself – and the motivation for that is to win others to the Lord by showing them HIS kindness and grace. The fact that Paul seems to place more emphasis on the person with a “sensitive conscience” is interesting, too. To me, this means if I’m eating dinner with a vegan, I’m not going to wave my bacon in her face and prattle on about how yummy it is. Because that’s rude and it offends her conscience. Does that mean I’m wrong for eating bacon and I can’t eat bacon? Of course not! Instead, try a little empathy. Accept that some people in the world just have a more sensitive conscience about the slaughter of animals.

Similar statements are made in Romans.

Romans 14:1-4 – Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.

No believer should be condemning another believer’s food choices. This one is a little harder for me, only because factory farming and the industrial food chain did not exist in biblical times! Yet at the heart of it is simply the notion that it’s not wrong to eat meat, nor is it wrong to choose not to eat meat.

What must be considered, in my opinion, is unnecessary cruelty. And the Bible does condemn cruelty towards animals as something only “wicked” people do.

Proverbs 12:10 says, “The godly care for their animals, but the wicked are always cruel.”

What I asked myself is this: Am I wicked if I am not inflicting the cruelty on the animal with my own hands (or machinery…<shudder>), but I’m eating and enjoying the product of that cruelty? I personally felt highly uncomfortable with the idea that I was contributing to the demand for such products.  I don’t think it’s wrong to eat animals, but I think it’s wrong to abuse them in order to get food. It’s also totally unnecessary and in many cases, unhealthy, to eat this way.

I want to acknowledge too that there are people who are more sensitive to this than I am; people that believe it’s cruel to kill animals for food, period. I respect those people, and I understand them. It’s uncomfortable to think about.

But because of my faith, I will not condemn the idea of eating meat entirely. I believe God designed our bodies to be able to consume and digest animal products, and the Bible clearly states that eating meat is OK, if you choose to. (Side note: yes, I am leaving out all the rules about what kinds of animals were considered clean vs. not in Old Testament times. That is an entirely different discussion that I don’t believe has as much relevance to this topic in post-resurrection times. But every time I read the rules about animal sacrifices in the Old Testament, I’m extra thankful for Jesus!)

I will, however, condemn factory farming until I’m blue in the face. We ought to have more respect for the living things around us. This is why I think it’s so important to consider what these creatures were MEANT to consume and digest. Feeding animals an unnatural diet and pumping them full of supplements and antibiotics to keep them alive is utterly disgusting to me (among many, many other common practices that I haven’t posted here). I don’t know what to classify it as, if not cruelty. I keep coming back to Proverbs 12:10.

 

What Shall We Eat? Part 3: The Physical Aspects

When you start researching Veganism and food chains, it doesn’t take long for your head to start spinning. What’s true and what’s not? It would seem that a claim based on a scientific study would be trustworthy, but if a pretty big claim is based on only one study with no corroborating evidence, then it’s definitely worth questioning.

Not to mention you can probably find SOME statistic to back up just about any claim you want to make. I’ve often been of the opinion that if you look hard enough for evidence to support something, you can probably find it. (Did I mention I’m a skeptic by nature?)

Anyway, as I delved into the research portion of my journey, it became clear that there were some physical aspects I’d need to grapple with. First, how does food physically affect human beings, and second, how does our eating food affect the food we’re eating – namely, the animals that lose their lives so that we may consume them.

Obviously, humans need the energy food provides in order to function. There are generally accepted “healthy” foods and “junk” foods. We all know we should be consuming more of the healthy food and less of the junk. (Although the definition of what’s good and bad continues to change! Remember when fat was the devil and EVERYTHING came out with a “fat free” version, which just meant there were more carbs and sugar instead? And then carbs were the devil, so you just shouldn’t eat them (but your body NEEDS carbs for energy otherwise it eats the protein in your muscles instead). And now we have to discern between “good fat” and “bad fat” and “good carbs” and “bad carbs”).

I honestly find this to be a difficult topic to tackle as only a sub-part of a larger blog post. That’s because how and what we eat in America is heavily, heavily influenced by our culture. We live in a culture that praises thin & fit (and doesn’t acknowledge health at sizes that may not fit into this “perfect” mold) – and there’s always room for improvement, no matter how thin and fit you actually are.  But our culture also praises expediency – if getting thin and fit is the cake, doing it quickly is the icing on top.

This obsession with calories and ease is supported by various industrial food processing organizations. We can buy 150 calorie snack packs of highly processed foods to “keep our waistlines in check.” And yet, as a country, we’re just getting fatter. We keep dieting and cutting calories and getting fatter. (Spoiler alert: diets don’t work long term. There’s LOTS of research to back that claim up! But this is a topic for another day.)

But we’ve lost something here. As a culture, we allow outside sources and forces tell us what, when and how much to eat. No longer do most of us look inward and actually listen to our unique bodies. “It’s noon, it’s time to eat lunch,” we say, without noticing if we’re actually hungry or not. “I am starving, but I only have 2 Weight Watchers Points left, so I’ll just ignore it,” we think, praising ourselves for “sticking to it.” We hear that the latest trend is to juice, or eat kale with every meal, or avoid all sugar at all costs – and we do it because it’s “healthy” and without checking in with our bodies to see what it is our bodies are actually craving or needing.

We’ve lost the ability to to discern when we’re hungry and when we’re satiated. We eat so fast that we don’t even have time to decide if the food actually tastes good. We eat what someone ELSE tells us is best for OUR bodies, or we binge on what we aren’t “supposed” to eat without stopping to think about how it will make us feel physically.

All this matters – and if you decide to start tuning out what everyone else tells you is right for your body, and listen to your own body, you might be surprised. It is at this point you can really decide how eating animal products makes you feel, physically. Do they taste great to you? Are they satisfying? Are there non-animal substitutes that you like just as much, or more?

One of the biggest “phases” of this journey for me has simply been experimentation. Vegan mayo is perfectly adequate for me to make tuna salad. Chipotle Seitan crumbles were yummier in tacos than ground beef to me. Almond milk in granola? YES! Almond milk yogurt? BARF. I wanted to know if I COULD cut out animal products, still feel satisfied, and still enjoy eating – because I believe in eating for pleasure, satisfaction AND health. So I say…listen to your body. And have fun experimenting – there are SO many options available these days.

While it’s important to consider how food tastes and makes you physically feel, we also must understand the physical reality for the animals we consume – and decide if we are OK with it. I confess I had NO idea what the “industrial” food chain really entails, and it’s absolutely horrifying. I’m not going to share overly graphic things here, but some knowledge of the industrial food chain – out of which comes the vast majority of animal products we consume – is necessary. For all of us. Here’s a snippet:

  • Around 6 months of age, beef cows go live on “feedlots” where they are forced to
    feedlot
    A typical feedlot, AKA: wasteland of excrement and corn and future steaks.

    eat an unnatural (for them) diet of corn and grain grown with fertilizers. They are fed this way because it’s the cheapest way to feed them, and because it produces coveted beef cuts marbled with fat and makes the cows fatter faster, thus ready for slaughter and sale sooner. Cows have a second, specialized stomach called a rumen that is designed to digest GRASS. Grain really screws up the rumen, so cows that are forced to eat grain are sick their entire lives. In order to stay alive, they need lots of supplements and antibiotics – which has caused the evolution of “superbugs” – bacteria that often affect humans (think E. Coli and MRSA) and are now resistant to normal levels and types of antibiotics.

  • Dairy cows only produce milk when pregnant; industrial operations artificially inseminate cows over and over again to keep them lactating. They are hooked up to milking machines that cause infections in their udders. Again, antibiotics are used, encouraging the development of superbugs.
  • Chickens are also fed an unnatural diet (and given antibiotics) in order to fatten them for slaughter sooner. Many of them live in cramped barns and they are often gaining weight much faster than their legs develop – meaning even if they have access to small outdoor spaces, their legs cannot support them to get there. Many of the same issues occur with hens that lay eggs – they are kept in confinement, fed unnatural diets, and made to produce as many eggs as possible.
  • Don’t get me started on pigs. I can’t even type some of the things they do to the piggies.

This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what I learned about animal treatment.

I decided almost immediately that I had ZERO interest in supporting the industrial food chain in any way. As I said in an earlier post, though, it’s not easy to opt out of it entirely because in many cases it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to know where your food is coming from. (I suspect this is one reason people instantly go vegan after learning some of this stuff.)

Ok, so even if you reject the industrial food chain with all it’s horrific animal abuse (and it IS abuse – make NO mistake about that), where does that leave you? Some people consider the animal abuse and that’s enough to make them stop eating all animal products. Others (like me) wanted to understand other options.

Organic products are an option – but this doesn’t ensure humane treatment of animals. It only ensures that the animals aren’t being pumped full of antibiotics. An improvement, if you ask me, but not good enough.

Then, there are smaller, local organic options – and stores like Whole Foods that carry local items and products that are clearly marked as “humane” or “ethical.” But even this can be murky, because you aren’t always sure how THEY define humane and ethical.

In an ideal world, we’d still have knowledge of and respect for where our food comes from. In an ideal world where I am consuming meat, I’d LOVE to get meat from a farmer that I’ve met – either at a farmer’s market, or by visiting his/her farm.

Fresh, local, organic, humanely treated products make me feel the best, physically and mentally. I believe that is also the best way to consume animal products, if you’ve chosen to consume animal products. For me, it is important to eat this way as much as possible.

And don’t forget NOT to accept every claim you hear during your research! One of the documentaries we watched claimed that consuming red meat caused cardiovascular problems. However, there was no distinction between meat that came from cows who were fed an unnatural diet of corn and grain vs. grass-fed cows. And in fact, grass-fed beef has actually been shown to LOWER risk of heart disease. This is a typical example of a claim that might be “true” to some extent, but doesn’t tell the whole story. (And another example of the evils of industrial farming. They don’t feed cows grass partly because it takes too long for them to get “fat enough” – even though it’s killing people).

My eating habits have changed a lot, but I’m still a work in process. There’s more to mull over and consider, and it has taken months for me to get where I am now. I suspect I will continue to explore and evolve, and I think that’s good. One thing is for sure, though – I will NOT return to mindless eating, letting others dictate what is best for MY body, or blindly consuming things without at least considering where they came from and what they went through to get to me.