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
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.