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 2: The Mental Aspects

For me, there were several pieces to this food journey. Of course, the first was an open mind – a willingness to challenge my own actions. Next is the mental aspect: digging in and learning.

Equipped with an open mind and the strongly worded Facebook posts of my friend, I began my journey into food re-evaluation. I wanted to know why she’d made such a drastic change in her diet, going from a meat eater to a very passionate vegan. What effect would the research have on me? Would I change my mind and become a vegan too? I was a little scared to know the answer to that, truth be told (because cheese). Nevertheless, I dug in.

First, Husband and I watched a couple documentaries she recommended: “Vegucated” and “Forks over Knives”. Both of them explore the benefits of a vegan (all plant-based) diet, and potential harmful effects of consuming animal products – for the animal as well as the person eating it.

For some people, veganism is all about a decision not to contribute to inhumane treatment and/or the killing of animals, period. Still others claim myriad health benefits: more energy, reduced cholesterol levels, reduced risk of heart disease, blood pressure issues, cancer and more.

They also argue that never before have we had the ability to purchase all types of produce year-round. In years gone by, people had to rely on seasonality of produce – only able to eat what they could grow in their climate. Now, we don’t really need meat to have a balanced diet – so why kill all those animals?

Of course, there are two sides to every story – my research into veganism proved that well.

I wanted to hear from people that had tried veganism and reverted as well. My research there led me to several blogs and accounts of people who had been vegan, but after some time, decided they didn’t really feel that great anymore and re-integrated some animal products into their diets. After awhile, some said they began to feel tired and sluggish, and some complained of always being hungry and dissatisfied.

My guess is that folks who have chosen a vegan diet because they are protesting the treatment and/or killing of animals are less likely to “convert back” to meat-eaters, although I don’t have any research to back that up!

I also watched the documentary “Cowspiracy” in which it is claimed that animal agriculture accounts for more than half of the world’s total pollution. The documentary explores this claim, and highlights the unwillingness of major environmental organizations to talk about this serious issue.

Of course, being a skeptic by nature, I also read several responses that discredit the “more than half” percentage given in the documentary. These responses claim that the documentary only relied on one study to get their numbers. Make no mistake – the pollution caused by animal agriculture is real and problematic – but many contend the magnitude is NOT as this documentary claims. There’s definitely something shady going on here, though. And it makes a lot more sense after reading the absolute best resource I found about food chain issues: “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

In this book, author Michael Pollan traces the entire food chain of 4 complete meals – andOmnivore's Dilemma then eats each meal. The first meal is produced in the typical “Industrial” food chain, the second by an “Industrial Organic” food chain, the third by a local organic farm operation, and the fourth he produces himself as a hunter-gatherer. I HIGHLY recommend this book as an anchor for anything else you watch or read. I was hooked pretty quickly, and learned SO much valuable, important and interesting stuff.

Suffice to say I cannot begin to sum up everything I learned, but I’m fairly certain it’s not possible to watch and read all these things and come out the other end unchanged. I cannot un-know the things I saw, heard and read. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it all, process it all and come to conclusions – but I’ll save most of that for another post.

Certainly, a lot of this stuff is difficult to read about or watch. Some of it was more sensational (worst of the worst) than others. But at the end of the day, I don’t want to bury my head in the sand about any of it, because it is REAL and it is happening. I believe it’s necessary to ask myself: how should I respond to this?

My initial response was to log into my Hello Fresh app and select the Vegetarian option instead of the option with meat. Sensational or not, the things I learned made me want to eat less meat out of sheer horror.

But overall, this has been a process rather than a knee-jerk reaction. Initially, I was very frustrated that it was so difficult to obtain food with a clear picture of where it came from. Frankly, that’s still frustrating. But for now, I’m settling into the knowledge I’ve gained and am learning what feels (and tastes!) the best for me personally.

Once I educated myself and began dealing with all this information, I of course had to grapple with the physical aspects and claims I was hearing. How does food make us feel and affect our bodies? What effect does it have on the environment and the animals we are eating?

These questions are really anything but simple – and some of them are certainly different for different people. But I’ll be exploring them a bit next time!

 

What Shall We Eat? Part 1: An Open Mind

One of the most interesting side effects of de-cluttering and exploring simplicity in all areas of life is a newfound desire to challenge myself.

I think a shifting perspective on “stuff” and all the discoveries I’ve made about myself, my assumptions and my beliefs has made me more eager to question other areas of my life. Have I been blind to other things? Why do I believe what I believe or assume what I assume in the first place?

It makes sense that we accept as normal what is happening around us when we are young; we don’t really know we have the option to question it. We grow up and realize that we do, and hopefully we do some research before we draw conclusions, but we are still largely shaped by what we’ve experienced – and my experience isn’t necessarily the same as yours.

If we’ve been positively (or negatively) impacted by our experiences, we may become very passionate, based on the intensity of that experience. And then we might want to shout what we’ve learned from the rooftops, in hopes of helping someone else gain (or avoid) something.

It’s easy to get defensive when a very passionate individual is calling into question your

cow-face
Spoiler Alert: This is not what life looks like for the vast majority of cows in the United States.

normal way of being. We might snap at that person, or dismiss them because we feel uncomfortable. But I think we sometimes forget: these folks are usually passionate for a reason – because of an intense experience – and in most cases, they ultimately want to share the knowledge they’ve gained for the benefit of others.

Likewise, it’s easy for the passionate person to vilify the one that gets defensive or is resistant to change. At the end of the day, we all must arrive at change in our own way and time. Can we agree to give each other grace in this area?

All it took was one such passionate individual and her Facebook posts to convince me to re-evaluate what I am eating (Thanks, Erica!). And now, husband and I are adjusting our eating habits. Not in a diet-y, lose-weight-y kind of way, but in a “where does food come from, how is it made and do I want to support that” kind of way.

Having an open mind is so very, very important – even if you don’t end up changing your mind. Along the way, you learn new things, engage with new people in new ways and have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the world around you.

I’m going to be writing a little bit about simplicity as it relates to food and all the things I’ve learned in the past few weeks about where our food really comes from. I’ve felt shocked, disgusted, hopeless, frustrated, sad, angry and, ultimately, hopeful as I’ve delved into this topic. The more I’ve learned, the more passionate (though not extreme nor rigid) I’ve become.

I hope that you’ll read my upcoming posts about this, and maybe somehow these words will impact your food journey for the better as well.