23 January 2011

Part of the family.

We were all upstairs watching the Season 3 premiere of Parks & Recreation, and two of the cats and the dog were with us. The kid looked around him and said, "I'll be right back. I'm going to go get Spritey so that the whole family will be here." (Just for reference, the part of the room that isn't under the dormer ceilings is about 5' x 8'.)

When people ask me why I'm vegan, they usually ask whether it's because of the animals or for health reasons. I've been vegetarian for over twenty years, and vegan for the last two, and I'm disinclined to make too many harsh pronouncements about other people's choices. But at the same time, I really do believe what I believe, and my choices about food are not casually made. When I first stopped eating meat, it was because I was cutting up a chicken breast for a stir fry, and I just couldn't do it. I don't remember whether I finished making that meal or not, but I knew I couldn't eat meat any longer. It was the late 80s, and while there were some vegetarian resources out there, the realm of veg cookbooks looked nothing like it does today. There were the Moosewood Cookbooks, Laurel's Kitchen, and Diet for a Small Planet. The latter influenced my early thinking on the subject almost as much as that first visceral rejection of the chicken. When I finished reading the book, I was fairly well persuaded that a meat-based diet was a terribly inefficient use of the planet's resources. It seemed pretty clear that you could feed more people, well, by emphasizing plant foods than by feeding those plants to animals that would then be slaughtered for their meat. So that was one thing.

And the animals. Yes, absolutely. I don't happen to believe that there is anything but an arbitrary distinction between pets and "food animals," so if I can feed myself and my family without harming them, that is what I will do. For a long time, I viewed eggs and dairy as acceptable food choices because the animals producing them weren't killed directly. But the more I knew about commercial egg and dairy production, the less sense it made to me to eat those products. I do think it's possible to obtain eggs and milk that have been produced in a fairly humane way, but it doesn't seem worth the expense and effort.

That leaves health. I think it is possible to be a healthy eater of almost any diet, as long as your food choices are broad enough and are processed as little as possible. For me, being vegan puts the focus on the best foods I know of: fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, & seeds. I have seen improvements in my respiratory health since I eliminated dairy from my diet, but I know that not everyone experiences the problems I did.

Today, we spent part of our morning with members of the local Orthodox Christian Mission. Part of their spiritual practice includes fasting from meat, fish, dairy, wine & olive oil for various periods of time during the year, which can add up to nearly six months, all told. After the service, I was talking with an Orthodox friend who had prepared chicken for the meal, and he was telling me about its source. I smiled and said that I would take it on his authority, and he worked out that I am vegan. He made a reference to my being "strong" in that, and while there is a way in which that may be true, I definitely don't experience being vegan as any sort of ascetic triumph! I don't experience any deprivation, really. I like the things that I eat better than their non-vegan equivalents!

What it comes down to is this: my goals with respect to food choices are to eat the best quality food I can cook at home, and to treat the earth's fellow creatures (human and non-human) with respect. Within my personal ethics, a vegan diet represents my best chance of achieving those goals. I'm not missing out on anything. I'm really not.

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