For me, many food choices are pretty easy; it’s difficult to deny that leafy greens are good for you, or that whole grains are healthy. It’s a no-brainer to make foods like these part of our meals as much as possible. Then there’s meat… beef, pork, poultry, fish. I always believed that meat was a healthy and necessary part of a good meal (protein, protein, protein!). Lots of reading and questioning has led me to make some changes, though.
When I met my now-husband, he was a vegetarian. This threw my cooking preferences for a loop, but I was open-minded. Then, within a few months of us dating, he began eating poultry again. He still denies it had anything to do with me, and I still worry that I somehow encouraged him to re-evaluate his morals. Either way, for quite a long time after that, we were non-beef-and-pork-eating omnivores.
Then books like Michael Pollan’s, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and Marion Nestle’s, “What to Eat” entered our world. The more we learned, the more we felt we had to rethink what we were eating. Or, really think about what we were eating. When it came to the animals that were our dinner—where did they come from? What kind of lives did they have? What were they fed, what hormones and antibiotics were they given? And what implication did the answers to these questions have on our health and well-being? Throw on top of all that the fact that the meat industry is the single most devastating industry to the environment and it’s all a little overwhelming (recent studies have found that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 51 percent of annual worldwide emissions*).
So we entered the world of being “selective omnivores”. We’re not anti-meat…we just want to make sure we eat the right meat. That means no factory farmed meat (which accounts for 99% of the meat in our country, by the way). It’s really not easy, either. First of all, meat is harder to find—no more supermarket shopping. Sustainably raised meat is also more expensive, so we eat meat much less often. And friends and family have a hard time identifying just what we are…vegetarian? Picky? Pains in the butt? It’s just not an easy thing to explain when someone has lovingly cooked a meal for you. “Well, yes, we eat chicken, just not that chicken…”
I definitely miss eating meat. There are some nights all I want is a cheeseburger, or my Mom’s amazing roast beef with au jus. Mmm. I really like what Jonahthan Safran Foer says in his book, “Eating Animals”, and I try to remember it when I’m having one of those moments:
“Two friends are ordering lunch. One says, “I’m in the mood for a burger,” and orders it. The other says, “I’m in the mood for a burger,” but remembers that there are things more important to him than what he is in the mood for at any given moment, and orders something else.”
Michael Pollan talks about the “Omnivores Dilemma”, referring to the dilemma of choosing what to eat when faced with the thousands of options in the modern supermarket. Our dilemma is different- how to eat a responsible, mostly-vegetarian diet in a part of the world (upstate NY) that isn’t very accommodating to this lifestyle. Not easy, but hopefully as awareness continues to grow, it will get easier.