Why Do I Care? Part 2 of 3

Where were we? Oh yeah, the back burner. So how do you move from the back burner to the front burner? Good question, glad you asked!

So while food ethics were on the back burner, I got married in Summer 2009. I brought a book on the honeymoon…Food, Inc. I can’t remember how this book landed in my hands. Well, actually I do it was through Amazon.com, but I can’t remember the impetus for buying it. Oh well, my best guess is I was intrigued because Michael Pollan (author of In Defense of Food) was a major contributor to the book.

Let me tell you, this was a different book than the “nutrition” book In Defense of Food. This book introduced me to something I can’t recall hearing much about before…a FACTORY FARM. Here’s a brief introduction to factory farming by Sustainable Table. This struck a nerve; certainly more than anything I’d read previously.

This was July 2009. From then until January 2010 I read a few books, namely the ones below. I’d say food ethics was on the middle burner.

These books were certainly more in depth. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is probably 400+ pages, but worth every minute spent reading. So what happened in January 2010?

My wife and I decided to watch the documentary film version of Food, Inc. that was available on Amazon Video (it’s also streaming on Netflix currently for free). It would be wrong to say this documentary changed our minds instantly and all of a sudden we both cared about food ethics and where our food came from. While I was reading I had been engaging my wife in conversations about food and factory farming and we were both interested in the idea of “What can we do?”

It would be correct, however, to say that watching this documentary helped us go from mere thoughts, appreciations, conversations, et cetera to a decision to act.

How could we sit on the sidelines knowing the issues, feeling compelled in our guts and our intellects to change, but still parading on eating whatever we wanted with nary a care? The answer was we couldn’t do it. We decided to disengage from the factory farmed meat and animal product system. What does this mean? It means we decided to no longer purchase or consume meat or animal products that were made by a factory farm system…which is at least 95% of meat and animal products.

We decided to fight the powers that be with one simple decision, cut the financial rug out from underneath them. If we kept purchasing these meats and products we were knowingly and actively participating in the egregious acts of environmental damage, worker abuse and animal abuse carried out by the factory farm system. We were essentially complicit in their practices and guilty as accomplices. That might sound harsh…but I think it’s true.

We were basically vegetarian for the first few months…because were such newbies that we didn’t know where to even find the kind of meat that wasn’t part of the system. And to complicate matters…we were living with my wife’s parents during a transition time…in a short few months we’d be moving to Iowa City, IA so I could attend graduate school. My wife’s family was remarkably understanding of our views albeit a little confused. They helped us eat the way we wanted to for the remainder of our time living with them as best they could…which meant vegetarian dishes for family dinner, vegetarian option for family dinner or Steph and I were on our own (which wasn’t a bad thing). But we did it and we only broke the rules on very few occasions, maybe at the frequency of one meal every few months. Like I said previously, perfection is unattainable and we tried to be as responsibly imperfect as we could given the real world. You’ll be surprised how responsible you can be though, even if it’s tough at times (more on that later).

In spring 2010, we made the move to Iowa City, IA. Thus concludes the second phase of the transformation. Stay tuned for the conclusion where I move beyond how I came to care and the real reason why I do care. It’s going to be fun!

Assignment: This is a shorter one I promise! Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer was interesting. It would be best just to read the book for yourself…it’s a fairly quick read. However, I know you all have lives so at the least do me this favor…read this review of the book on a terrific blog called Civil Eats.


Why Do I Care? Part 1 of 3

Why do I care?

I think that’s a really good question…because it gets at my motivation for caring about food ethics. Also, it allows me to tell a little history about my process of “not caring” to “caring.”

It all started sometine in summer 2008 with…a book. Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. My roommate Peter had a copy from a nutrition class he was taking and I happened upon it one afternoon. “Interesting,” I thought. I don’t recall the specifics of my conversation with Peter, but I do know he said enough for me to borrow the book from an author I had never heard of before. Little did I know Michael Pollan was already becoming a celebrity food writer…but not the “recipe and cooking” kind, rather the “something’s wrong and we need to change” kind. I won’t go into the details of his book but he introduced me to the concept of “foodlike substances.” Basically, most of what Americans eat today isn’t really food (in the sense of Apples, Spinach, Bread, Eggs…that kind of real food). What Americans eat today is a food imitation — a conglomeration of chemicals and what was at some point along it’s journey food…all combined to create foodlike substances with little to no quality nutrition and loads of bad stuff (e.g. trans fat.) Think frozen pizzas and jalapeno poppers.

So this was really a “nutrition” book. It got me thinking though…and that’s always the first step. I should say I’m concerned about the nutrition aspect of changing our food system, that’s certainly one prong, but there are also a lot of other prongs.

After finishing the book, I went straight to the local Byerly’s and bought organic apples, vegetables, local grass fed milk and some other “healthy organic” foods. I thought that was prudent given what I had just read. Then I realized I had just spent $50 on a few days groceries and I was a poor post-college kid.

The very next trip to the grocery store I reverted back to old habits…namely frozen chicken patties and tortilla chips and queso (healthy, right?)

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t forget about what I had read. I, like most people I would imagine, considered my financial situation, my stressful job and my burgeoning relationship with a beautiful girl named Stephanie (whom I would later marry) and thought this is something I can push to the back burner. Thus concluded the first phase of the transformation.

Look forward to the middle part of the series soon! I promise it gets a little more exciting!

Assignment: The mantra from In Defense of Food goes like this, “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” This article is from 2007, but it’s essentially a condensed (albeit long form) version of the aforementioned book. Go forth and read!

Welcome to Ethical Plate

I regret to inform you that I’m not an expert on food policy nor a real journalist.

I am, however, a very concerned consumer. For the first 23 years of my life I was blissfully unaware of how food arrived on my plate. I ate what appealed to my eyes, taste buds or what my sister as a child referred to as “nose buds.”

Then something changed. I’d like to write about that “something” in this blog because I feel an overwhelming need to tell others about the inherent immorality/wrongdoing of the industrial food system in America (and anywhere else industrial farming is becoming the norm.) When you become aware of what happens before the food arrives on your plate  you might not want to eat that food.

My hope is that through my writing you will understand that perfection is not the goal because we all know that is an impossible goal. Rather, the goal should be responsible imperfection. I constantly struggle with the ethical dilemmas of animal agriculture and following my own food rules. I break the rules sometimes. I’m human and I want it to be known right up front that I am not perfect and I will probably not follow through on every single thing I write about. But I will certainly strive to the best of my abilities for responsible imperfection. I should mention that I’m fortunate to have a wife that is just as passionate as I am about food issues. She is a superb journalist for our local newspaper here and she bakes and blogs at girlversusdough.com. Hopefully she will share some of her thoughts on this blog from time to time!

I realize that food and ethics can be a tough topic. It’s one of those “Yeah, I see what you’re saying, but…” kind of topics. Eating and sharing a meal with people is a fundamental part of the human experience. Having someone rain on your parade and tell you can’t eat this or that is a real downer. But I promise you it’s not all doom and gloom and there is good news in all of this.

The good news is there’s another way. A humane, sustainable and wholesome way to produce food for our nation that despite the naysayers is completely plausible and quite necessary. The path to change starts with one choice and builds upon that until before you know it…we have a full blown food revolution!

Hmm…that sounds familiar Jamie Oliver.

Assignment: If you’re a go getter: give Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” on ABC a try. Here’s a link to the first episode of season 2 for your viewing pleasure.