I thought I’d contribute a few personal reflections on food after hearing Kate’s platform address this past Sunday (January 8.) In case you missed it, in her platform she describes how becoming a vegan helped her recognize the need to encompass a variety of viewpoints to understand a larger picture. (I greatly simplify here, but I think that was the gist.) In particular, she relates the story of the blind men and the elephant as a larger example.
My own experience is a little different, but I think it also helped me discover some things about myself and the whole issue of food and living consciously. Lest I mislead, I most certainly did not arrive at any answers. Kate’s platform made me wonder how my little experience fit into the larger view. Hmmmm.
My husband, Randy and I were vegans for a brief time when we had our first child. We left veganism behind and became vegetarians shortly after our daughter was born for two reasons: It was difficult for him to eat vegan with his corporate fellows and while traveling on a regular basis, and we couldn’t find convincing literature on the nutritional value of raising a young child as a strict vegan.
From vegetarianism, we morphed to our current mode of eating; that is, sort-of vegetarians. That means, for us, vegetarian at home, eating as others do when we are out. And we are out often.
This evolution/devolution to sort-of vegetarian may seem like a backward march in regard to consciousness about living healthfully, environmentally, and caringly for other people and creatures in our world, except in some ways, for me personally, it wasn’t.
What happened to me, when we became vegans and then began raising our family as vegetarians, was that I became consumed (yes, consumed) with food issues. Organic foods. Budgetary concerns for buying organic foods. Food coops; (getting the organic and local foods quickly, if not easily.) Selecting grocery stores. (Not necessarily within an environmentally effective distance.) Reading labels. Learning to cook vegetarian. Learning to cook quick vegetarian. Nutrition. Health. Discussions with friends. Disagreements with family.
Exhausting? Sometimes, yes. But also invigorating. I was learning new stuff. Feeling like I was doing good things. Contributing in a small way. Yes, it was coupled with a little of the feeling of superiority Kate mentioned in her platform address. Many of my new friends also happened to be vegetarians. With them we could talk about this stuff for hours, and sometimes did. When you start eating green, and combine that with raising kids who are eating green, it becomes…..(dare I say it) like…a…religion.
Many of our discussions revolved around the usual stuff I mentioned above, along with getting kids to eat food that isn’t always their first choice. (An issue in any family. Seems to multiply with grains, beans, cheese and vegetable-only options.) It’s particularly challenging as they age and the lovely children you raised to be independent thinkers start thinking independently. But I won’t bore you with those details, that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.
I had grown up in a family with a gourmet-loves-to-eat-out-at-the-best-restaurants father, and a mother who hated to cook and whose overriding mantra whenever us kids would complain about what there was to eat (or not) was, “We eat to live, we don’t live to eat.”
Contradictory messages, indeed. Couple those messages with my twenty-year background as a professional ballet dancer and choreographer where not-eating is seen as a badge of honor, throw in a dash of new information about factory farms, free-range beef, pesticides, growth hormones, illegal immigrant labor, GMO’s, obesity, political control of food distribution in third world countries and….well…
It all became overwhelming.
These conflicting and sometimes contradictory early messages then, served as the backdrop for my later, adult/parent role as food provider. On one hand, providing good, healthy, quality food for my family was important. On the other hand, I felt guilty about thinking and spending so much time preparing and acting on food. Yes, guilty.
I imagine that you can take my story, substitute anyone else’s background, regional upbringing, life experiences and interests many times over to find a new story for each person regarding how they have come to think (or not) about the food they eat and the choices they make. And those choices, for many people, will be based on different assumptions and lead to different actions.
Food is fuel. End of discussion. Food is love. Good food, good. Food is power. Bad food, bad. Food means we are “good” people. Food means we are “bad” people. This food is “good,” that food is “bad.” Food means…..you substitute the good/bad cultural label. With the exception of some cultures, where food has no good/bad connotation, but means literally, life.
The bottom line for me is that I just got tired, bored with myself, frustrated, and anxiety-ridden, with being so preoccupied with food and food related issues all the time. And yes, I felt guilty. It seemed to me that only in Western cultures do we have the luxury to choose to NOT eat. To choose organic over mass-produced. To choose to buy local or from South America. I felt that my consciousness had become a self-consciousness, a tag that made ME feel good (or bad) and that had lost the original purpose of food—sustenance.
Of course, realizing this about myself, didn’t fully make all those things I had learned go away. It ain’t all about me. Some of that information made sense. And you can’t go back.
I remain both value-conflicted and food-conflicted. I admire those who don’t put ANY thought into what they eat; they just eat, thank you. They save their energy for protesting war, for providing jobs for others, for providing shelter to battered women, for organizing clubs and activities and even food pantries, and many other things. I admire those who put a LOT of thought into what they eat, recognizing that we must do our little part at the top of the food chain to promote healthful, responsible food consumption, to protect animals, our planet, our children, and still have time for other concerns. I admire people who have become excellent cooks, combining balanced nutrition in amazingly creative and delicious ways for the purpose of bringing people together. I admire people who just eat—and move on.
Most of all, I just just wanted to quit thinking about food. But unfortunately, one must eat.
I appreciated Kate’s use of the allegory of the blind men and the elephant to help us recognize that we are just part of the greater conversation on so many issues . But as regards food, in my case, it made me realize all the more clearly how my little step toward gaining a larger understanding has in some ways caused me to straddle the fence. (Is being sort-of vegetarian like being sort-of pregnant? If so…will time cure my ignorance?)
I gather at this point I have two hands on the elephant.
On a different topic….
I’ve posted my commentary above in the “Uncategorized” space on our new blogsite, rather than in the “President’s” section, as these are obviously personal reflections and have nothing to do with board business for the society. As this blogsite is new and there are (as yet) no guidelines, I thought I’d try a little bit of everything in posting, but put personal thoughts in the uncategorized area and business-related items in the President’s area. That is, while I have my half year left as your President. Then it will be someone else’s turn.
That means (probably) a little bit of the above, a little bit of business as comes up that I think people may be interested in commenting on, and anything else anybody suggests.
For now, board meeting tonight, so business later.