Rethinking Food, One Meal at a Time

The book Andy has asked me not to read.

It’s only because he’s worried I’d starve myself if I learned more about the farm industry. I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve got animal produce coursing through my veins right now. In fact, I’ve had two cheeseburgers in the last 8 days. But another truth is that slowly I’m learning (even without having read Peter Singer’s investigation of food production) to make better choices.

Our lives changed over a year ago when Andy and I watched Richard Linklater’s “Fast Food Nation” on DVD. I’m pretty sure he stopped eating meat on the spot. I tried abstaining, but psyched myself out after only 8 days.

My excuse? If meat is eliminated, the spectrum of what I’m immediately ready to eat is sharply reduced: I’ve been a “vegephobe” since birth. My strong aversion to the smell and texture of vegetables, combined with my even stronger gag reflex made meal times miserable for my family all throughout the mid ’70s. Whatever pop psychology my mom innocently subscribed to back in the day only served to reinforce my stubbornness.

Green beans haven’t touched my plate since that night in 1977 when my exhausted parents realized that being sent to bed before “Sunny and Cher” was a sacrifice I was prepared to make on a regular basis. Yep. I won. I’ve never even eaten a single leaf of iceberg lettuce. Salad dressing won’t help – mayonnaise is higher on my list of NEVERS than cooked spinach and broccoli.

Over the course of the last 15 years, with help from a good therapist (“Perhaps lightly stir fried Asian dishes with a sauce you know you like”), some great friends, and time spent listening to my beloved Tony Robbins’ tapes (NLP ROCKS!), I’ve been able to incorporate a few vegetables into my diet. But I’ve never made a habit of it. And I’m a long way from being able to put just any old thing in my mouth. God help the person who tells me, “Just try a bite.”

So now, although I’ve obliged Andy’s request not to even skim Singer’s book, my attraction to both the forbidden and horror stories have made doing so sickly tempting. Just imaging how animals on factory farms are treated has caused me to replace my daily milk and yogurt staples easily with organic soy versions. They don’t taste the same but are delicious in their own way and seductively guilt-free. Meanwhile, I have occasionally dared to glimpse at sites like The Unhappy Cow. Luckily, it’s possible to make the transition to compassionate eating without dwelling in the heart-wrenching terror-filled realities of factory dairy farms and slaughter houses.

Leaving the “how” out of it and learning about who we eat is compelling enough.

“Each cow has the ability to recognize more than 100 other cows, and they form close friendships with members of their herd. Researchers report that cows grieve when their friends or family members die.”

“Pigs are curious and insightful animals thought to have intelligence beyond that of an average 3-year-old human child. They are smarter than dogs and every bit as friendly, loyal, and affectionate.” 

“Chickens understand sophisticated intellectual concepts, learn from watching each other, demonstrate self-control, worry about the future, and even have cultural knowledge that is passed from generation to generation.”

“Some fish gather information by eavesdropping on others, and some even use tools.”

Thank goodness, with sites like VegCooking and and really yummy scientifically engineered tofu products, eating ethically has never been easier.

My conversion is slow going. There’s a half devoured wedge of Cambozola in the fridge now. God, I love cheese. So the research du jour becomes finding farms where the cows are treated with love and, in good health, are left to have a full range of moods, including happiness.

7 thoughts on “Rethinking Food, One Meal at a Time

  1. Thanks for this, hon. Good work.

    “If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”
    – William Wilberforce, British abolitionist and founder of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

  2. I grew up on a farm. We had beef cattle and pigs and a huge veggie garden. If it could be canned, preserved, frozen, or dried my family did.

    The only time I ever swore that I was going to be a vegetarian was once when the piglet my grandmother had hand raised became a ham dinner…not a good day…I think I will post about that now!

  3. I became a lot more sensitive to the foods I eat when I went through college. All those food classes will really put a damper on your appetite and really make you consider what you eat. Fast Food Nation is enough. Don’t read the book.

    – – – –
    Thanks, Jenn. You’re right. I wandered through two grocery stores yesterday just lost about what to buy. The options are mind boggling. Whey is dairy? Oh no. Soy vs. Rice . . . why would someone tell me to watch out about getting “too much soy” … I’m buying organic, so it can’t be the pesticides. And what’s this new “probiotic” advertising buzz word? WTF? Suddenly, I need a PHd just to feed myself.

  4. A PHd and a bottomless bank account! The monsters think momma has lost it when I just simply won’t let them have a certain type of food because the “regular” version is too full of absolute garbage and the healthy version costs a fortune!

    – – –
    Great point, Wm! I couldn’t bring myself to spend nearly $7 on a half gallon of organic orange juice the other day. Old fashioned Tropicana was going to have to be good enough.

  5. There’s no reason to become a vegetarian after reading either book (or watching the DVD of FFN). We eat meat as a family, but do not eat meat processed through the larger processors. If you can budget in more ecologically/animal-friendly meats, there are sometimes local farms, organic or free-range products at the grocery, etc.

    Sometimes people need meat for their own health. It’s vital to consider where this meat comes from, but it’s not a reason to stop consuming meat periodically – We can consume the healthy stuff instead. The more people buy these alternative products, the less money feeds into the large-scale operations featured in the books you mention above.

    I agree, Sam. The problem is with factory farms and our culture’s unnatural *over*consumption of meat. I have a lot of homework to do to find information and food I can trust. Thank God for the internet.

  6. Hey Ruth!

    I was catching up on your blog today and nearly fell over when you described your lifelong struggle with veg. I hear you. Been there. Know EXACTLY what you mean about the smell and texture. Suffered through many a dinner hour as a child, especially when spinach was on the plate. Today, I have to leave the kitchen if spinach is cooked. But I’m learning ways to turn this vegetable issue around. Because veg are good for us, and when done well, they can be very, very tasty. Vegetable soups, for example, are my new best food friends. So, don’t give up yet on the tubers, leaves and stalks. Doesn’t sound like you are, but just thought I send a few “rahs” of encouragement all the same.


    Thanks so much, Melissa. There you go, inspiring me again! :) I’m happy to report that, short of having shrimp & scallops on a couple occasions, I haven’t eaten meat since I wrote this post. It feels good. I do agree, my body needs fresh plants. I won’t give up.

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