The Politics of Food: Ideology

This is a third post in a series in which I’ve questioned the relationship between American dietary standards and health and written about my own personal journey with diet. This week I’ll focus on some of the ideology embedded in diet and food production.

In my first post, I briefly mentioned vegan bullying. Because of the way we choose to eat, my partner and I spend some time in digital conversations about food. I’ve been amazed by the hostility and hatefulness directed towards people who choose to produce, harvest and/or eat meat.

Photo by Agence Producteurs Locaux Damien Kühn on Unsplash

All people need to eat in order to live. That’s a given. I believe most individuals want to be able to feed themselves and their families with high-quality, healthy food. Sadly, because we live in a capitalist and consumer culture, this basic need is hugely impacted by financial, political, social and geographical variables. Additionally, diet is inextricably entwined in the religious and spiritual framework of many people.

Just this short list of factors make the basic necessity of putting food in our mouths complicated. Obesity and other eating disorders, as well as food-related diseases and health issues (which may be to say all diseases and health issues) reflect that.

Add to that a small but vocal group of people who take it upon themselves to judge, criticize, bully, shame and threaten others about their diet, and we’ve got a mess.

Now, there are all kinds of stated reasons why some people think they have a right to mandate what and how we all should eat. Some folks claim to be animal rights activists. Some talk about guilt, as in “What do you do about your guilt about eating the flesh of a dead animal?” Others say cows are killing the planet.

The list goes on. You get the idea.

I’m not a science teacher and this blog is not about handing out an academic education, but the cows killing the planet thing belongs under the heading of alternative facts. It simply isn’t true, and a brief survey of science-based permaculture, climate change and basic biologic history demonstrates that. Properly managed, the presence of animals is essential to healing the planet. Believe it or don’t believe it, but for me this is nonsense and I’m not interested in debating it.

The animal rights activism excuse really gets under my skin. First of all, equating eating meat with hating animals is first grade level reasoning. The world is filled with hunters who deeply respect and love the land and the animals they hunt and harvest. They show that respect by protecting the health of wildlife and wild land, doing their best to get a clean and efficient kill shot, using all of the animal they kill and supporting sustainable hunting practices. Of course, there are plenty of the other kind out there, lots of idiot trophy hunters and poachers who need a rack or a pelt in order to feel powerful. I don’t deny it. What I do say is that hunters are like everyone else — some are respectful and see themselves as part of the system we inhabit, and others operate strictly from power-over and see themselves as masters of the universe.

Photo by Greg Ortega on Unsplash

This also holds true for food producers. A small family farm hand raising meat with love, affection, attention, rotational grazing on healthy land and a good natural diet is a beautiful place. These people love their animals and the land. They also slaughter, butcher and eat their animals. They participate in, understand and respect every part of the cycle, from breeding to table.

To equate something like that with the nightmare of some modern mass meat production is simply ridiculous. If you want to see cruelty to animals, all you have to do is whisper “profit” into the ear of a corporation. Big Oil, the cosmetic industry and the fashion industry are just a short list of entities who have done plenty to destroy animals and habitat, and most people don’t care.

Incidentally, I’ve spent much of my life involved with animal rescue. I’m proud to say my mother is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met or heard of with animals and she’s largely given her life to making the world a better place for them, particularly horses and dogs, but by no means exclusively. This has all been volunteer work, done out of respect and love for the life in the world that can’t fight or speak for itself. She doesn’t see herself as better than. She sees herself as part of. The animals honor her with their presence and companionship, not the other way around.

So, yes, I eat meat with great enjoyment, AND yes, I love animals. I’m not limited by an inability to dwell in the sacred and powerful duality of life and death.

Bigger than all of this, however, is the guilt aspect, the real heart of this post. A vegan asks, “What do you do with your guilt about eating dead animals?”

For me, this question is much bigger than an issue of diet. The question reflects just how far we’ve strayed from wisdom, health and sanity in this culture.

When did we become amputated from our rightful place in the complex, miraculous web of life around us? What are the roots of the tragic and fatal arrogance that makes us believe we’re in control of life and death in our complex system? At what point did we become estranged from aging, loss, death and decay, which is to say HALF the full, powerful cycle of life?

Life is death. Death is life. Neither has meaning without the other. Both are essential. All life feeds on death. When we walk in the forest we’re walking on death. The whole natural world is based on prey and predator, eaten and eater. What does a tree do about its guilt as it feeds off and roots in the bodies of its companions? What does an eagle do with its guilt when it takes a salmon? What does a lion do with its guilt when it runs down a gazelle?

The guilt in that question is a projection. I don’t have any guilt about eating meat, and I think it’s tragic that anyone has guilt about the necessity to eat. If you pull up a carrot and eat it, you kill it. Every bite of food we put in our mouths is possible because of death. We exist as part of a vital, dynamic and inestimably beautiful and precious system that ebbs and flows, dances, fluctuates, cycles and revolves around life and death. We can choose to act as a unique and valuable part of that system by using only what we need, nurturing and learning from the life around us, and joyfully participating in all the ongoing life-death-life-death cycles around and within us, or we can choose to deny, destroy, and/or desperately try to control life and death, which is a completely fruitless (no pun intended) endeavor. We, thank God, are not that powerful.

The seasons will cycle. New life will be born in the midst of death. The green world will reseed itself, sprout, grow, bloom, fruit and die. The microscopic world and fungi will continue to break death into a rich placenta that sustains the next generation of life. Life is an incredible privilege. Death is part of that privilege. Nurturing life and allowing to die what must is part of what it means to me to be a woman.

I don’t know what’s going to happen to my country, the climate, or the planet. I’m afraid for us all, and the world we call home. What I do count on is the mighty cycle of life and death. All things change. All things move and flow. Nothing ever stays the same. All our fear and desperation, our greed and selfishness can’t change life and death.

Photo by Andrea Tummons on Unsplash

What I can do is figure out how to best support my body with food. Then, I can make choices about how I procure the food I eat — to some degree. I don’t have the means right now to grow my own meat. However, I can and do buy eggs from a neighbor farmer, driving very carefully into the yard so as not to run over her free-range chickens and ducks. I can take the time to relish and appreciate opening a many-times recycled egg carton and looking at a whole variety of shaped, sized and colored eggs, mixed with occasional bits of straw and feather fluff. I can save money so I can buy a half an animal in the fall from a local small farmer to put in the freezer. I can buy fresh local yogurt, butter, cream and cheese from the farmer’s market.

It seems to me our energy should be going into making sure everyone has adequate food and clean water, and that we treat our food sources, whether animal or plant, and the system within which they grow (you know, the planet? Earth?) with love, intelligence and respect. We all can do something about food. Those among us who are doing the hard and unprofitable (financially) work of growing food on small farms may well hold the keys to our future survival. What they know about permaculture, holistic environments, food forests, sustainability, breeding, planting, harvesting and slaughtering is truly the wisdom of life.

Which is to say the wisdom of death.

Which is to say, again, the wisdom of life.

Bon appetit.

See the fourth post in this series here. Check my Resources page for links to information about diet and nutrition.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Being Right

I sit down this week with a tangle of feelings around what I want to say. It’s hard to know how to begin.

Sometimes I think with longing of the days I lived alone. There were things about being alone that were destroying me, which is why I left that life, but I did have the ability to control my audiovisual environment, and that’s not possible when living under a roof with someone else.

Photo by Frank Okay on Unsplash

I seem to be always wincing away from things lately. I avoid the living room because I don’t want to catch a headline on the muted CNN news channel out of the corner of my eye. If the sound is up, I don’t want to be anywhere where I can hear what’s being said. I’ve taken to singing a song to myself, or reciting a piece of poetry or a Celtic prayer to provide audible distraction when the TV is on, the adult equivalent of sticking my fingers in my ears and saying “la la la” when my brother is teasing me.

It’s nearly impossible to be online without seeing headlines and commentary, both during leisure and at work as I research for my medical transcription job.

The worst thing, though, is how I flinch away from other people, especially my partner, whom I love. He’s on Facebook, of course. I’m not. He’s gregarious, outgoing, outspoken, intelligent and has hundreds of “friends.” He’s also a news junkie and a voracious fact checker and science reader. He has, you might say, strong views. He thrives on controversy. I don’t.

Sharing the things that occupy our attention, questions, observations and what we learn is the most vital part of our connection and normally I treasure it, but not in these times. Right now I don’t want to talk about what’s occupying our attention, and I’m miserable about that.

The current political and social landscape feels like a black hole to me. It’s exhausting and horrifyingly futile. Half of the “news” is about what might happen. What is happening is so disturbing on so many levels I don’t even want to deal with that half of it. All of it together is like drowning in sewage.

Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

At this point Americans can’t even agree on what the “real news” is. It all depends on which alternative facts we choose to believe.

I don’t want to talk about it, hear about it or think about it. I want to play music, watch the light come through the windows, fill the bird feeders and watch the birds, take a walk and listen to the trees sleep, feel the grit and crunch of ice under my feet. I want to talk about the simple pleasures of the day, like clearing ice dams off the roof, running into town for groceries, something we’d like to learn or do together, a book we’d like to read. I’d like to put up a couple of new shelves for our spilling-over DVD collection, clean a year’s worth of cat hair and dust from the old shelves, wipe down the DVD cases and reorder them.

What I don’t want to do is get sucked into an endless individual, community, national and even worldwide debate about who’s right. That’s what so much of the “news” seems to be these days — a contest. Each side has a stockpile of memes, quotes, leaders, “news” sources, labels, ideologies, statistics, videos, pictures, threads and articles as ammunition. Oh, and don’t forget the tweets! People on each side are cutting, contemptuous, scornful, threatening and just plain mean.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Everyone, it seems, wants to win and be right. Everyone hopes passionately for the chance to say “I told you so,” to the other side. We seem to believe that agreement and validation from others makes us even more right than we were in the first place, and the righter we are, the wronger all those other knuckleheads are.

I was never a big competitor. I can’t see victory in being right. Sure, it’s always pleasurable to find out one was right all along, but being right automatically presumes someone else is wrong, and I’ve spent so much of my life feeling wrong that I can’t glory in watching anyone else go through it.

I’m not suggesting it’s wrong to have opinions and beliefs, and I’m not suggesting it’s useless to take action in support of our beliefs. What I am saying is that I question the usefulness of expending our energy on arguing over the size of a crowd, for example. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change anything. The only possible constructive thing that comes out of an argument like that is the satisfaction of being right, but we aren’t satisfied unless the wrong ones agree with our rightness. A Trump ally is never in a million years going to convince a Trump enemy about crowd statistics, or vice versa. It’s not going to happen. Every word and moment we put into that argument is wasted energy and effort and further divides the two camps. It doesn’t create change, understanding and agreement. It cements and further polarizes our differences.

If our agenda is in fact to create a bloody, bitter divide, then pardon me. I didn’t get the memo. In that case, we’re doing a great job and I’m wasting my time here.

I myself was hoping for change and understanding.

Pretend, for just a moment, that everything you believe is absolutely right. Everything. Your religious belief; your belief about how to eat appropriately; your political beliefs; your stance on abortion, sexuality and marriage; your beliefs about climate change and the environment. Luxuriate in it. YOU ARE RIGHT! Everyone who believes differently or contradicts you or refuses to listen to the facts is both stupid and wrong. Well done.

Now what? Or maybe I should ask, so what? Do you have more power? Will your life work better? Will the people who disagree with you behave themselves now — straighten up and fly right? Will your health and relationships be better? Will you make more money? Be less stressed?

Right or wrong, we all still wake up in the morning and think about money, food, families, friends, work, play, health, weather, time, the future, the past, hopes and fears. We all live on a planet called Earth. Right or wrong, the same face is going to look back at us from the mirror. However right or wrong we are, everyone else is going to go right on being wrong. Or right, as the case may be.

So, you win. You’re right and I’m wrong. Congratulations.

Now that that’s out of the way, may I give you a hug? Would you like to take a walk? Would you like to come swim with me, or dance? Shall we make a lunch date? The kitchen’s a mess — will you come do dishes with me? What kind of music are you listening to these days? What are you reading?

Could you, by any chance, put up a couple of shelves for me?

Photo by Jenelle Ball on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted