Over at Trivium: More on Ethical Eating (Food Post I)

Over at Trivium, Jaime Goodwin writes about how annoying he finds it that most of the food at church events is dull – that is, vegetarian or vegan, and that he feels like those who make this food are saying that they are better somehow better. He notes that “he has a hard time with the ethical eating concept.” It was interesting for me to read, given that I am working on a post that responds to the New York Times op-ed piece irresponsibly titled “Death By Veganism” and I’ve been thinking a lot about these questions lately. (More on the NYTimes article very soon.)

I appreciated Jaime’s post – it gives me pause to reflect on the way I go about my life and how I can most lovingly and gently share my excitement about the potential for veganism in terms of compassion for animals and environmental friendliness, while at the same time bend over backward to be non-judgmental and empathetic to the choices and trade-offs we all make in doing our best to live out a life that balances high ethical standards with the realities of life in today’s world.

A few thoughts:

Jaimie writes:

Again.. my respect for another’s beliefs is why I have such a hard time with Ethical Eating as a concept. To me the concept is this… I made a choice to eat a certain way, I like my choice, now I am going to point out that everyone else who has not yet made this choice that they are not as good of a Unitarian Universalist as I am. I care more about Health and the environment than they do, and my life has become much better than theirs because of this choice.

What? You say… you do not mean to send this message? I believe you. I know that you do not MEAN to send this message, but you are sending it… to me. I would imagine to others as well.

This relates to a dilemma for vegans and vegetarians. Granted, there are some that are over-zealous and who literally do say, “I care more about health and the environment than [meat-eaters], and my life has become much better than theirs because of this choice.” But I think most don’t say this or think this. It seems to me that the very fact of being vegetarian or vegan is often understood to send the message that other ways of eating are not adequate or good enough. But, when I foster kittens, no one understand this to mean that they should foster kittens or are bad because they don’t help stray animals. Or when I drive a fuel efficient car and tell people how much I like it, this isn’t interpreted as meaning that they should drive a Scion or feel bad about the car they drive. Yet, these are the exact reasons that I am vegan (or, more honestly, an almost-vegan) – the desire for animals not to suffer and the environment. As I have asked before, is there no way to share my excitement about veganism or the benefits I see to it (like I do with kitten rescuing or fuel-efficient car-driving) without it being interpreted as judgemental? I ask this just to point out that it is a difficult balance, and that all of us on every side should be understanding about the difficulty in balancing this and how food and food choices go very deep, no matter what our choices are.

As I have noted before, to me, my vegetarianism/veganism is one way that I try to live out the values that are important to me – care for the environment, love of animals and the desire that they not suffer. BUT, I do SO MANY not good things or not good enough things. I drive too much. I fly too much (especially bad). I use a hair-dryer too much. A clothes dryer too much. Too many paper towels. Don’t buy enough local food. Could foster more cats. Could volunteer more. The list goes on. To me, vegetarianism/veganism is where I feel like I am able to make a difference. But it is just one way to make the world a better place. It is the way I do it. Others do it their own way. I think we need to both call each other to be our best selves – to do our best – and yet understand that we are all struggling along in this world together, doing the best we can. It is a hard balance. We don’t always all get it right. I guess what I hope is that I can do my part in sharing vegetarianism/veganism as one option, while also making clear that it is just one option and that we need to all support each other in a range of choices we make, particularly as a faith community.

Jaime also writes, “personally I think vegan eating is dangerous and unhealthy.” I will address this in my post on the NYTimes Op-Ed piece on veganism, but I just hate it when people don’t want me to judge their food choices, and then go and judge mine. A well-planned vegan diet is neither dangerous or unhealthy. There are many studies that confirm this. Many examples of healthy vegans. Just like any diet, vegan diets need to be well-planned. There is quite a bit of evidence that meat-heavy diets can be very unhealthy. If you eat all steak and eggs and bacon and whole milk and fried potatoes, you are going to be in trouble. Just like if you drink only soy milk, eat potato chips, drink pepsi, eat cashews, and cucumbers for your vegan diet.

But more on all this later.

In short, thanks for your honest post, Trivium. Vegetarians and vegans out there! Try to be FRIENDLY, LOVING and EMPATHETIC. Maybe I’ll start a FLEUNJVV movement – friendly, loving, empatheic, understanding, non-judgemental vegetarians and vegans…

13 Responses to Over at Trivium: More on Ethical Eating (Food Post I)

  1. juffie says:

    I respect your post and your position. But to get the feeling your correspondent was trying to get across … you foster kittens, but do not mean to imply nor demand that others foster kittens too. Fine. But many UU congregations I know intimately (having served them as minister) insist that all food at potlucks and church meals be vegetarian (at least), and even mainly vegan. No meat, fish, eggs or cheese, at least. On the grounds that “everyone can eat this” (which actually is not strictly true, or at least ideal, for those of us who need protein and are allergic to nuts and beans). It comes across sort of like saying all are welcome at this church, we’ll provide you a kitten while you’re here, if you’re not already fostering one. If you see what I mean.

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  3. jsbogh says:

    You explained very well the dilemma many veg*ns feel. Great post!

  4. lydia says:

    E, I, as you know, have no problem with what anyone wants to eat, anywhere, short of people wanting to eat people. One thing that bothers me is the title, “Ethical Eating.” Ethics are today’s version of “family values” in the ’90s. Everyone has their own personal set. To imply that one person or group’s ethics are above another person or group’s is easy to do, but it’s ridiculous, to me. Little “e” ethics are a personal thing. Codified, big E, Ethics are something else entirely. A company’s Ethics Standard is an example. Then, really, those Ethics change from ethics to rules.

    I know this sounds clear as mud, and I’ve gone round and round with some people trying to explain what I mean. But, it comes down to the idea that I eat according to my ethics, which are questionable, at best! You eat according to your ethics. People in non-western countries that feast on delicacies like hissing cockroaches and animal penises that most Americans find disgusting are eating according to their ethics. No one is right and no one is wrong, in my opinion, but there are definite things that I’m not willing to eat or refrain from eating.

    Just for further argument’s sake, you say:

    As I have noted before, to me, my vegetarianism/veganism is one way that I try to live out the values that are important to me – care for the environment, love of animals and the desire that they not suffer.

    Does this not suggest, whether you mean it to or not (and I’m sure you don’t), that care for the environment and love for animals must not be important to those that eat meat? I think maybe that’s where some people get their hackles up.

    I’m sure that it’s difficult to balance your excitement so as not to appear judgmental, but I think it has to start with truly caring only about what you can control…how you eat.

    Does any of this make sense? It’s Saturday and I don’t think so clearly on Saturdays.

  5. elizabeth199 says:

    Hi everyone. Thanks for the comments. Juffie, I completely see your point about “It comes across sort of like saying all are welcome at this church, we’ll provide you a kitten while you’re here, if you’re not already fostering one. If you see what I mean.” In fact, you have in fact convinced me that churches should not make a “vegetarian only” rule unless there is 100% support of the church body. I do think it is fine to encourage vegetarian food, just like we encourage people to drink fairly traded coffee (and serve it at church). Increasingly, I am convinced that vegetarians/vegans have done more harm to the movement (with really the best of intentions) by being over zealous. Like I tell people, no matter how right you think you are and might even be, if it pisses people off and makes them think vegetarians/vegans are crazy, it is of no good to animals, or the environment.

    Lydia, again, thanks for your response. I hear what you are saying. I think it should be ethical eating with a little e. And I agree, when I say “As I have noted before, to me, my vegetarianism/veganism is one way that I try to live out the values that are important to me – care for the environment, love of animals and the desire that they not suffer” it does imply the animal based diets are more harmful for the environment and cause more animals to suffer. Just like when I drive my car, it is more harmful to the environment than when I walk. It is not a judgment on other people, but just the reality of how things work. It takes more energy and causes more pollution for a car than a bike. For a hamburger than a tomato. There is less animal suffering with a cucumber than a chicken sandwich. But, that said, it is just my way of addressing the things I am concerned about. Other people have other ways of doing it. It is not a judgment on people’s personhood at all. That said, I do wish more people would do more of a range of environmentally responsible things. Vegetarianism is one option. Or buying locally. Or recycling. Or driving smaller cars or driving less. Vegetarianism isn’t the mecca of all things good. But more people in the world do need to be more gentle on our earth or else we are going to be in trouble. So I guess that is where my judgment might come in – in thinking people should be making some sort of effort, even if it means driving the SUV less.

  6. elizabeth199 says:

    Lydia, I did mean to say of course that you make wonderful sense! Looking forward to seeing you next weekend. E

  7. Thanks for following up on the NY Times piece: I thought it was a lop-sided hatchet job.

  8. I keep wondering where these vegetarian food UU church potlucks are….

  9. elizabeth199 says:

    I hear that, Ms. Theo. I’ve heard about this through the grapevine, but never actually encountered one! Would be great (at least for someone always worried about “can i eat this” or “can i eat that”. :)

  10. Hi Elizabeth, thanks for the link!

    Actually… I really don’t think Veganism is dangerous unless taken to an extreme, no more dangerous than a lot of other diets that is.

    My point in that sentence was if I think that, it would be wrong of my to start a movement within UUism, lets say I called in “Intelligent Eating” that implied that only people who ate a diet consisting of meat were intelligent.

  11. lydia says:

    I do wish more people would do more of a range of environmentally responsible things.


  12. John Mayer says:

    The notion that it’s “rididculous” to suggest that some ethics are better than others is ridiculous. The ethics of Mahatma Ghandi are not equal to those of Hitler. Saying that I respect your dietary choices is a lie if, in fact, I believe that eating mean is cruel to the animals (if you think they just drift away to a better place at slaughter, read _Slaughterhouse_), destructive to the environment, and places an unnecessary burden on our heatlh system, which I do. I don’t respect the ethical or cultural choices of those who believe, say, in human sacrifice, no matter how sincerely held are those beliefs. The fact that I believe meat-eating is wrong does not mean that I believe meat-eaters are evil; just that they’ve not thought the matter through. If they have simply concluded they just don’t care about animal suffering and global warming, then that’s another matter. I can’t throw stones at meat-eaters as I was raised as one and we slaughtered our own animals. The lives and deaths of our meat animals, though, was far less cruel than current factory meat-farming practices, though.

    As to Death by Veganism, there have been a number of newspaper articles with similar themes. I wrote an honors paper on that topic (a bit rushed at the end) which you may access at http://www.vset.net under the heading “Vegan Monsters.”

    ~ John Mayer

  13. Robert Murphy says:

    Hmmmmm….. The CSAI adopted at the 2008 General Assembly is called “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice.” Has anyone read this statement?

    The statement never mentions vegetarianism or vegans! It asks people to look at the problem of hunger, some “fair trade” issues. farm worker concerns, and a bit more… It’s a call for 3-5 years of discussion. It’s not a final statement.

    You might say, “It’s the menu, not the meal.”

    Unitarian Universalists are wary of religious creeds… So it’s unlikely that the General Assembly will call for a set of dietary laws for all Unitarian Universalists!
    Religious dietary laws – for Mormons. Jews, Hindus, and others – are usually based
    on some sort of creed that has to be carefully interpreted by religious leaders…
    No, I doubt that we’ll see that kind of arrangement within the UUA.

    I encourage everyone to read “Ethical Eating” and to get involved in the discussion
    with their local Unitarian Universalist congregation. Might do some good.

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