Privilege, Justice, and Sustainability

April 28, 2008

Over at My Moxie Life, Jacqueline writes about Why Food Isn’t My Politics (also mentioned at The Interdependent Web). She writes about how she and her family became vegetarian and…

Three years after that we moved to an intentional community in Missouri for a year. We, again wanted to experience living as lightly on the earth, community, and a back to the land ideal. It was while living with 70 other people from all walks of life that I began to shift my ideas about food…

What I began to realize was that food is only a choice for those who have the financial privilege to make that choice. It is an economics thing. If you come from a lower economic background or a definitive cultural background you will have food ideas around that. You MAY choose to break out of those ideas, but often, in the circumstances you CAN’T. You eat what is offered, and if you are lucky you are grateful.

It was the white middle and upper middle class kids that were offensively food oriented. THEY were making the RIGHT moral choice and they let you know in no uncertain terms that they were better because of it. Well, that screams of economic superiority, a bit of racism, and holier then thou attitudes.

These were CONSTANT conversations at East Wind while I was there and because of that tension and my wanting to understand where everyone was coming from I chose that food was something to be thankful for in whatever form it takes.

Education and poverty were more important to me then what someone served me at dinner.

So, we moved back to San Francisco omnivores… and have stayed that way.

I started to comment over at her blog, but the comment got a bit long so I thought I would post it here. I completely hear this idea that often liberals or other do-gooding folks go around being like, “Gosh, look at us. Shopping at Whole Foods, getting our vegetarian, local, organic food while we cruise around in our Prius. Golly, we are sure doing good by the world. Too bad there are those other people who are ruining the planet!” I know these people. I try not to be one. Probably I don’t always succeed.

So first, I want to affirm Jacqueline’s struggles with this issue and say that such struggles resonate with my experience (perhaps, um, too closely….). Yet, I think there are two important additional things to consider here.

First, I think we need to be careful not to set up a false dichotomy between “food politics”, and other (race and class or education) politics. Being attentive to the ways that our diet impacts the world around us – the natural world, humans, and other animals – is one important way to seek to live out our convictions related to compassion for suffering, non-violence, environmental justice, and human rights. Vegetarianism isn’t just all about saving the animals/lessening their suffering. It is also about trying to live more sustainably so that future humans have an earth to live on, and it is about being attentive to the ways that meat consumption, violence, the meat packing industry, immigration, race, class, food shortages, food riots, global warming, etc. are all related. Vegetarianism or veganism is, of course, not only way to address such concerns. But, I don’t see our food choices (to the extent that we have choices about our diet) as separate from bigger questions about justice, environment, class, etc.

Secondly, I struggle with the idea that if everyone/poor people/lots of people can’t do _________ (fill the blank with an attempt to be more sustainable/attempt at social justice activity), then it is a privileged thing to do and we are being too privileged/spoiled/snobby if we do this thing. I feel like this would apply to most volunteering, many if not most home energy efficiency measures, to many forms of education (expensive colleges/any colleges/many forms of homeschooling/private schools, etc.), buying organic/locally grown food, having the time and energy to grow a garden, driving a hybrid car, etc. The problem seems not to be that by doing these things (such as being vegetarian) we are not attending to the real problems like race or education, but rather that often our attitudes about our various “do-gooding” activities (like being vegetarian) are problematic.

The problem could thus be framed as the attitude that “We are doing the right thing (as privileged, liberals) while they (poor, others) are not,” rather then the problem being framed as the particular action we are taking (in the case of Jacqueline’s post, vegetarianism). If we look at it like this, the solution would not to be to stop doing action X, but to change our attitudes about action X.

For me, it is all about finding a balance between calling on each other and calling on ourselves to live as sustainably and justly as we can, while at the same time, being understanding that we can only do what we can do. I find it challenging, with vegetarianism, but also issues like hyper-consumerism, sexism, racism, classism, etc. to know how to best challenge my fellow humans try to live justly and more sustainably, while at the same time acknowledging the wide range of limitations to what each of us can do as individuals, families, communities, and countries. Certainly, to some extent, I believe all of us are called to call to humanity to be more just, more loving, less violent, and to live more sustainably, and to live out these principles in our own lives. But how much is too much calling? And how are we to do it without infringing too much on individual prerogatives, given that we cannot all do it all? And, are there different standards for calling upon fellow Unitarian Universalists, than, say, the general public?

Thanks to the post at Moxie Life for helping me to continue to grapple with some of these questions.


From The New York Times: Meat Consumption Is an Environmental Issue

February 1, 2008

NYTimes isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of vegetarian and environmental propaganda, so those leery of vegetarian overstatement can rest assured that this isn’t the same as if PETA came out with such an article. The times has a spotty record of publishing articles about vegetarianism and the environment, including a painfully misinformed article about veganism last year and an article that tells people how they can save the planet with easy, simple steps rather than actual sacrifice (I wish this was true, but it just isn’t – you can only slow down the destruction with easy, simple steps).

Anyway, they NYT has come through, however, with an impressive article about the environmental consequences of meat-consumption. Interestingly, the guy who wrote it is not a vegetarian. I always find that interesting that folks can have all the info in the world (hey, including myself) and know what is best, but not do it. It shows that rationality is overrated.

In “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler“, Mark Bittman writes:

To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days….

Perhaps the best hope for change lies in consumers’ becoming aware of the true costs of industrial meat production. “When you look at environmental problems in the U.S….nearly all of them have their source in food production and in particular meat production. And factory farming is ‘optimal’ only as long as degrading waterways is free. If dumping this stuff becomes costly — even if it simply carries a non-zero price tag — the entire structure of food production will change dramatically.”

Animal welfare may not yet be a major concern, but as the horrors of raising meat in confinement become known, more animal lovers may start to react [Elizabeth’s note – do we need to be animal lovers to want to prevent very serious suffering?]. And would the world not be a better place were some of the grain we use to grow meat directed instead to feed our fellow human beings?

I suggest reading the whole article, but those are some of the highlights. A good point that I came away with is that it isn’t like everyone has to become vegetarians (although, of course, I would like that!). But if everyone did some reduction, it would have more of an impact than if a small number of people became vegetarian. I found that once I started thinking out of the “meat is the center of a meal” box, I learned to eat a lot of things I wouldn’t have other wise. Like Michael Pollen (non-vegetarian) says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”


Murray the Kitten Teaches Me About Compassion

January 30, 2008

good-picture-of-murray.jpg

So, we took in a foster cat named Murray last summer after another foster home said that he was impossible to tame. He was found on the streets of Dorchester, MA as a kitten and all the cuddling of him didn’t seem to work like it did with other kitties. He is the only kitten we’ve ever had to wear gloves with because of biting. But he has improved. He even purrs sometimes when we pet him when he is half-asleep and he ADORES our semi-outcast cat, Gustav who none of the other cats like so well.

June passes, as does July. Come Christmas, Murray is still happily living with us, only letting us touch him when he is sleeping or eating, of course making it impossible to adopt him to a permanent home.

Wolfgang says to me, “Murray is such a cute little dum-diddle-dum.” Just sort of wandering through life, not knowing how good he has it, maybe not the brightest cat ever, and with this funny little waddle where his legs sort of fly out in every which way. But he loves Gustav so much and snuggles up to him and is clearly a happy little guy, enjoying eating a lot, and taking 8 naps a day.

Come mid-January, we are saying, “Gosh, do you think something is wrong with Murray’s legs? His walk does seem to get worse.”

And come yesterday, Murray was running away from me and he legs got all tangled up and he fell. Maybe just a slip?

Then eating his breakfast this morning, his legs were slipping out from under him. The vet said it isn’t an emergency, and tomorrow will be just as fine as today so we take him in tomorrow. I’m not sure if this is because they were just too busy and figured it is so dire, what difference does a day make? (Preliminary internet searches don’t paint a promising picture of back leg problems in cats.) But we can only go to this one vet because he only charges the shelter we volunteer for half-price, so we just wait until tomorrow.

As I was trying to lure Murray out from under the bed to check on him, I realized how much he has taught me. Wolfgang and I are just so worried about him. We want to make sure he isn’t in pain. Enough to eat? Does he want to rest in the nice warm cat bed by the heater? We want everything to be okay with him and for him to live a happy, good life. And it just made me think about all the animals that have sweet little personalities just like Mr. Murray who suffer so much and never get the sort of love and kindness that Murray has been able to get – Murray brings out the love in us – the caring, the compassion, and the selflessness. No small task to bring that out in humans which, in some respects, have a spotty record of caring, compassion, and selflessness, this human included! But, Mur says, “Hey, even though you were planning on going to a class at 1:30 tomorrow, this is the only time the vet could see me so you’ll just have to not take that class.” In their own ways, animals and other dependent creatures (like human children) call us to be our best selves – to care for those who need caring for, to attend to suffering, to give love.

For me, care for Murray and care for the suffering of other animals that have the ability to suffer are such important parts of my faith and my life. I know I am not a perfect and it is just a little part I can do. But, as much as it hurts me to see Murray’s little legs, I am so happy to be able to care for him, take him to the doctor, and give him extra treats. I just feel like so often we say, “Oh, what can we do about all the suffering of the world? All the misery?” And our little animal friends are sometimes teachers to us if we are wiling to listen.

So thanks Murray for letting me love you. And thanks for reminding me to love all animals the best I can who suffer just like you do with your little legs. I hope it is nothing and the vet makes you better.

Love, Elizabeth


It’s that time again. UU Blog Awards

January 24, 2008

It is time for the UU Blog nominations and awards! How about that. First, I just want to encourage bloggers to highlight their favorite posts of the year because I went to go nominate people and then it became a huge hassle to try to go back to my favorite blogs and find favorite posts. You are doing us all a favor by highlighting your favorite posts and what categories you think you might like to be nominated for in the all-around category. Don’t be shy!

As for this little blog, I won the best seminarian blog last year for which I am very grateful! I would say that since there isn’t a best UU vegetarianism/eco-friendly living writing category, this would again be the category that I would be most happy to be nominated for this year.

And I have two favorite posts, one of which I think has no chance of winning anything.

Drumroll….

My favorite post is The Secret is Total Bunk about the ethical and theological problems with a philosophy/mindset/belief that if you believe that certain good things will happen to you, they will and if they don’t, it is because you didn’t believe enough as put forth by the best-selling book The Secret.

Second favorite is my response to the UU World Article on Ethical Eating although somehow I feel like this is not going to be a winner.

*There were also quite a few follow-up posts on this theme:

Ethical Eating in UU World – A Short Response

Sigh. I am SO trying to be such a friendly, non-judgmental vegetarian. And apparently not coming across that way.

Read Reader Responses to UU World Ethical Eating Article

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

Scott Wells on Good Food (Food Post II)

Death by Veganism: A Response to the NYTimes Article (Food Post III)

Anyway, that’s about it folks. Happy nominating and blogging – and really may I take a moment to say how blessed I feel to be able to learn so much from so many wonderful UU bloggers out there. Thanks to all of you. You are a bunch of smart, thoughtful cookies. I really appreciate what the world of UU blogging has brought into my life.

Peace, E

p.s. Late addition to favorite posts of the year: On the Fluidity of Sexuality; or My Coming Out Story


You Know You Want It: Tofurky Jurky

December 26, 2007

tofurkey.gif

Back about 18 years ago at Franklin Monroe Elementary School, you could buy a slim jim beef jerky for 35 cents. I LOVED these. Loved loved loved. I continued to get them at gas stations and the store up until 2002 when I listenend to This Steer’s Life on NPR and swore off animal as food. But don’t think that this made me not miss beef jerky (and barbeque at our family’s very famous and impressive cookouts or burgoo or hot dogs). While I have yet to find a really impressive replacement for barbecue (aside from just sipping on the sauce, which I actually really like) THERE IS A GOOD BEEF JERKY REPLACEMENT (the spicy one tastes best to me). This is not a half-way, almost-like beef jerky replacement, but actually tastes just like beef jerky. Go out and buy this as soon as you can. I’ve had to ration myself. Only two servings a day. A great way to get protein no matter what your eating persuasion. And one more thing you can easily replace without much suffering on your part (along with soy milk and deli turkey, but those are for another post).


Death by Veganism: A Response to the NYTimes Article (Food Post III)

May 27, 2007

As many of you know, I am a wanna-be vegan. Not quite there yet, but making good progress. This is something my partner and I have researched and read quite a bit about. Wolfgang is practically a walking encyclopedia of vegan nutrition and animal and environmental facts. Thus, you can imagine our horror when we read a very poorly researched and irresponsible article about veganism in the New York Times titled “Death By Veganism. ” You can read it, in all its inaccuracies, here. Please also take the time to read the letters to the editor which respond well to the article’s problems.

Her argument is, in short, that “You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.”

I’ll respond to what I see as three main problems with the article:

First, as far as I can tell, she is not arguing against a vegan diet, but rather against vegetarian diet. On top of arguing (with no supporting evidence) that eggs and milk offer complete proteins, essential fats and vitamins (that, I assume she means you cannot get from plant sources) she argues that kids need fish to be healthy because of the Omega-3 fatty acids. First, tons of kids never eat fish anyway. I hated fish growing up and it just isn’t a regular part of lots of people’s or kids diets, especially in less developed places where people don’t fish and it can’t be imported. So if you want to make the argument that fish are essential, and that somehow ground flax seeds, flax seed oil, walnuts, walnut oil, canola oil, soy products, soybean oil, hempseed oil, and wheat germ are not adequate sources of omega-3 fatty acids (although I am not aware of any evidence that demonstrates that they are not), fine. But that seems largely unrelated to veganism and vegetarianism, and is more just a general question of what is and is not included in a healthy diet. (She also doesn’t mention the huge problem with fish being very contaminated and that children and pregnant/lactating women need to be careful about this). She also refers throughout the article to the need for things in meat. I suspect that she frames this in terms of veganism, and not vegetarianism, because vegetarianism is becoming more mainstream and accepted and she doesn’t want to step on the many toes of vegetarians that read the Times. I imagine “Death by Vegetarianism” would not be well received by many. Rather, she picks veganism because she sees it as a relatively easy target. People still see this as a bit extreme and she runs with that.

Second, I think her science is just wrong. She claims that “dairy and eggs” are needed “for complete protein, essential fats and vitamin.” She also says that “animal proteins and fats” contain “essential amino acids needed for life in the right ratio. This is not true of plant proteins, which are inferior in quantity and quality.” She writes that “soy inhibits growth” and finally sums it all up by saying, “A vegan diet may lack vitamin B12, found only in animal foods; usable vitamins A and D, found in meat, fish, eggs and butter; and necessary minerals like calcium and zinc.” So there you go. But, I’m not really sure what studies she is referring to. You certainly can find studies that show a set of vegans lack a certain vitamin or this or that. But, um, you can find just as many showing that omnivores lack certain vitamins or enough of this or that. It isn’t like I would sacrifice my health, or the health of my future children, so I could eat a vegan diet. Nor would all the other very conscientious vegan families. As far as I can tell, children can do just fine with well-planned vegan diets (you can see lots of examples of them here). I think, perhaps, she confuses a vegan diet with a poorly planned vegan diet which, like any poorly planned carnivorous diet, can be harmful. (She also fails to mention the very direct link between the Standard American Diet (SAD) and a range of cancers and health problems. I mean, if you are so concerned about kids and their diet, the concern is that too many of them are overweight and suffer from childhood diabetes. The number of vegan children is minuscule compared to the number of kids with health problems because of eating a SAD diet. But I digress.)

Finally, the third problem is that she refers, very irresponsibly, at the beginning of the article, to a baby that died being fed only apple juice and soy milk and whose parents claimed to be vegan. However, feeding your baby only apple juice and soy milk has absolutely nothing to do with being vegan. These people were criminals who killed their baby by starving him. It is as if you fed your infant only hamburger meat and then when he died people said, “Well, see, a carnivorous diet kills babies.” And the author should have known this. I cannot imagine she didn’t. If she didn’t, it is another indication of how poor her research was. If she did know what she was talking about, and used it anyway, it shows her desire to portray veganism as something that it isn’t. One google search would have confirmed that this terrible death of a baby had nothing to do with veganism or the science/nutritional aspects of veganism.

Veg Family News has compiled a great collection of responses to this poor article, and also includes lots of links to medical articles from normal, reputable sources that affirm the health of vegan pregnancies, babies, and children. You can see it here: http://www.vegfamily.com/news/op-ed-nyt.htm

I didn’t plan for this to be The Weekend of Food Posts. I just have more time now that school is out and they sort of came up.

Yay for summer finally being here! Makes me so happy. More soon, I hope.

Much peace, Elizabeth


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

May 25, 2007

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…


Read Reader Responses to UU World Ethical Eating Article

May 16, 2007

Some may remember a discussion that took place about Amy Harringer’s Ethical Eating article in the UU World a while back. Here is the original article: http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/11130.shtml

And now UU World has printed a nice selection of reader responses: http://www.uuworld.org/issues/23517.shtml

If interested here are some of the posts that mention the ethical eating article:

My thoughts on it. Some follow up thoughts.

Philocrites writes on it. And Katharine does too.

Finding my UU Soul writes about the article and vegetarianism here.

And I could swear there was a post on Debitage on this topic but now I can’t find it.

So there you go.


Elizabeth’s Little Blog Hits the Big Time

May 15, 2007

Well, at least by my standards. The blog and my attempts to think through vegetarian questions and UUism were mentioned by Chris Walton in “Blogs and UU World” column on the online UU World. How about that! Thanks to Chris and UU World for the mention. Go here to see the article http://www.uuworld.org/issues/23520.shtml


Sigh. I am SO trying to be such a friendly, non-judgmental vegetarian. And apparently not coming across that way.

March 7, 2007

I’m sorry to continue with posting about the UU World article on ethical eating. Skip if you are getting bored with it. It is just that my eating practices and care for animals are such an important part of how I understand my ministry – to all sentient beings, humans included! As I mentioned in this post, my response to the UU World article on ethical eating was mentioned at Philocrites here. A commenter on Philocrites post writes

It’s a great article… but a shame that the puritanical streak of vegetarianism ran off with it. People need to act and eat and live more responsibly. But being chided and naughtied and disapproved and shamed for where they’re at isn’t helpful.

Darn it, double darn it. I tried so hard to come across as appreciative of the article, yet disappointed with the conclusions. Does that make me puritanical?

My question: Is there ANY way for a vegetarian/vegan to suggest that vegetarianism/veganism is the best option for eating without it coming across as obnoxious proselytizing? I mean, it is one thing to make comments when people are eating or to do a dying chicken impression or something during dinner, but is it still obnoxious when it is a thoughtful response to an article? Or to gently share about your food decisions when people ask?

Here is how I responded to several comments that seemed to think that my response to the UU World article was  puritanical, self-righteous, obnoxious, or proselytizing…

I understand people’s concern with militant, judgmental vegetarianism. I think it is important to remember that everyone does what they can – some of us fly less, some of us drive less, some of us rescue dogs, help our neighbors, grow gardens, and some of us eat vegetarian. We can’t all do it all, and I hope by pointing out in my response to the article that I need to do a lot of things different in my life – drive less, fly less, etc. – that I made this point. We are all doing what we can. That said, what I was doing was simply expressing that I think that encouraging people to push themselves – when it comes to a range of our living practices associated with compassion, sustainability, and the environment – would be best, and would be what I would like to see from our denominational magazine. No chewing out. No finger wagging. Just encouragement about what is possible and doable, as vegetarianism seems to be for a lot of people. Of course it isn’t for everyone. We can’t all do it all. There are lots of friendly, non-judgmental vegetarians out there, and I certainly intend to be one of them and regret if it doesn’t come across like that. All the best, Elizabeth from Elizabeth’s Little Blog

Don’t worry.  This is not becoming a vegetarian blog. It is just a place where I try to work out difficult theological and social issues that I struggle with.  And this is one of them.

Humbly,

Elizabeth